New Ways to Empower Students Who Have Learning Differences or Dyslexia

Struggling readers miss out on learning, fall behind in school, and may “hate” reading.

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New Ways to Empower Students who have Learning Differences or Dyslexia

New Ways to Empower Students who have
Learning Differences or Dyslexia

Struggling readers miss out on learning, fall behind in school, and may “hate” reading.

When students with dyslexia or other learning differences don’t get the accommodations they need, the content-learning gap grows, students get frustrated, and it’s difficult for them to catch up.  Fortunately, there are ways to help struggling readers engage with books they want and need to read in new and meaningful ways.

Come on, let’s read!


The Costs of Not Supporting Students With Learning Differences

Living with a learning difference can make every lesson more difficult, especially during a child’s school-age years. These differences have very little to do with their level of intelligence or behavior. Instead, it comes down to understanding that people with learning differences are wired differently, cognitively speaking. For this reason,a learning difference can affect multiple areas of a person’s life well into adulthood. Working with kids early on in their school years can literally change the course of their lives.

A student’s reading ability in third grade helps predict whether they will graduate from high school and their level of success later in life.

Students who do not learn to read by fourth grade will most likely face a host of struggles unless an effective intervention can take place.

When students aren’t reading by eighth grade, they need expert help to identify exactly the student’s areas of weakness.

5 strategies that help students with reading differences.


Build background knowledge:

Background knowledge helps readers understand what they read. The more background knowledge students have about a topic, the more they will understand what they read. Build background knowledge with nonfiction, human-read audiobooks.


Allow for student choice:

When students have a choice about what they read, they are more motivated to engage. Picking a book from an online shelf of hundreds of audiobooks allows for equitable access to grade-level content and will empower students in their learning, lower stress, and reduce emotional frustration.


Offer multisensory reading:

Techniques like highlighting text as it’s read provide a visual connection for students in a way that brings written and spoken language together to enhance comprehension. Audiobooks with highlighted words help bridge the gap when decoding skills are still developing and students aren’t absorbing content.


Strengthen vocabulary:

As students move through school, vocabulary becomes increasingly important. In middle and high school, students’ vocabulary is a greater predictor of reading success than their decoding skills. Strengthening vocabulary with human-read audiobooks spills over into other areas of students’ reading.


Open the door to discussion:

Talking about what they read enhances students’ comprehension. When students are engaged in discussion about what they read in human-read audiobooks, reading becomes a meaningful way to connect to school. When students have access to the same books their peers are reading, it builds their confidence and belief in themselves increases.

What’s true (and what’s a myth) about audiobooks.

 Audiobooks are proven to help students with learning differences become better readers and learners. They can be a powerful tool, but many people don’t know how well they work. How much do you know?

Click on the statements you think are true.

Using audiobooks is cheating.

Myth: Human-read audiobooks provide students with another way to access grade-level content so that they gain knowledge, vocabulary, and a love of reading.

When students use audiobooks, they often “get lost” in the story.

Truth: Decoding a book word by word is tedious and frustrating. Audiobooks remove that barrier, allowing students to focus on the story and absorb content.

When students use audiobooks, they aren’t really building reading skills.

Myth: Audiobooks with highlighted text support and build students’ vocabulary and comprehension, two key reading skills.

If kids are using audiobooks, there’s no connection to printed text.

Myth: Human-read audiobooks include highlighted text that helps students follow along, connecting audio and print so students can be immersed in the meaning of the text.

Audiobooks help students read grade-level content.

Truth: Human-read, grade-level audiobooks give students the chance to engage with the curriculum in new ways.

Audiobooks help struggling readers by removing the struggle of having to read word by word.

Truth: Human-read audiobooks provide clear modeling of word reading and fluency for students, allowing them to enjoy the content.

A-ha! Moments From Teachers of Students With Learning Differences

I remember figuring out that children who can’t read well aren’t dumb or lazy. Their brains simply don’t process information like stronger readers. They need empowerment and support, not reminders or incentive charts.

—Nelda Reyes, teacher, De Zavala Elementary School, San Marcos Consolidated ISD

I realized that my struggling readers have amazing potential! When they listen to books read aloud, they can do all the higher-level thinking, analysis, and discussion that we want them to do. It’s wonderful to see them lost in a story.

—Kristy Mathieu, third grade general education teacher Kiker Elementary School, Austin ISD

I was astounded to see that audiobooks are a tool that can enhance comprehension and help children enjoy books. Why would we deny anyone the opportunity to love reading?

—Amy Kalinchuk, special education teacher, Hamilton Middle School, Denver, CO

My a-ha moment was when I realized that my students can succeed with a tool, like an audiobook, that doesn’t hold them back because of their difficulties with word reading.

—Marlene Biava, special education teacher, Montgomery Township Schools, New Jersey

We all read differently, and that’s okay!

Ear Reading

Eye reading

is the standard way to read words on the printed page. Eye reading includes taking in words, sentences, and phrases through our eyes to develop meaning.

Finger Reading

Finger reading

is using the sense of touch to access words and is most used by students with visual impairments who use braille, a form of written language represented by the patterns of raised dots.

Ear Reading

Ear reading

is taking in information on a page through your ears. Audiobooks and text-to-speech technology allow students to read with their ears.

Watch the Video

Understanding how to help students with learning differences requires a great deal of information, skills, and strategies. It’s critical for teachers to build a toolbox that can help them identify and meet the needs of every student. Learn More»