Any teacher will tell you that reading when young increases students’ academic success as they advance in school. But in the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic schools, literature does so much more in the formation of the souls, hearts, and minds of students. Literature gives students the chance to delight in story, to develop a sense of the human story, humanity’s choices and struggles, and to explore virtues worthy of imitation and the consequences of evil, which is the development of a moral imagination. Literature helps students to be more empathetic and live harmoniously with others. Providing access to literature for all students, then, is mission-critical.
With support and funding from the Zarlengo Foundation, the Archdiocese of Denver has been working with Learning Ally on a literacy study to support our students who struggle to read. What began as a pilot program in 2015 with a small handful of schools in the archdiocese was later expanded to all of its Catholic schools. Teachers set aside time for students to read texts with the support of Learning Ally Audiobook Solution, a tool that provides students not only the text read aloud but highlighting the words visually as each is read aloud.
The study sought to answer the question: how well was the program working? Were the results what parents, teachers and principals hoped it would be? Results from the study conducted with 1,300 students in our 34 elementary schools showed that through the implementation of the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution, educators were able to double the rate of reading growth.
“To double the rate of growth is just incredible,” says Abriana Chilelli, Associate Superintendent of Academic Renewal. “Literature makes known the nature of the human person, our problems, and our experiences. When we have tools that help more students access the beauty and depth of literature, it’s just an incredible gift. This study proved that gift worked– that each and every student can learn to read well and grow in our schools!”
Teachers using the program say it is making a big difference in their classrooms. “Students using Learning Ally at our school have an increased level of confidence, motivation, and certainly independence,” says Kristen Trinder, reading intervention teacher at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic School. “Because of the Learning Ally audio platform, students know ahead of time that they’re going to have a higher chance of understanding and comprehending what they need to read, and they are much more willing and ready to engage in their work.”
The study compared student performance on the STAR assessment and the extent to which implementation of the Learning Ally Audiobook Solution showed correlations to reading level performance. The results were a breakthrough in literacy instruction success. Previously, educators in the Archdiocese of Denver could expect to improve reading levels among a student who struggles to learn, at .4 grade levels of improvement. When studying students who engaged with Learning Ally Audiobook Solution at rates indicative of frequency of reading, a typical student achieved double the rate of reading growth (.9).
“The Zarlengo Foundation has provided Learning Ally for each of our schools for more than five years now,” said Chilelli. “I’m so grateful for the critical role the Zarlengo Foundation and Learning Ally has played in advancing the mission of our schools. Learning Ally provides all students, regardless of learning differences that might make reading more difficult, a chance to experience the beauty of reading literature, a chance to be formed with a sacramental and moral imagination through stories.”
“We wanted to bring the entire Learning Ally Audiobook Solution program, with audiobooks, peer-to-peer mentoring, and teacher training to a whole school district in Colorado. We reached out to the Archdiocese of Denver, knowing that some of their schools have limited resources,” said Katie Zarlengo, Executive Director of the Zarlengo Foundation. “The teachers have been fantastic about embracing the program and really incorporating it into their classroom instruction, and for reading at home over the summer. It really opened up the world of reading to struggling readers.”
“We worked with a team of champion educators who were able to deliver outstanding outcomes in terms of student achievement,” said Dr. Terrie Noland, CALP and VP of Literacy Initiatives at Learning Ally. “We are so grateful to our partners at the Denver Archdiocese and the Zarlengo Foundation, who have helped us to further our goals around equitable education.”