Capturing Struggling Readers

In a recent IEP meeting, a parent shared that her son was frustrated because he could not read the same books as his peers and he felt ‘out of it’ because he couldn’t engage in their conversations about the latest and greatest books they were reading. This led to an engaging conversation about audio books and I immediately emailed my sister as she struggled with the same thing with her two boys until they discovered audio books. She put the below together for me to share with parents. Thanks, Lisa 🙂

Audio books allow us to foster a love for literature separately from the mechanics of reading.  This is essential in motivating struggling readers.  Audio books also allow children to read independently and enjoy the same titles as their peers.  With the availability and discrete size of iPods and mp3 players, a student can listen to a book in class without drawing the attention of peers.

Sources of audio books:

The public library is a great first place to check.  Many libraries provide audio books that can be downloaded to your computer or mobile devise for free.

  • Availability: is a commercial outlet and is available to all.  It is owned by Amazon and works seamlessly with the Kindle as well as other devises.
  • Price: Membership is $15/mo. and includes one download per month.  Additional books can be downloaded for a fee ($8-15 ea).  Audible often offers membership deals and other specials.  Call their customer service for the best current plan or to suspend membership.
  • Quality: Audio books are available for many titles and are read by professional actors.
  • Read-along: In order to read along with the audio, the book must be obtained separately.
  • Devices: Each book can be downloaded onto multiple devises including personal computer, mp3 player or iPods.
  • Textbooks: Textbooks are not available.
  • Other: Some schools are obtaining memberships from Audible at discounted prices.

BookShare (

  • Availability: Bookshare is available only to people with print-based disabilities. 
  • Price: It is free.
  • Quality: The audio is computer generated and can be sped up or slowed down.
  • Read-along: BookShare is unique because the download includes text and audio.  The text is highlighted to assist reading along.
  • Devices: It is easy to use on a computer or iPod app.  The app can download a book in less than a minute, even while on the go.
  • Textbooks: Textbooks are available, but only if the membership is obtained by the school and the child is on an IEP.
  • Other: This is a great tool for people with tracking issues and to assist in fluency rates by reading along with the highlights.  However, readers can be frustrated by the computer-generated voice, which, for example, pronounces “Hermione” incorrectly.

Learning Ally ( (formerly Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic)

  • Availability: LearningAlly is available only to people with print-based disabilities. 
  • Price: An individual, unlimited, annual membership fee is $99.
  • Quality: Books are read by humans – volunteers, authors and professionals.  Some readers make mistakes.  Some books are read by multiple readers.
  • Read-along: In order to read along with the audio, the book must be obtained separately.
  • Devices: Audio books can be downloaded onto a computer or iPod app.
  • Textbooks:  LearningAlly is unique because textbooks are available to all members and illustrations and graphs are also read and described.  Textbooks are frequently read by experts in the field.
  • Other:  If a book is not available, it can be requested and will be recorded, often within two weeks.

Thanks also to @KarenJan who shared via Twitter: “& don’t forget the Speak Selection and Reader features built into iOs devices.”


Thank you Dr. King

I sent this email to the families at the school where I am Principal this afternoon and thought I would share here as well:

Good afternoon,
As we pause today to celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I cannot help but be struck by how far we have come as a nation and as a people in the past 60 years. It is astonishing to me that it was only 58 years ago (1954) that the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Bd. of Education that the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place in the sphere of public education. Society takes time to catch up with legislation as is clear by the fact that nine years later, in 1963, Dr. King gave his seminal “I Have a Dream” speech. Visiting classrooms last week, I was able to participate in many lessons focused on Dr. King and his legacy. We are fortunate to be educators, parents and guardians in 2012 where we have the responsibility to teach our children the values of peace, equality and inclusion.
If you are interested in exploring Dr. King’s legacy further with your child(ren) I encourage you to visit Wonderopolis – a website sponsored by the National Center for Family Literacy. Today’s “Wonder of the Day” is “What is a civil right?” There is a powerful, short video and some extension activities in which you may be interested.
Michael Jackson’s lyrics in the background of the video are so fitting: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror…if you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and make the change.” I think Dr. King would agree that this is a powerful message for us to share with our children who will be the leaders of tomorrow.
Have a safe and enjoyable week,
Julie A. Vincentsen
Helen Keller Elementary School
“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.” John Dewey

‘Tis the Season of Report Cards: Praising Effort & Setting Goals

As we move into the season of ending trimesters, distributing report cards and conferencing with parents, I wanted to share my weekly communication with families on this topic. 
Good evening,

Can you believe that it is already December and the first term of our school year is over? The teachers and I look forward to welcoming you to Parent Conferences this Thursday and Friday.

The distribution of report cards can be a big day in the life of our students. For many students, this brings a great deal of anxiety as children are concerned about how parents/guardians will react when they open the envelope. Growing up, I remember this same feeling. My parents’ mantra was “It is not the grade that counts as long as you try your best!” No matter how many times they said that though, I was still nervous handing that report card to my mom when I did not receive straight As or get top marks on effort and conduct.

I want to share with you a portion of an email sent home regarding report cards from a colleague of mine who is a 4th grade teacher in another school. She writes,

“There has been much anxiety over the report cards coming up in our morning meeting discussion sharing comments such as “If I don’t get top marks, my mom is taking away my ipod” or “My dad said I would be grounded for a month.”  Now, some of this is “talk”, but this fear of “bad” grades is real for your nine and ten-year-olds. Your children want to please you.  They want to impress you. They want you to be proud.

When I was a child, my dad was a teacher (and he still is—39 years later!). On report card day, he would look through the report card and only point out the things that really made him proud.  Then, we went out to eat or for ice cream to celebrate “Cara’s math grade, Jenna’s conduct marks, and Erik’s grades in PE and Art.”  He didn’t burst our bubble by pointing out things to improve at that moment of anxiety.  He made us feel good for our talents.  Then, a few days later, we would have a serious discussion about areas of excellence and areas to improve.  But at that moment of truth, as we stood in front of our parents holding our breath and hoping they were happy, he made us feel important, valued, and special.  When my own children’s report cards come home, I still remember the way our dad treated us and try to do the same.

When your kids come home this week with their progress reports, hug them, kiss them, tell them you are proud.  Hang up the report card.  Call the grandparents to share the great news.  Head out to celebrate hard work and effort. You’ll gain bonus points as a parent and as you head into the adolescent years, you’ll have the respect and trust of your children.”

Her story is a powerful one and it is clear that her father’s approach had a profound impact on her as a child, as a mother and as a teacher. I encourage you to take time this week to celebrate your child’s strengths and their effort over the last several months. Find a time in the next week, perhaps after conferences, to discuss his/her challenges and areas for needed growth. Ask questions like, what are your goals to improve in this area? How can I help you reach that goal? These are conversations we have in school with your children on a regular basis. I am confident that working together, we can help your child reach his/her goals!

Have a safe and enjoyable week,

Julie A. Vincentsen

Helen Keller Elementary School

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children.” John Dewey

Happy Arts in Education Week

I wanted to share a letter I sent to my families today regarding a new chorus program we are implementing. It has a dual benefit – increased arts for children and increased collaboration for adults. Who could argue with its value? : )

Dear Parents/Guardians of 4th and 5th graders,

This week educators across the country are celebrating National Arts in Education Week. The resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives initiating this week states, “…Arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theater, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students.” The Arts Education Partnership further articulates the goal of this week being “to promote and showcase the immense role arts education has in producing engaged, successful, and college and career-ready students.”

Here at Keller we will be celebrating this week by offering a new arts opportunity for our 4th and 5th grade students. Beginning Wednesday, September 14th, they will begin to participate in a weekly chorus block. Fourth graders will meet from 1:00-1:45 and 5th graders from 1:45-2:30. We are excited for the students to be able to enhance their arts education in this way.

I encourage you to learn more about the research base that shows the importance of the arts in education by visiting the websites of the Arts Education Partnership and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. You will find links to both groups on the Keller homepage.

In addition to increasing time on learning in arts education, we are also looking forward to utilizing this block to increase time for teacher collaboration. Research clearly shows that student learning and teacher efficacy are enhanced with increased time for teachers to work in partnership regarding their practice. To this end, while children are working in Chrous, teachers will be meeting to collaborate on a myriad of topics in the areas of teaching and learning. I am greatly looking forward to working with the staff during this time and am confident we will see the benefits from this coordinated planning in the classroom.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Julie Vincentsen


Unpacking My Invisible Backpack

Invisible backpack? Huh? Read this placement letter 2011 for more explanation.

Tomorrow is my opening day with the teachers at my new school. All summer I have been prepping for this day with thoughts of how I would set the tone for my leadership. When the meeting was postponed earlier this week due to the impact of Hurricane Irene on the town, I was crest fallen. I worried about staff members impacted by the storm and I worried about the impact of not having this important time together on our staff’s culture.

Well, luckily that meeting was just postponed – not cancelled – and tomorrow is the big day. I am looking forward to this time with the staff with anxious anticipation. What will tomorrow bring?

Here is a link to my Prezi (my first!) that I will show to unpack my backpack for the staff. I am looking forward to the opportunity!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Shana Tova! Feliz año Nuevo! Shuvo noboborsho! Xin nian yu kuai! Sehe Bokmanee Bateuseyo! Sawatdee Pi Mai! The joyous ringing in of the New Year is a custom that crosses all cultural boundaries. It is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the previous year and to set goals for the upcoming year.

In many ways the first day of school is like New Year’s Day. Since I was little, I have always relished in the beginning of a new school year. I vividly remember the night before school started as a young child. There was a special excitement in the air that is difficult to describe in words. I would lay out my first day of school outfit and organize my crisp, new school supplies and then wait with anxious anticipation for the morning to come. That first day was magical – a new beginning, a chance to start fresh, to make new friends and to set lofty goals for the upcoming year.

We are ready for this new school year! A world of possibilities and opportunities awaits each one of us. The beginning of a new year gives us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our previous accomplishments and to set goals/resolutions for the upcoming year. I encourage all educators to engage in a similar conversation. What are you proud of from last year? What are areas for needed growth on which you would like to work? What are your goals or resolutions for this new year?

My resolution is to continually strive to be a better principal than I was the year before – I take seriously my charge to build and to sustain a culture within our school that is safe and welcoming for all. In the words of American poet Edith Lovejoy Pierce,  “We will open the book.  Its pages are blank.  We are going to put words on them ourselves.  The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” I am looking forward to the opportunities that await as I begin working with the staff at my new school tomorrow – as long as Hurricane Irene does not get in the way!

I look forward to sharing this New Year with my PLN – best wishes for a joyous and successful year!

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