Magic happens every day in Susan Allen’s
special education classroom, where children who used to hate reading now sit down to devour books. At Canalino Elementary School in California, Allen helps her students get past the stigma of learning difficulties – using RFB&D audiobooks and her own unique system for making reading fun.
Canalino Elementary is situated in Carpinteria, California, a beautiful ocean-side city of around 14,000 people, east of Santa Barbara. When she started working there ten years ago, Susan Allen made the shift from classroom teacher to resource teacher. Her passion for reading and education, undying faith and patience with her students, and her obvious love for what she does stays with you and cheers your heart.
Allen’s classroom is bright and welcoming – the kind of place you’d feel comfortable just hanging around in for the afternoon. There are organized reading stations, colorful word lists, and lots of homemade signs, like “Working our way to Pizza Day!” But “Pizza Day” is just one of the ways she finds to celebrate her students’ high comprehension scores, along with the scores of books they are learning to read in this unique classroom.
Driven to make reading – and learning to read – fun, Allen has developed her own system for helping children in her special education class get past the stigma of learning difficulties. Working with Kristen Reed of RFB&D's Santa Barbara unit, she purchases low-cost children’s literature books, pairing them with an RFB&D audiobook on CD. Students go to a special reading area in the room brimming with books, and look through the array of titles. After choosing one, they open the book, pop in the CD and follow along with the voice, accessing material that was once beyond reach. The students then use Accelerated Reader on the computer to take quizzes to track their comprehension levels and keep score of their progress.
Allen reports that students working with RFB&D’s audiobooks in combination with Accelerated Reader in the last two years show, on average, a remarkable reading comprehension level jump of 35 percent. “RFB&D offers things beyond reading a book," she says. "It’s kind of like reading with your teacher, or with a parent.” Watch a short video of Susan Allen describing the effectiveness of RFB&D in the classroom.
Two of her shining stars, both fifth graders, talk about their love of reading. After 11-year old Yovanna started listening to RFB&D audiobooks while in the third grade, she began to keep up with fourth grade standards. “I read 100 books when I was in third grade," Yovanna says. "It used to be kind of hard to read, but now I’ve come up to a 90 percent reading comprehension level. When I read the book, it makes me happy, because I understand what the story is about.” When asked what her favorite book is, Yovanna answers succinctly: “Any books!”
Another student, ten year old Andrew, happily says, "Reading now is actually kind of fun!” Having worked his way up to 100 percent reading comprehension (“I always get 100 percent!”), he explains how the audiobooks have helped him to identify and remember words he may not have been able to decipher on his own. His comprehension level is fully evident when he explains, in depth, a book about giant squids that he had read a month earlier. Watch a short video clip of Andrew describing his experience with RFB&D audiobooks.
Describing her students’ rise in grades and self esteem is easy enough, but Allen wells up with tears when asked how their triumphs make her feel. She explains that one day after weeks of preparation, a student who was reading “pre-primer” was finally ready to sit down and read independently with an audiobook. He then began to ask inferential questions around the story, showing that he not only read the story, but more importantly comprehended what he read.
As for Allen’s take on the situation: “Magic happens here! If that’s the best thing I can do with my life, I’m set.”