Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016.  Continue reading below or Download a PDF version  

Teachers in Florida’s Indian River County are not only learning new ways to teach reading to students with dyslexia — the most common learning disability.  They are using the same approach to improve how they teach all students to read.

“This is really best practice. Everyone should have access to it,” says Liz Woody, co-founder of The Learning Alliance, (TLA) a nonprofit group in the county seat of Vero Beach that promotes literacy and is the lead organization for the local Grade-Level Reading coalition.

Partnering with the school district and community groups, TLA’s multifaceted work includes a four-year-old summer program to reduce summer learning loss that provides reading tutoring to kindergarten through third-grade students.

 It also includes a new master coach training program, running throughout this school year, for 56 teachers, including literacy coaches from the district’s 13 elementary schools. Funded through private dollars and local grants, TLA efforts since 2010 have reached 3,900 children, trained over 200 teachers and 56 master coaches in the county.

 Although the summer program was originally for children with dyslexia, space was available for other children. “What we found, quite by accident, is that average readers picked reading up quickly and accelerated,” says Woody. “It was like a light bulb switching on. If we can get average readers reading quicker, why not give them the tools earlier so they can excel too?”

This sentiment is echoed by a recent report from Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, a philanthropy that assists people with learning disabilities, and the GLR Campaign.  The report recommends that strategies developed for an estimated 2.4 million students with learning disabilities be applied in every classroom to bolster reading skills for all students.

In Florida, TLA embraces methods that combine daily small group instruction in early reading skills with art programs and multisensory techniques. During professional development, teachers learn how the brain processes sounds and words to produce speech and develop reading ability, helping them better evaluate and meet the individual needs of all readers.

methods are informed by cutting-edge neuroscience as well as the Orton-Gillingham approach developed for students with dyslexia in the 1930s by neurologist Samuel T. Orton and educator/psychologist Anna Gillingham. Also used are materials from Arlene Sonday, a literacy expert and president of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators.

The Florida effort also features an unusual partnership between a private nonprofit and a public school district. Dr. Fran Adams, superintendent of the School District of Indian River County, was receptive to TLA’s opening offer to provide training free of charge for the summer program and later to its offer to help develop six levels of teacher training in reading.

“We never thought that we would be as embedded into the school district and its professional development as we are today,” says Woody. “Working shoulder to shoulder with the administrators, teachers and reading coaches, we’re co-authoring the professional development that meets their needs.”

Providing this additional training also may reduce teacher turnover, adds Woody. “They leave because they’re frustrated,” she says, noting that teachers want to help but often do not have the resources they need within general education classrooms. “With the changing population, you have kids with a constellation of needs and issues. Teachers are hungry to figure out what’s going on and how to help them.”

Woody’s professional interest was fueled by personal experience, watching her two sons struggle with dyslexia. After her sons benefited from attending a private clinical school in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, Woody became increasingly interested in teaching methods for students with dyslexia and earned a master’s degree in Special Ed-Learning Disabilities.

Returning to Vero Beach, she co-founded TLA with two other parents of children with reading challenges. They found a willing funder, local philanthropist Ray Oglethorpe, former president of AOL. The goal is “transformational change,” says Woody. “These methods benefit all kinds of kids.”

For more information, contact Liz Woody at 772-321-7018

Photos: The Learning Alliance

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at

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