Bookshare: Back to School Series #1

Welcome to the first blog in our Back to School with Bookshare series. Over the next two months, we will publish a series of blogs specifically designed to help teachers, students, and parents get a fresh start to the school year. The blogs will feature tips from the teaching trenches, advice on classroom collaboration, and insights on achieving reading independence through assistive technology.Diane Lurye is a Special Education Resource Teacher at Bells Mill Elementary School in Montgomery County, Maryland. She serves an average of 23 students in K-5 with a range of educational disabilities, including specific learning disabilities and speech and language impairments. “My job is to provide instruction and support for students with disabilities so they progress academically and socially and access the general education curriculum,” says Diane. She is a big advocate of collaboration so she can leverage the school’s resources to meet her students’ needs. With that in mind, Diane shares four steps she takes to prepare for the school year and increase her students’ reading independence:

1-Take Advantage of District Resources

At the top of her list is HIAT — High Incidence Accessible Technology — a collaborative team in her district that applies the principles of universal design for learning to support school teams to meet the needs of all students. They provide training and consultation to build the capacity of classroom environments to incorporate technology options. It was through one of their professional development courses that Diane learned about Bookshare in 2008. “They are an incredible resource, and I feel so fortunate to have their support for my students,” says Diane.

2-Collaborate with Regular Classroom Teachers

One of the most successful ways that Diane has used Bookshare is to support fourth and fifth graders in Literature Circles in their general education classrooms. Students select a novel to read and then participate in a group discussion. “By using Bookshare’s text-to-speech (TTS) capability, my students are able to read a book above their reading level and keep up with the demand of reading several chapters within a given time period. They are prepared to discuss the book with their peers and share their understanding and insights. It raises their self-esteem and encourages them to seek out more books and become more proficient readers,” says Diane.

3-Prepare Reading Lists Before School Starts

Diane takes every opportunity to tell the school staff about Bookshare and explain how important it is for students with disabilities to have digital, accessible versions of their books. Diane requests lists of required reading and other curriculum materials from classroom teachers well before school starts. This gives her a chance to prepare Reading Lists in Bookshare that the students can access with their Bookshare Student Logins. “Many students have difficulty with foundational reading skills such as decoding, fluency, and comprehension, and Bookshare gives them access to rich literature and digital text that makes them more independent at school and at home,” says Diane.

4-Teach New Students How to Use Bookshare

Students in Montgomery County Public Schools have Chromebooks available to them for most of the school day which has improved their access to digital text. Diane teaches her new students how to log in to Bookshare, search for and download books, and read using Bookshare Web Reader.

Students have benefitted from using ebooks with TTS. In addition to getting books much faster, they can control the voices, adjust speeds, and follow along with the text. “The pronunciation is not perfect, but when students catch an occasional mispronunciation it shows that they are paying attention and learning,” says Diane.

Parents have shared that having Bookshare at home has helped their students with reading, and they are more willing to engage in reading and discuss the books. Another example of independence through collaboration.

On the Digital Bookshelf

Here are several novels that Diane’s students enjoyed reading during Literature Circles:

            The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

            Rules by Cynthia Lord

            There’s an Owl in the Shower by Jean Craighead George

            Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Find out if your students qualify for free Bookshare memberships and start downloading books today.

Thank you to Diane Lurye for sharing her experience and advice with the Bookshare community.

This blog post was originally posted on Bookshare's website.  Reposted on Paths to Technology by permission.

Read more about: Assistive Technology