Bookshare member dives into the deep end of reading with accessible ebooks!
Omree Sabo, a sophomore at Redwood High School in Marin County, California, is an avid user of Bookshare; so much so that he decided to help other students and teachers at his school and in his county learn about the free, online library of accessible ebooks for U.S. students who cannot read standard print.
“Bookshare gets a big thumbs up from me,” says Omree. “I don’t know where my grades would be if my parents had not found Bookshare and signed me up for an Individual Membership.”
In second grade, Omree recalls being pulled out of class to be tested by a reading specialist. “I felt ashamed when my elementary teachers asked me to read aloud and I couldn’t,” he says. “In school, most teachers, including some in special education, did not know about a Bookshare Organizational Membership for schools. They did not realize that the resource is free and could give kids, like me, access to digital textbooks and reading assignments in digital formats like the one I just read for English: Romeo and Juliet.”
During his freshman year, Omree worked on a school project to learn about assistive technologies and how they support students with learning disabilities. He contacted Bookshare to ask for literature to share with his peers and school administrators in his district.
“I found that most students with reading and writing disabilities who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) did not know about or use Bookshare,” he said. “As a result, most were not considering college. I completely understood how they felt, but this was not acceptable. How are kids with dyslexia supposed to read textbooks without audio assistance? Some statistics say that less than ten percent of students with reading disabilities finish college because they cannot handle the high-level reading material. Bookshare helped me to recognize that I am a very good student. I was always good at math and science, and now I like to read.”
For required reading at school, Omree has read The Secret Life of Bees, works by William Shakespeare, and The Alchemyst from Bookshare. He intends to look for test preparation materials in Bookshare so that he can study for the SAT and ACT prior to attending college where he plans to study computer programming or science.
He reads ebooks on his iPad with apps like Read2Go and Voice Dream Reader, and also on his laptop using Bookshare Web Reader directly from an internet browser. Students can read Bookshare books on a wide variety of software apps, tablets, smartphones, and assistive technology devices.
“Listening to ebooks read aloud through text-to-speech while seeing the words highlighted helped me recognize how much I can learn while reading,” he said. “I also like to set my own reading preferences so I can look up words in the dictionary and take notes to study for exams.”
When he’s not involved in a school project, Omree loves to play guitar and swim. He idolizes Michael Phelps, the Olympic gold medal swimmer. When out of the pool, he reads popular teen series like Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter and likes to stay up to date on news and politics.
“Reading digital text helps me to pay attention and read for longer periods of time,” says Omree. “I like information that makes me think. I like to help people and want other kids with dyslexia to receive the accommodations they need for their reading disabilities, like assistive technologies and Bookshare. Then, they will be able to read well too. With Bookshare’s collection, I can dive into books and be like Michael Phelps — having no limits to hold me back. If that happens, then people with dyslexia can do well in school and go to college.”
Sign Up for Bookshare Today!
Bookshare’s online accessible library has over 484,000 titles including textbooks, Common Core materials, educational titles, bestsellers, children’s books, and more. The library is free for U.S. students with qualifying print disabilities that prevent them from reading printed text. Bookshare is an initiative of a technology nonprofit called Benetech and is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education.
Finding the right reading solutions for an estimated 2.4 million* American students with a learning disability, like dyslexia, can be difficult. For these students, reading isn’t easy. Brain signals get mixed up, causing an inability to decode and interpret words. Thankfully, many students with learning disabilities are placed in the capable hands of specialists like Leslie Patterson, a Certified Academic Language Therapist and licensed Dyslexia Teacher for Griffis Elementary School in Caddo Mills, Texas. Leslie works with young children, and a critical part of her job is to identify strategies and resources that strengthen their reading comprehension through a multisensory approach.
Discovering Assistive Technology to Hear Content Read Aloud
Several years ago, Leslie experienced an “aha” moment that forever changed the way she taught reading using assistive technology and accessible curriculum materials. “I was working with a first grader who had a lot of exposure to reading but could not easily retain word patterns,” she said.
Leslie and many other teachers tried different strategies, but none were effective. In fourth grade, the student was still reading poorly, so the specialist took a new approach. She sat him at a computer running Read & Write Gold by TextHelp. The software reads text aloud and highlights words as the reader listens and follows along. With headphones on, the student was immersed in reading. “It was like a light went on,” says Leslie. “He showed immediate improvement. He began to complete all his assignments with the help of the Read & Write Gold text-to-speech features.”
Soon after his introduction to technology, Leslie signed him up for a Bookshare membership where he could read digital accessible books with both his eyes and his ears. Rather than reading print books that were several grade levels below his cognitive ability, this student was now passing Accelerated Reading (AR) scores on grade-level library books. The student went on to complete all of his school assignments using assistive technology and accessible curriculum. The multisensory reading approach (listening to and seeing highlighted text) enabled him to comprehend more of what he read. He met his academic goals. He enjoyed going to the school library and to find and read digital books. Leslie knew that she had made a breakthrough with her student.
Since that early technology reading experience, Leslie has turned to Bookshare’s online accessible library to find a broader selection of accessible ebooks. She says, “The digital library makes a real difference in helping students read grade-level text. Membership is free for all qualified U.S. students and includes some free reading tools. I can easily find accessible materials for schoolwork and pleasure reading.”
Teaching Students with Dyslexia to Become Mindful Readers
To keep her students engaged in reading, Leslie teaches them strategies of how to “listen well” with their eyes and ears. She says this is a key learning strategy called mindful reading. “Reading ebooks is like watching a movie,” she says. “If students learn to practice mindful reading strategies, they can become fully immersed in their ebooks. This experience can increase their comprehension and help them become independent readers. It opens them up to new learning opportunities and to expect academic achievement.”
Leslie suggests these mindful reading practices that she has adopted over time:
- Focus and discipline – teach students how to intentionally engage their senses, particularly eyes and ears, while reading (seeing and hearing) a digital ebook.
- Thought patterns – discuss brain functions to alert the thinking process.
- Story elements – break down the story into smaller parts to understand main points.
- Memory and recall – understand how the brain retains and recalls information.
- Imagination and creativity – determine how to imagine images, charts and symbols.
- Characters – imagine people and scenes in the mind, like in a movie.
- Brainstorm – prepare students to ask questions likely to be on comprehension quizzes.
- Technology devices – review how to use devices and set preferences and bookmarks.
Each school day, Leslie Patterson enters her classroom and sees tablets on her desk with lots of sticky notes from students requesting ebooks from Bookshare. She says, “Bookshare is a wise investment of time for our schools, teachers, and families. The library holds a rich and diverse collection (482,174 titles to date) with over 350,000 educational titles including literature and K-12 textbooks in accessible formats. With mindful reading best practices, assistive technology, and ebooks, we can help many more students with learning and print disabilities enjoy success in school and in life, and teaching children how to read and listen well will make you a hero.”
*Source: National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leslie Patterson was just featured in the Dallas Morning News in an article titled, “Elementary teacher uses technology to help dyslexic students develop love of reading.”
Seth Gast has dyslexia and a language disorder. For three years, he has used Bookshare’s online accessible library for schoolwork and to find Boy Scout manuals to obtain his merit badges and become an Eagle Scout. His mom, Dina Gast, credits his academic progress to a renowned dyslexia center, excellent teachers and tutors, and Bookshare. In recognition of National Dyslexia Awareness Month, here is Seth’s story.
Early Reading Frustration
Entering first grade, Seth was a bright little boy, but his mom noticed his enthusiasm for school and learning diminish. He liked books, but seemed to be frustrated with reading. A shadow followed Seth and his family for years. His mom, Dina Gast, arose each day with uncertainty. She remembers her son bringing books home from school that he could recite from memory. Seth had begun to compensate for his reading challenges with memorization. Mrs. Gast talked with teachers about her son’s lack of reading progress and says, “You never want to hear that anything is wrong with your child, but the answers and solutions for my son did not come easily.”
Mrs. Gast began to help Seth with schoolwork; still, his reading interest and grades fell. By third grade, she enrolled him in the Ohio Virtual Academy, a tuition-free, fully-accredited, online public school. By sixth grade, Mrs. Gast scheduled tests at the Akron Children’s Hospital where a physician who specializes in neurology developmental and behavior science diagnosed Seth with dyslexia. He also recommended Bookshare and the Children’s Dyslexia Center, Inc. run by the Scottish Rite Charity and Masonic Order. Mrs. Gast quickly signed her son up for an individual membership to Bookshare.
From Barely Reading to Reading with Full Comprehension
For two years, Seth worked with his online teacher and a certified tutor at the Children’s Dyslexia Center using accessible ebooks from Bookshare. At that time, Seth’s reading, writing and spelling skills were barely at a first grade level. “It’s been amazing to watch his progress,” says his mom. Seth went from barely reading to full comprehension. His handwriting, once gigantic and messy, turned into beautiful cursive. His vocabulary and spelling skills improved. Seth also has a much higher self-esteem and a greater understanding of his reading disability. “At first, I did not want people to know that I could not read,” he said. “I memorized a lot of books, but that got harder to do. Bookshare, my teachers, my technology and my mom helped me so much!”
Boy Scouts Honor
This year, Seth is completing his Boy Scouts of America merit badge series to become an Eagle Scout. He says, “I still like to hold a printed book or textbook, but I also want to hear the information read aloud.” He reads on an iPad with Read2Go. “The best thing about a digital accessible book is that you can read with your eyes and listen with your ears. This type of multi-sensory learning sinks in for me. I know I am smart. My brain is just wired differently.”
Leisure Reading Sparks a Career Interest
Growing up, Seth loved to read about nature and animals. It is no surprise that in high school he does well in animal science and biology. He wants to attend Ohio State University to become a zoologist. He says, “I was inspired by Jack Hanna, a well-respected American zookeeper at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium who has dyslexia too.”
Since identifying Seth’s learning disability, Mrs. Gast is so proud of her son. “Our lives and Seth’s reading skills have improved significantly! He is still a slow reader, but listening to audio books has improved his ability to get schoolwork done with less frustration. He just completed his first semester in high school with all A’s. This achievement would not have been possible without teachers who know the advantages of using accessible ebooks and technologies and these valuable resources to support children and adults with dyslexia and other print disabilities.”
Four Reasons to Sign Up for a Bookshare Membership:
- Reading skills improvement to enable progress toward grade level academic achievement.
- Access to core curriculum and required reading materials (K-12 textbooks, novels and literature) in accessible format.
- Reading and learning independence.
- Reading for fun and to tap into interests and hobbies.
Special thanks to Dina Gast and her son, Seth, for sharing their story.
Learn more about Bookshare’s back-to-school initiative today!