Fifteen years ago, Michelle Thomas, a seasoned special educator, crossed into the realm of assistive technology (AT) to help more students with disabilities become independent readers. Thomas says, “It is a universal right to read. Instead of viewing AT as a crutch, I wanted to help more teachers view it as an effective learning tool.”
Academic Achievement through Bookshare and Chromebooks
Thomas’ role in one of the largest school districts in Colorado — Adams 12 Five Star School District — is an important one. She works with students who have physical, cognitive, and behavioral issues to improve their academic achievement. Most days, you will find her supporting teachers across 50+ schools to use and understand the benefits of Bookshare and AT. She says, “The right accommodations can change a child’s life!”
In her district, an increase in the number of Chromebooks has expanded teachers’ use of Bookshare to find accessible books. “Children are accustomed to digital technologies,” she says. “Text-to-speech is a natural occurrence to them. This multimodal approach can significantly reinforce reading comprehension which leads to improved learning.”
Reasons to Try Bookshare
Thomas notes another important benefit of Bookshare is the development of independent readers. “Students rely less on their parents, friends, and teachers and more on themselves. We see their anxiety diminish and in its place a renewed sense of self-worth.” She encourages teachers and parents to give the online library a careful look for these reasons:
- Bookshare’s processes to set up and manage student memberships are now streamlined.
- Membership is free for U.S. schools and students who qualify.
- The collection has grown and will soon top 400,000 titles, including a variety of academic books, literature, newspapers and magazines, vocational resources, nonfiction, and bestsellers, that appeal to many reading interests.
- Using Bookshare Web Reader on a Chromebook makes it fast and easy for students to read classroom textbooks with the benefit of text-to-speech and word highlighting.
- Student Login makes it much easier for teachers to assign reading and for students to access their assigned books from home or anywhere.
To support the district’s teachers in finding age-appropriate books and prepare for parent discussions in IEP meetings, Thomas created these resources:
- Pinterest account contains book lists so teachers can easily find titles that engage students and address curricular needs.
- A password protected web page on the Adams 12 Assistive Technology Google Site to highlight helpful training tips and Bookshare information for parents. On this site, additional documentation demonstrates how teachers can use AT in a universal design for learning (UDL) fashion.
Teachers Use Bookshare in Various Settings
Today, teachers in Adams 12 use Bookshare in various learning settings. Deb Bolger, a Learning Specialist at The Studio School, takes her students to the library to search for preferred books. She believes the process of selecting a physical book is an interesting and fun ritual. “Once they find a book they like, they know they can read it in an accessible format,” she says. “That’s where Bookshare plays a critical role.”
Bolger also assigns reading a digital book as a calming technique for students who become overly stimulated in class. “Students find the act of listening to an audio book soothing,” she says. “One young man routinely arrives in my class for a needed break and automatically opens his latest Bookshare book on a Chromebook and is quite content.”
Technology Accommodations and Bookshare’s Digital Accessible Books
Thanks to Ms. Thomas, Ms. Bolger, and thousands of educators in schools across the U.S., there is a constant nudge to use technology accommodations in the classroom, library, and at home to acquire and demonstrate knowledge.
Thomas reiterates, “Reading a book independently is a universal right that all students deserve. Technologies, like Chromebooks and Bookshare, support this goal as teachers strive to deliver a quality reading experience. We want to tear down the barriers and move toward a reading revolution. In the process, we will develop more confident and independent achievers.”
Michelle Thomas is a Bookshare Mentor Teacher who inspires equity and accessibility for lifelong learning on behalf of students with print disabilities. This training and support network was formed in 2010 to help the nation’s top teachers and specialists share best practices on using accessible learning materials. Today, more than five hundred educators participate.