Skip to content

Ebooks and Assistive Technology Are Gateways to Reading

In Part 1, “The Crazy Reading Ladies,” Erin O’Leary and Mary Cotillo, explain how they turned Horace Mann Middle School into the school that reads.

In Part 2, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” discuss how assistive technology (AT) enhances the reading experience and delivers social and academic benefits. This blog is part two of a three-part series.

Which reading tools and devices do your students prefer?

Erin: We are incredibly fortunate that our school has implemented a 1:1 Chromebook program. This has allowed our kids to remain logged in to their Bookshare and Capti accounts throughout the day without having to remember those pesky passwords! About 75% of my students who use audiobooks prefer the Capti add-on to their Bookshare experience. They tell me the voices are better. We’re also big believers in training students to be their own advocates so they can adjust the background color, font size, or reading speed. I love that they are taking ownership of the experience and doing whatever works for them.

I have one student who prefers listening to readers with an accent. She has her Capti/Bookshare set to the British voice. And there’s evidence to back that up – some students find it easier to attend to a listening task when the voice is different. One 7th grader told me about the “sweet set-up” he has in his room – he has Bookshare coming through a Bluetooth sound system!

What are the benefits of audiobooks?

Mary: We know that audiobooks are a wonderful thing, so we make them available for all students. WeThe Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan talk about audiobooks we’ve enjoyed, we model their use in class, and we continually add to our collection. We’ve worked really hard to normalize them. It’s not unusual for ten or twelve kids to stop by and borrow headphones during silent reading because they enjoy the experience of listening to a story. Audiobooks are also discreet, which is critical because no middle schooler wants to look different. When you’re plugged into headphones, no one knows whether you’re listening to Bruno Mars or Harper Lee.

How does Bookshare and AT help your students socially?

Erin: We believe reading is even better when you can share the experience with others, and adolescents are inherently social. When my students can read the same books as their friends, they will find that books are a terrific conduit for social interactions. For example, one boy confided in me that he really wanted to read The Red Pyramid because so many of his friends had recommended it. Now, this was a double-deficit student who has slow automaticity combined with significant decoding deficits. I knew I would be setting him up for failure by handing him the paperback, so I gave him the book on Bookshare. He read it, and an entire social experience opened up for him.Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

I also had a group of 6th grade girls who were practically allergic to reading. They weren’t reading at home and had every excuse in the book. They talked about “not understanding” or having “a terrible memory for books.” Then we got the audio version of Unbroken. Those girls changed almost overnight. They would come into class and say, “Can we please just read today?” That same book proved to be the very first book one of our 8th graders read on his own, thanks to the audio.

I have two 6th grade boys who are reading Stormbreaker on Bookshare right now. I love listening to them talk to each other: “It’s good, right?” “Do you think the uncle is really dead?” “I’m not sure.”

Next Up in Part 3

  • Erin and Mary’s top ten tips to get kids reading
  • Favorite books and go-to authors to engage “dormant” readers
  • Even more student success stories

Learn more about “The Crazy Reading Ladies”


  1. Kathy

    Erin mentioned that her students with Chromebooks use Capti. Can that be used with Chromebooks? I thought that was only with Apple products. I have Chromebooks at my school and would love for my students to have better audio selections too. Thank you!

  2. Kristen Hughes

    Thank you so much for such wonderful success stories! I would love to know any hints or tips you have for getting teacher buy-in when students use audiobooks. I love that Bookshare gives my students text to follow along, but teachers still fight back saying that students should only read it, not listen. This has been an ongoing issue for years! Students read their teacher’s feelings and then fight AT use! I would welcome thoughts or ideas that you (or any blog readers) may have!

    • Laura Deck, Bookshare Communications

      Kristen: thank you for your comments. You may wish to reach out to Erin & Mary for specific tips on getting teacher buy-in for audiobooks. Their contact info is at the bottom of Part 1. We believe that whatever modalities students use – eyes, ears, and/or fingers, reading is reading. And we welcome any suggestions that other teachers may have on this topic!

  3. Kathy

    Terrific! I will read more about it. Thank you very much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *