Kristine Dooley knows a thing or two about the benefits of accessible ebooks. An occupational therapist since 1980 and assistive technology (AT) consultant since 2009, she has advice galore for other educators who serve students with reading barriers. And she’s even more excited about the successes – small and large – that her students experience. She is a strong believer in giving students the right tools and support so they can get immediate results. I recently sat down with Kristine and asked her to share her advice. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe the students that you serve.
I work in the Osseo Area School District in a northwest suburb of Minneapolis. The district has 20,000 students at 17 elementary schools, four middle schools, three high schools, plus specialty programs. I provide AT instruction and support to individual students from early childhood to age 21 with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities. Of the students using Bookshare, most have IEPs, along with a growing number who have 504 plans.
How long have you been using Bookshare with students?
In 2009, our district won a Reinvest in America grant for $250,000 to implement AT. Part of the plan included updating the Bookshare organizational account. Since 2009, I appreciate the way Bookshare streamlined the student sign-up process so it’s much easier to set up accounts and assign books.
Which reading tools and devices do the students use?
In 2015, the district distributed implemented one-to-one iPads to students in fourth through twelfth grades. The Voice Dream Reader app was selected for upper grades because of its versatility, and the free version of Dolphin Easy Reader is perfect for younger students. Now the district is purchasing Chromebooks for high school students and needs to decide which Chrome extensions they will use for accessing Bookshare besides Bookshare Web Reader.
What do students think about the digital text-to-speech (TTS) voices?
My students found some decent, free voices on the iPad that they are comfortable with. Many high school students prefer to listen to books on their phones in class because they don’t look different, but they will use word highlighting and TTS at home. This is not an issue for younger students who really benefit from following the highlighted words on the screen, learning the patterns of the letters, and using pictures as cues to increase comprehension.
An eleventh grade boy with college aspirations who was diagnosed with dyslexia spent so much time laboring over his homework every night that he had no time to see friends. Bookshare helped him progress through his reading material faster and with better comprehension so he had more time to socialize. That was a huge win for him.
A fourth grade boy reading below grade level was not able to participate in his class’s book club because he couldn’t read the book they chose. He downloaded the book from Bookshare, and with the help of highlighted text and audio narration, he read the whole book and participated in the discussion.
What advice can you offer to other teachers who wish to use Bookshare with their students?
- Before school starts, set up reading lists for each grade level so students have books available on day one.
- For students just getting started with Bookshare, pick popular, high interest books they are eager to read so they experience success early before introducing textbooks.
- For students who don’t have internet access at home, help them download a book to a smartphone or tablet at school so they can read it at home using one of the many free reading apps.
What advice can you offer to parents?
Keep kids reading throughout the school year! Ask teachers to download books to your child’s Bookshare student account for reading at home or on the go.
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Kristine Dooley is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Consultant in Minnesota. She is also a part-time Bookshare trainer.
Bookshare is FREE for qualified U.S. students with reading barriers.