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Vicki Numkena is a Reading Superhero for Native Students

Vicki Numkena, teacher of the visually impaired for Native students on the Navajo Reservation, uses audiobooks from Bookshare to “turn on” reluctant readers

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a multitude of curveballs at teachers this school year, and school districts have had varying degrees of success rising to the challenges. Schools in rural areas have experienced more than their share of challenges, and the schools on the Navajo Reservation in the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah are no exception. Vicki Numkena is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) who serves students in schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). Part of the US Department of the Interior, the BIE manages 187 schools serving 46,000 Native students across 23 states.

Vicki supports students in pre-school through seventh grade. “All of them have a visual impairment from low vision to blindness, and a few of my students also have other learning challenges,” explains Vicki. “Most live in rural settings with limited internet connectivity which is severely impacted by weather, especially wind.”

Overcoming Challenges with Distance Learning

When asked to describe her students’ learning environments, Vicki says that most of them are receiving virtual instruction. “One school brings in special needs students for face-to-face specialized services, and some schools provide packets of work that parents pick up at the school. At this time, I provide all of my services virtually, using Zoom and a variety of cameras.”

The biggest challenge, she says, is the poor and unreliable internet connectivity. The second biggest challenge is working with a visually impaired student who does not speak and has a very short attention span.

Bookshare Audiobooks about Favorite Topics Engage Reluctant Readers

Vicki has been using Bookshare for over a decade. Her students use Voice Dream Reader on their iPads. A former student who has since graduated from high school also listens to books on her iPhone. “My greatest success with Bookshare has been to ‘turn on’ reluctant readers to the joy of listening to books and discovering favorite authors and types of stories that they prefer,” she says.

What is her advice for others who support students with disabilities that have difficulty reading? Start by determining what interests the student has. “I have two beginning readers in third grade, and they are deeply into superheroes, Minecraft, and Fortnite. I look for books at their level and use them in my lessons and for rewards,” she says. “If I encounter a student who doesn’t seem to have an interest that I can tap into, I ask the school librarian what the popular books are for that grade level and use that information to select a few books that the student might like.“

“I work with low vision/blind students across the Navajo Reservation. We struggle with poor or no internet during this “virtual learning only” school year. Thanks to Bookshare, my students can still access books for leisure reading and textbooks when necessary. COVID lockdown is a great time to get “into” reading!”

Vicki N., TVI

“Another strategy I use to increase fluency and comprehension for a blind student is to work on listening speed. He is listening to a superhero book that was based on a movie that he knows,” she says. “We are increasing the speed each time we listen to a section of the book, and then I ask questions about what we heard to make sure he is comprehending the story at that speed.”

Looking for Minecraft and Fortnite Books?

Minecraft - The Shipwreck by CB Lee

Bookshare has 950,000 titles and over 650 special collection reading lists to match every interest. Try these lists for video game and superhero enthusiasts:

Need more book ideas? Here are the top ten most downloaded Bookshare books in 2020:

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Learn how you can be a reading superhero for students with qualifying reading barriers by signing them up for Bookshare.

Bookshare thanks Vicki for sharing her story and applauds her work with Native students on the Navajo Reservation.

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