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Diverse Students Learn by Doing at Henry Ford Academy

Special education resource teacher keeps it simple and effective by providing ebooks in alternate formats to students with learning challenges 

Joe Manzella is the 9th grade Resource Room teacher at the Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn, Michigan, outside of Detroit. The public charter school is state funded, tuition free, and located within the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. Inspired by Henry Ford’s “Learning by Doing” philosophy, students use the museum’s resources, artifacts, and exhibits to expand on what they are learning in the classroom. The student body is diverse – more than half of the 513 students are students of color. Joe’s caseload includes students with learning disabilities, hearing impairments, emotional impairments, autism, and attention deficits.  

I recently interviewed Joe about ways he supports students who need accommodations for reading. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How does Henry Ford Academy identify students who might be eligible for Bookshare? 

The IEP team reviews each student’s IEP at the beginning of the school year. We are looking for students who have a visual impairment, reading disability, or physical impairment and would benefit from an accommodation for text-to-speech programs and devices. Once we identify who meets the criteria, we sign students up for a free Bookshare membership.  

Pro Tip: Students do not need an IEP to qualify for Bookshare. Students with 504 Plans or other interventions for reading barriers may qualify. Learn more

How does Bookshare fit into the larger gen ed classroom learning environment? 

The students who use Bookshare in their general education classes benefit from the service since it allows them to keep up with the same reading assignments that their peers have. Students can use Bookshare during silent reading and throughout the day to access their textbooks. By using Bookshare, my students have demonstrated better comprehension of the text, which in turn has led to increased participation in class discussions as well as improved test scores. 

Which reading tools and devices do your students prefer? 

My students love to read on their Chromebooks using Read&Write for Google with help from a video tutorial that I created. We just purchased new iPads, which they are all eagerly waiting to use. Some students use their iPhones, but most prefer a larger screen. 

What do they think of the text-to-speech (TTS) voices? 

Students love the abundance of voices to choose from. They also appreciate the diversity of the voices. When they first start using Bookshare, they enjoy finding the perfect voice that meets their needs. 

Are there any obstacles that prevent students from using Bookshare?  

Sometimes students need reminders to use it, especially at home. So I created a video tutorial to help them access Bookshare and find their Reading Lists

What advice do you have for teachers and parents? 

For school staff, after reviewing students’ IEPs or 504s that call for a program like Bookshare, promote and encourage students to use it. I also encourage teachers to familiarize themselves with how it works, so that they can help students access the materials they need in order to be successful. 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

For parents, stay in communication with school staff, as we can provide resources to help your student when they are learning at home. Our number one priority is for your student to thrive, and we’ll do all that we can to make that happen! 

Pro Tip: Set up lists of required reading by grade level so students have immediate access to books all in one place. The ninth grade list contains 16 books including: The Giver, The Nickel Boys, A Raisin in the Sun, Wonder, The American Vision, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

Can you provide an example of how Bookshare helped a student? 

I had an African American student with a fairly significant visual impairment. Without Bookshare, he really struggled keeping up with classroom readings, especially in his English class as they were reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Once we signed him up for Bookshare, he began reading TKAM through the platform and we noticed his participation on writing assignments and class discussions immediately increased. Having the ability to not only enlarge the text, but also have that text read aloud proved to be really beneficial for him. 

“My goal is to provide an individualized, interactive, and engaging learning environment tailored to the specific needs of each student. I use technology, best practices in differentiated instruction, and a collaborative approach to provide the most meaningful and equitable learning experience possible.” – Joe Manzella  

Do you know a student who struggles with reading and can benefit from books in alternate formats? Learn how Bookshare can help

One Comment

  1. Diana Felton

    I love working with Joe Manzella. He always knows the latest technology that can help students who have IEP’s. As a English teacher, I have learned a lot from him.

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