Tamela Winston, special education teacher at Bessemer City High School in Alabama, discusses the power of accessible textbooks for special education success in general education classrooms.
Tamela Winston has been a special education teacher for more than two decades. She currently works at Bessemer City High School, where she focuses on inclusion. This means that Tamela works with the majority of special education students who attend general education. In this role, Tamela works with the classroom teachers to implement accommodations and support her students’ learning.
BCHS Gives Students Agency in Building a Career
Bessemer City High School has more than 900 students, most of whom are African American. The school offers a range of courses that students have the opportunity to participate in. They are able to take college courses and explore career technical areas that can lead to a job.
“Starting in eighth grade, every student makes a career plan. We ask them, what is it that you want to do, when you graduate?” says Tamela. “We try to put the students in an area that would closely match with their career area. If you are college oriented, we will put you on the college path. I have a student who wants to be a chef, so we put him into family nutrition science. There are still core, required courses, but it is nice to let the students do what they are interested in outside of that. It gives them the opportunity to explore their interests and have a say in their education.”
Accessible Texts Enable Students to See Their Own Success
Enabling independence and self-direction for her students is important. Says Tamela, “You have to let the students do the work and see their own success.” She uses Bookshare, a free library of ebooks for students with reading barriers such as dyslexia and other learning disabilities, blindness, low vision, or cerebral palsy, to find appropriate books for her students with learning disabilities and enable them to read independently.
Tamela first came across Bookshare six or seven years ago while searching for resources for her students. She was pleased to discover that Bookshare had a wide range of books, including Pearson AGS Globe textbooks, which enable her students with reading barriers to access grade-level information for science, math, and other courses with additional support and more carefully paced lessons.
“I don’t want to do students’ work for them. I want them to do their own work and see their own success. Every time you give in, they don’t see their own success.” Providing accommodations like Bookshare and alternative textbooks, such as AGS, empowers Tamela’s students with special education needs to find success in the general education classroom.
Bookshare is a General Education Tool for Differentiated Instruction
This year, the special education department gave a presentation to the entire school on differentiated instruction. Tamela presented Bookshare to teachers in each core subject, encouraging them to sign up for their own teacher (sponsor) accounts after the presentation. Through the process, she got about ten teachers signed up. Tamela strongly recommends this approach for other special educators who may be struggling to get their general education colleagues on board.
“It gave me an up-close and personal opportunity to show teachers by department how to use Bookshare. We’re still adding teachers to our account.”
Her advice for other special educators who are trying to encourage their colleagues to use Bookshare? “Just keep reminding teachers what a great resource Bookshare is! Not only is it a good resource for the kids, but it is also a good resource for the teachers because it is easy. You can find what you need and ensure your students are benefiting.”
Do you have students with dyslexia, vision loss, or other reading barriers in your class? Find out how Bookshare can help.