Resource teacher Gwendolyn Carter uses her superpowers – reading instruction, Bookshare ebooks, and assistive technology – to help her students close reading gaps
On a recent Tuesday, the mask-covered face of José, an 11-year-old boy, popped into my Zoom screen. Hovering behind him in the Maybury Elementary School classroom was his Resource Teacher, Gwendolyn Carter. Maybury serves 250 students in pre-K to fifth grade and is one of 106 schools in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Maybury’s student body is comprised of 77% percent Hispanic/Latino, 16% Black, and 5% White. As a result, Maybury offers a Spanish literacy program for native speakers in primary grades.
Gwendolyn provides special education services for José and 17 other students, most of whom have IEPs and learning challenges. “Sometimes I push into classrooms and other times I pull my students out,” explains Gwendolyn. José describes this process further: “Mrs. Carter and I meet almost every day. Sometimes I go to her room and we read with Bookshare, and sometimes she stays in my regular classroom and helps me.”
Reading Support for Learning Disabilities
José has a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in basic reading skills and reading comprehension. Two years ago, Gwendolyn signed him up for a Bookshare membership to take advantage of ebooks in alternate formats including audio with highlighted text.
José’s learning disability makes decoding, fluency, and comprehension difficult for him. “Sometimes I don’t know the words and I get confused,” he admits. But, he’s quick to add that “reading lets me learn new things and that’s fun.” Adds Gwendolyn, “Bookshare really helps José to read on his own.” The goal is for all students to become independent, confident readers, and Bookshare plus assistive technology helps close the gap.
Bookshare is Part of a Broader Reading Program
Gwendolyn works with the classroom teachers to get a list of books that her students will be reading in class. Then she finds the books in Bookshare and adds them to her students’ reading lists. José’s list includes Esperanza Rising and Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America.
To encourage independent reading, Gwendolyn asks her students what they like. “Then I search Bookshare and find books on those subjects,” she explains. José is a big fan of superheroes, so Gwendolyn found a book about Spider-Man that was appropriate for his reading level: Spider-Man: Homecoming: The Junior Novel.
Spider-Man Saves the Day
José demonstrated how Bookshare makes reading easier for him. He opened Spider-Man on a laptop and used Bookshare Reader, a free reading app, to read the highlighted text while listening to the text-to-speech narration. “Bookshare reads to you so you don’t have to read it by yourself. I read the text and listen to the audio,” he explains. He can customize his reading experience by changing the narration speed, enlarging the text, changing the colors, or selecting a different voice.
How does José feel when he finishes a chapter book like Spider-Man? “I feel happy,” he says. “I can talk about the book with my friends.”
Parental Involvement is Key
With school winding down, Gwendolyn is setting up a Bookshare Individual Membership for José so he can select his own books to read over the summer. “José’s mom is very interested in learning about Bookshare so I showed her how to log in so she can see his reading lists. I told her that Bookshare follows José wherever he goes – to middle school and high school and beyond.” Gwendolyn encourages parents to try Bookshare. “They can see that there’s hundreds of thousands of books. It’s just like a regular library, but you get to find books online.”
Advice from a Fifth Grade Superhero
Bookshare, assistive technology, expert instruction from Mrs. Carter, and a can-do attitude are the superpowers that are helping José become a successful reader. “Try Bookshare. It’s really easy and it’s fun to learn new stuff,” he says.
Bookshare’s ebook library of over one million ebooks helps students and adults with reading barriers such as dyslexia, visual impairments, or physical disabilities like cerebral palsy.