Some schools are offering blended learning where students spend a few days in down-sized classrooms and the other days doing online classes from home. Still other schools are starting with 100% distance learning and then phasing in on-site classes to small cohorts of students in “learning pods.”
No matter what the school environment looks like, the stakes are even higher for students with learning differences. How can teachers provide books in alternate formats so students with reading barriers like dyslexia, blindness, and cerebral palsy can complete assignments, no matter where and how learning is taking place?
To help teachers prepare for a successful back to school, the Bookshare staff has assembled a collection of valuable resources, tips, step-by-step guides, video tutorials, curated reading lists, and webinars. Visit the back-to-school resource page for details…
Each year, our colleagues at Bookshareencourage students to continue to read during the summer months after school is out. This year’s campaign called #AllInTogether is seeking to get students who are Bookshare members to read 200,000 books by July 31st.
This summer, while staying physically distant from others, why not come together virtually to share in the joy of reading? Bookshare’s #AllInTogether Summer Read-a-thon is a national campaign to share in the common bond of reading. Join Bookshare readers from around the world to escape, enjoy, and explore books for readers of every age and level. By July 31, we aim to have read 200,000 ebooks as a community.
Time was, if you wanted/needed to have textbooks and other educational materials in “audio” format, you needed to acquire a recording made by a human narrator reading the materials. Indeed, the earliest forms of these recordings were developed in the late 1940 as a service known as, Recordings for the Blind (later renamed Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and now known as Learning Ally), started in New York City. Learning Allyis currently the largest supplier of human-narrated audio texts and educational materials.
As information technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years, so too has the quality of “audio” transformations made by text-to-speech software (TTS). One might assume therefore that the need for audio recordings from human narrators would no longer be needed. Perhaps.
A recent blog article from Christine Jones at Bookshare/Benetech(full disclosure – Bookshare is a supplier of digital content that can be read by TTS) notes that the differences between TTS and human narration have become less and may soon “be negligible.”
Perhaps what is more important from Ms. Jones’ article is the emphasis that not only are audio and digital/TTS options essential for many readers with print disabilities, ALL students, even those without disabilities, can benefit from the use of these audio methods when used in conjunction with printed materials.
The decision on whether a student should use human-narrated audio content or digital content read with TTS is probably best done on an individual basis. However, it is quite likely that having both options available will continue to be a good thing for some time to come.
Yes, Bookshare DOES Have Many of the Textbooks Your Students Need!
Many people view Bookshare’s large collection of ebooks primarily as a source of classroom reading or pleasure reading books, such as novels, biographies, and the like. Indeed, Bookshare does offer a rich selection of these materials. However, did you know that our library also includes more than 25,000 textbooks?
The largest single source of Bookshare’s textbooks is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a federal repository of K-12 textbooks in accessible formats established by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The NIMAC contains more than 50,000 files supplied by publishers in compliance with IDEA, and Bookshare is one of the largest distributors of NIMAC-sourced titles. In fact, Bookshare already contains nearly 11,000 book files from the NIMAC, and Bookshare members benefited from more than 30,000 downloads of these titles in the past twelve months. To get an idea of the breadth of materials available in the NIMAC, check out these special collections of NIMAC-sourced titles already available in Bookshare.
Generally, NIMAC-sourced textbooks contain images, are of high quality, and offer an excellent user experience. So why doesn’t Bookshare have all 50,000+ files that are in the NIMAC? Because NIMAC-sourced books are added to Bookshare at the request of educators serving qualified students. If a textbook is in the NIMAC but not already available on Bookshare, educators can submit a book request, and the Bookshare Team will work with the NIMAC and/or the appropriate state agency to obtain the title, convert it into a student-ready format, and make the title available in the collection. Any representative of a U.S. K-12 public or charter school with an organizational Bookshare account can share Bookshare’s NIMAC books with their qualified K-12 students — those who both qualify for Bookshare AND have IEPs. (Students do not need an IEP to access most Bookshare books, but they do need one to obtain NIMAC-sourced books. This is because the NIMAC was created by IDEA specifically to serve students served in special education.) These students can then log in to their Bookshare accounts to access and read the books. For more information on how Bookshare and the NIMAC work together,check out this list of frequently asked questions.
Bookshare Has Even More Textbooks for Students with Reading Barriers
In addition to NIMAC-sourced books, Bookshare offers thousands of textbooks that are available to any member. Some of these may be alternative versions of books we obtained from the NIMAC, but we have purchased, chopped, scanned, and proofread them to make them available to students who do not have IEPs. Some may be textbooks we obtained from publishers. In addition, Bookshare offers a selection of “freely available” textbooks, which are available under Creative Commons licensesor are in the public domain and therefore available to anyone, not just Bookshare members. (So in most cases, even non-members will be able to download them or select “Read Now” next to the titles to open them in Bookshare Web Reader.) Many of these “freely available” titles are “open educational resources” (OER) published by organizations interested in making educational content available to all.
Educators Can Access Reading Lists Created by U.S. School Districts
Most importantly, Bookshare members can read their textbooks in the ways that work for them, just as they can all other books in the collection. They can read them on computers, Chromebooks, tablets, mobile devices and refreshable Braille displays. They can even download every textbook as a Microsoft Word document, with all of the flexibility that format offers.
At Bookshare, we believe that when students have all the learning materials they need (even their textbooks!) in formats that work for them, they can succeed in school and become more engaged and confident learners.
In The Benefits of Ear-Reading by Dana Blackaby,a dyslexia specialist discusses the assistive technologies she uses to help students with dyslexia make gains in reading. In the article, Blackaby discusses her observations of several of her students with dyslexia using a technique she called “ear reading.” She describes this as, “a key strategy…having (the students) read along with audiobooks, which is beneficial in tying their emotional belief system directly to their academic performance.”
Blackaby goes on to note, “These students have made marked improvements in their reading skills and social behavior as a result of our structured literacy curriculum, my high expectations for their achievement, and their use of supplemental assistive technology resources. Through the structured literacy curriculum, I teach students to decode words in an explicit and systematic manner that focuses on phonology, sound-symbol association, syllable types, and syntax. In addition, this instruction is delivered in a multisensory way that is proven to build pathways to improve phonological memory.”
As a benefit she notes the following results:
After using these resources with fidelity, my students performed higher on state testing and demonstrated large strides in self-confidence. In our state assessments, 97 percent of my students who utilized audiobooks and text-to-speech software met the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness) reading standard.
The second Edutopia article Accommodating Students With Dyslexia,Jessica Hamman describes “five easy-to-implement accommodations can make class less stressful and more manageable for students with dyslexia.” The five accommodations include access to audio books, note-taking apps, as well as encouragement for students to utilize text-to-speech technologies.