Making e-books visible

Students often need guidance and easy pathways to access “just right” reading materials. However, one of the unique challenges of connecting students with e-books is finding ways to make them more visible and easier to browse.

The Jukebox and Replicas

To begin, we inventoried all of the enhanced e-books that were available to Perspectives II students (about 250 titles on three separate platforms).  We then organized these titles by genre, theme or series, and created a short book record for each title with a thumbnail of the book, a brief blurb, and a QR code that links directly to the title within each platform. Finally, we formatted the book lists and assembled them in a binder that serves as a catalogue. The school librarian has dubbed this, The Jukebox.

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Good-Fit Books


After surveying the Perspectives II students about their interests and habits, and consulting with the teachers about their independent reading levels, we hunted for reading materials that would be a good fit.  Although the students can read widely on the web with the assistance of external text-to-speech (TTS) tools, authentic YA literature is often required to engage students while also meeting ELA competencies.  Unfortunately, most commercially available e-books do not function with TTS due to a protective measure imposed by the publishing industry called Digital Rights Management (DRM).

We sought to find e-books that were either compatible with external TTS tools, or had built-in TTS tools.  However, as reading an entire book with synthetic TTS is not ideal for reluctant readers, we were especially interested in finding series fiction and high-interest non-fiction with professional audio narration and highlighted text, a format we label “enhanced e-books” with the students.

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Stay Gold! Measuring Impact

Are accessible materials as good as gold (for all students)?

During our team planning meetings in September and October, our discussions frequently returned to the question of how we should measure the effect of accessible materials in the classroom. Based on research and initiatives carried out elsewhere across the country, we already knew the critical value of accessible materials in K-12 education.  However, we wanted to document how accessible materials would impact our students (both those with diagnosed learning disabilities, and those without). This, while conscious that we were not conducting a research project. Working with the objective to increase student exposure to and engagement with text, we sought a tool that would measure students’ attitudes toward print, as well as a tool that would measure the amount of time spent (or the “stamina” demonstrated) engaging with print. Continue reading “Stay Gold! Measuring Impact”

“…because every student has the right to access a story.”


The premise of The Accessible Reading Project was stated simply and with conviction at our initial pilot project team meeting in September. Ruwani Payoe, a teacher at Perspectives II, reminded us of the lack of literacy-rich experiences of many of her students due to disabilities or unfair social circumstances.  She believes that alternate formats and accessible materials offer pathways that can equalize literacy experiences, “because every student has the right to access a story.”

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Reflections on using text to speech for reading: the question of “cheating”

As we start to develop and introduce students to accessible e-text in one of the pilot secondary schools for this project, there are important questions and conversations that are emerging from this implementation. Here are some of these questions that we are exploring with our school-based professionals:

What is reading? How does reading with supported e-text “fit in” to the traditional definition of reading?

How does text format change the way students interpret, comprehend and respond to text?

How does text-to-speech work? How does it help the student with a learning disability or reading disability? How do we scaffold use of text-to-speech for reading purposes?

Should all students be offered  multiple format options when it comes to reading? Or should certain formats be “reserved” for students with specific learning profiles?

How do we offer these choices in the context of independent reading?

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What is text-to-speech technology and how does it support our students?

As educators, we’ve been working with text-to-speech for many years now. Most of us are familiar with free or commercial products that can be used for reading digital text. But what does text-to-speech actually DO? And how does it support our students when they read?

We know that reading is a process of constructing meaning from print and decoding is just one element of this process. (Reading Rockets, 2001). We also know that students who struggle with decoding text need adaptations in order to access content. Text-to-speech technology is an important adaptation that allows students to access content to which they would not otherwise have access. By reading the text aloud to the student through voice synthesis or through audio narration, difficulties with decoding are bypassed.  Continue reading “What is text-to-speech technology and how does it support our students?”