Some of Dawn Ramos’ students refuse to wear their eyeglasses, but that is not a problem when they read content on Bookshare, an online library that is free for Texas school districts.

Ramos, a reading specialist at McGregor High School and H.G. Isbill Junior High School, has been using Bookshare for about three years. Her students who will not wear their eyeglasses simply enlarge the text on their books so they do not have to squint.

Students also can choose to listen to the books, changing the speed of the reading at will. Bookshare has a feature that highlights each word as it is read to students so they can follow along on the screen.

Other Central Texas school districts will soon start using the program, as well.

Waco ISD piloted Bookshare last year with a special education inclusion teacher at G.W. Carver Middle School, district spokesman Kyle DeBeer said. The school district is working to increase adoption of Bookshare this year and will have a professional development session for librarians, library/multimedia aides and teachers on March 18.

Bookshare provides free training to Texas school districts as part of a partnership with the Texas Education Agency, Central Texas outreach coordinator Matt Hattoon said. The U.S. Department of Education provides Bookshare with money that allows it to offer free membership to any student with a reading disability.

Hattoon said a problem students often run into is an inability to decode or understand the words they are reading.

Those students take longer to comprehend what they are reading because they are busy trying to understand the words they are reading, he said. Competent readers decode and comprehend simultaneously.

“Bookshare gives everyone a fair shot,” Hattoon said. “It allows all kids in a classroom to read grade level material.”

Ramos encouraged other teachers to try Bookshare. She said the program greatly helps some students, while others cannot get past the digital voice that reads the text to them. If she has a problem with the program or needs advice on how to use it, she can call Hattoon and he will help for free.

“It’s going to be a good tool for several students,” she said. “If it allows them to access books they’ve always wanted to read and be able to get through them faster and be able to understand it, it’s worth it, even if it’s just one student.”

Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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