When I was starting out as an elementary-reading specialist in a small, rural community a few years ago, I struggled to get my hands on high-quality books. My classroom library consisted of hand-me-down books from other teachers. It lacked new titles, culturally responsive texts, and didn’t support differentiated instruction.
The good news is that I had iPads. Since I was teaching at a Title I school, we received many grants and I had as many as five devices at a time.
It was during this time that I discovered Epic!, a digital library for children 12 and younger, offering 25,000 premium books (some including audio), educational videos and quizzes. Epic! is free for elementary school teachers and librarians.
My classroom library grew instantly. Students began exploring the library, looking for books based on their interests and needs.
A year ago, I moved to a suburban town and changed districts. My new students didn’t necessarily crave access to books. The local public library is very robust and most of the children have been surrounded with literature from a young age. I started using Epic! with them as a way to introduce new concepts. For instance, I used audiobooks to teach them new vocabulary, text and grammar styles. I used guided reading lessons, alongside e-books, to teach them about different text formats. These activities help broaden their world view and exposed them to various topics and characters.
In both classroom situations I used my digital library to ignite students' interest in reading and give them resources to meet their developmental and instructional needs. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way:
- Create accountability. I noticed that my rural students were finishing their books very quickly. I questioned if they were really reading, or just flipping pages on their iPads. I developed digital graphic organizers that allowed students to respond to their reading. Assigning tasks for them to complete gave me concrete evidence of their learning and improved their independent responsibility. I also held one-on-one conferences with my readers. These are a great way to check in, get to know them and establish positive relationships.
- Teach your students to explore. Empower them by instilling a love of reading through discovery. Help them to find books and other forms of literature that ignite their passion and curiosity. Encourage students to seek out texts that expand their worldview and expose them to perspectives different from their own.
- Leverage technology. Try using e-books with your whole class read aloud, or guided reading lesson. Text-to-speech tools can also enhance your reading community. And consider allowing audiobooks; they are a great way to provide equity for your students. Children who read significantly below grade level, can easily access high level texts with this form of technology.
Fostering a love of reading at a young age is proven to set children up for success. My number one priority this year is to make reading meaningful and fun. I encourage you to do the same. It’s a lifelong game changer!
Megan Christensen is a K-5 reading intervention specialist in New York. Keep up with Megan at her blog Thyme to Read.
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