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5 tips for using digital books this school year 

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In the story of the past year-and-a-half, educators and students alike have experienced their fair share of plot twists, with the COVID-19 pandemic upending the way we teach and learn. In returning to school this fall, whether back in person, remotely or a hybrid setup, unfinished learning is a major concern -- but books can help us play catch-up, closing the learning gap and addressing students’ social and emotional learning. 

I’m a technology specialist in the Colonial School District in Delaware. Though ebooks and audiobooks were part of our libraries before the pandemic closed our doors in March 2020, they’re becoming an even bigger resource. 

In June, the Delaware Department of Education announced use of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding to ensure access to quality, age-appropriate digital books for every student in the state via the Sora K-12 reading app, from OverDrive Education. This has allowed us to offer even more digital reading resources to our students. 

Whether students are in class or at home, digital books are a great way to provide flexible access to reading. However, there are some tips that districts considering expanding their own collections might want to consider.

Master the basics

Digital books allow students to use their school credentials to read 24/7 on their device of choice – no library card necessary. To ensure that students fully understand how to choose their own reading adventures, educators should be prepared to demonstrate how to log-in, browse collections and borrow books. The beginning of the school year is a good time to teach students and educators the basics, with a quick refresher in January.

Work with classroom teachers

Raising awareness among teachers is critical to getting digital books into the classroom. Though administrators may invest in learning resources, teachers don’t always know about them or how they can be leveraged. 

It’s important that teachers understand how ebooks and audiobooks fit into their curriculum, supplementing (or even replacing) the stacks of print books distributed at the beginning of each module. 

Communicate with caregivers

According to 2015 data from NCES, students with more books at home typically perform better academically than those with limited or no home access. Digital access to books can be a game-changer in closing this gap, with students using apps like Sora to download titles at school and read them at home on their devices – even if they don’t have access to Wi-Fi.

Educators should keep caregivers informed of the digital resources available to their children, especially younger students, through email communications, a learning portal or the school website. You can also get them involved by recommending they read with students before bed or listen to audiobooks with them in the car.

Take advantage of the features

Physical books will always be a cornerstone of education. But independent of their remote learning advantages, digital books offer students benefits beyond print’s capabilities. For example, personalization features like dyslexic font and adjustable contrast settings can help create a more comfortable, accessible experience.

And ebooks and audiobooks can improve reading comprehension for English language learners and struggling readers alike, enabling students to read and listen along in tandem in the language of their choosing – a useful learning tool even prior to the pandemic. 

With Sora, our students can connect with the public library and use their school credentials to borrow age-appropriate ebooks and audiobooks from Delaware Libraries’ digital collection, establishing another reading access point.

Get creative

As schools return to in-person learning, digital books can help creatively engage students and expand literacy. Prior to the pandemic, we held a “Lunch Bunch” book club during lunchtime. After we shifted to remote learning, students took screenshots of the digital books they were currently reading, then shared them with their classmates, fostering lively discussion.

There are plenty of other creative ways to use digital books, too. The story is just beginning, as educators return to the classroom equipped with new technologies that open a new world of possibilities.

 

Colleen Hoban is a technology specialist for Colonial School District in Delaware. She works with the Sora K-12 reading app with her students. 

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