Electronic (computer-displayed) text can be an important resource for students with learning disabilities (LD), because it can be altered to meet their needs. A child with LD may benefit from changes to the appearance or organization of electronic text. These and other strategies are described in the article, Making the Most of Standard Technology to Enhance Learning.
If you and your child are looking for a specific piece of literature or information on a particular topic related to a school assignment, you will find the Internet is a rich resource. You may also search the Internet to locate high-interest material that appeals to your child. There are thousands of books and a growing collection of electronic texts on the Internet, including books still in copyright. Some websites have been enhanced with sound, images, and text that can support struggling readers.
This article details some particularly useful Internet resources for electronic text that may be helpful for your child.
Books still in copyright are available in electronic text formats from several vendors. Following are vendors that serve people who have a documented disability:
The Accessible Book Collection has selected over 500 books with a high interest/low reading level and gives detailed information on the reading level for each title, as their main audience is youth with learning disabilities. This is a subscription service.
Bookshare.org has more than 27,000 books that can be accessed through their subscription service. Well-known authors include Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, J.K. Rowling, and J.D. Salinger.
Fictionwise sells individual titles in a variety of formats.
Questia is an online library of books and journals for college students. They also offer research tools. Other resources for college-level students include free online course materials in all subject areas from MIT.
Books that are no longer in copyright (usually published before 1923) are being posted to one of numerous free online collections (and may also be included in some of the subscription collections):
Project Gutenberg is one of the oldest online collections, with over 6,000 books posted to date. Classics by Jane Austen, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Kafka can be downloaded as plain text files, which can be opened by any word processor.
The Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library has 2,100 e-books including classic British and American fiction, major authors, children’s literature, the Bible, Shakespeare, American history, and African-American documents. Material can be opened in HTML (web version) for online viewing, or cut and pasted into a word processor, and can be downloaded as both an E-book for the Microsoft Reader and Palm-readable text for the Palm Reader. (Microsoft Reader is a free Windows program that preserves the look and feel of a book, including illustrations, and provides text to speech features. It’s an excellent tool for reading from a computer, laptop, Pocket PC, or Tablet PC.)
Publishers are moving to bring entire curriculum packages online. For example:
Glencoe Literature has online textbooks and supplementary materials, as well. Their Grade 6-12 (Inter)Active Reading Practice has questions embedded in the text.
Holt Online Learning has online textbooks and supplementary materials in five subject areas, for Grades 6-12.
McDougal Littell ClassZone has supplementary materials for textbooks in five subjects, for Grades 6-12.
Prentice Hall has a sample posted that demonstrates the integration of background information, text, analysis, graphic organizers, and images to convey the meaning of literature.
Some websites offer models of accessibility or features that enhance the text. For example:
The Intersect Digital Library features “supported text” books incorporating resources and study strategies that help students learn more from what they read, along with lesson plans. Current enhanced titles include several on American History and a unit on cloning.
Knowing Poe is a rich collection on the life, times, and literature of Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated with a timeline, historical pictures, text of poems and stories, as well as video and audio clips.
The New York Times Learning Network (Grades 3-12) allows you to turn on hyperlinks to a dictionary and map in the news summaries.
You may want to check if your student’s textbook is available on the web by using Google to search for the publisher or by asking the teacher about access to online textbook materials.
When searching for text that’s relevant to a child’s homework or interests, you may want help in narrowing the search by reading level or grade level. The following online resources can assist you in doing so.
- KidsClick is a set of web searches, pre-screened by librarians, listed by standard topics such as American History, geography, as well as fun subjects such as monsters, inventions, and holidays. Reading level is given for each, as well as number of illustrations.
- Windows to the Universe presents interesting science news stories at three different reading levels.
- Google’s Archive Search retrieves articles from newspaper and news magazine archives around the country. Some newspapers charge for access but many are free.
- If you are using a standard search engine to find material and want to get an estimate of the reading level, try the online Reading Level Calculator. Microsoft Word also has a built-in readability check as an option in the Spelling Checker. Both provide a grade-level equivalent.
Online guides to electronic text sources:
- Digital Book Index provides links to more than 128,000 title records from more than 1,800 commercial and non-commercial publishers, universities, and various private sites. About 88,000 of these are free. Try the “search by subject” for a quick way to find interesting sources.
- WestEd’s Handout on E-Text Sources is an annotated listing that includes material for students from Pre-K through college.
- Library Catalogues of the World lists 90 sources of digital books, including collections on juggling, California history, and the Thomas Jefferson digital archive.