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West Columbia, TX – The Columbia-Brazoria Independent School District provides a district-wide Big Universe subscription to its three elementary schools. Hannah DeLeon, a second-grade teacher at West Columbia Elementary, takes advantage of access to the digital library when teaching reading, writing and ESL to her students. “I use Big Universe in so many different ways,” she says.

Here are three:

1. Expanding Access to Nonfiction

Big Universe offers more than 5,000 nonfiction books at the second-grade level with thousands more for below- and above-grade readers. While Ms. DeLeon encourages students to explore all of the content within the digital library, she especially values the thousands of high-interest, high-quality nonfiction text that students can search for by reading level and topic of interest.

These books are especially helpful for research projects like the one her students recently completed about their favorite animals, right. “It’s always so difficult to find books on a student’s reading level that are nonfiction,” DeLeon says. “In a smaller district, the school library isn’t as vast.” Not only is it challenging to find nonfiction books at students’ reading levels, but it’s also difficult to find appropriate books about the specific animals students want to research.

Big Universe made the project a win-win. Ms. DeLeon didn’t have to search the nonfiction shelves in the school library and tailor assignments according to book selection, and students were engaged with assignments around a topic they chose themselves.

2. Creating Reading Flexibility

Ms. DeLeon incorporates eBooks from Big Universe into lessons in a number of ways, from guided and independent reading to small-group instruction. EBooks also can be used for reading workshops, intervention and more. The sheer variety of eBooks available within Big Universe, combined with features such as writing tools, leveled text and quizzes, means there are no limits to how they can be used across the curriculum.

Ms. DeLeon also values the many ways to search the library for leveled eBooks. Students can find their reading level through Accelerated Reader (AR) and Fountas & Pinnell — both of which West Columbia uses. EBooks also are searchable by Lexile, DRA and ATOS level.

Fifteen of Ms. DeLeon’s students are English language learners, and many enjoy Big Universe’s Spanish text for independent reading — especially when practicing at home. “Parents enjoy having those books in Spanish because they can read a book in Spanish to their child, and the child can read the book in English to them,” DeLeon says.

3. Saving Valuable Time and Money

Thanks to Big Universe, Ms. DeLeon can spend more time teaching her students. In the past, she used book bags for independent reading, which take time to assemble. “With Big Universe, I don’t have to organize these,” she says. “I can assign students books on the digital library, and they can use their Chromebooks to access them at home or at school.” She doesn’t have to spend time filing books back into the classroom or worry about replacing lost or damaged copies.

Big Universe also expands student access to AR books while reducing downtime between reading. Before Big Universe, Ms. DeLeon’s students had to check out AR books at West Columbia’s busy library, and library time was limited. If students were finished with their books but couldn’t get into the library to check out a new one, they simply had to wait. Now they have an entire library of AR eBooks at their fingertips.

Making the Case for Big Universe in the Classroom

Ms. DeLeon has been a proponent of Big Universe, often encouraging other teachers at West Columbia to use the system, too. “At first they are hesitant,” explains DeLeon. “Many see it as just another program that’s supposed to increase student progress. Sometimes these can feel like an extra piece you don’t have time for in your day.”

Big Universe is an exception. “Big Universe hasn’t taken me any extra time,” she says. “It’s really saved me time.” Thanks to her subscription, Ms. DeLeon has limited the time she spends searching for guided reading books. She also no longer has to organize student book bags or interrupt classroom time for more library visits.

Plus, Big Universe can, in fact, impact student progress. During the first nine weeks with AR, 61.8 percent of students in Ms. DeLeon’s class were considered at-risk. By the third nine weeks, that at-risk percentage dropped by nearly half to 32.4 percent. Students also were taking — and passing — more quizzes and reading more nonfiction. Ms. DeLeon believes Big Universe has helped students achieve these AR goals. “Really, the thing that makes a student a better reader, early on, is reading more,” she explains. “This tool gives students access to as many books as they want.”

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