Brooklyn, NY - Every day is different for Amanda Xavier, a sixth-grade English teacher at Ditmas Junior High School 62 in Brooklyn, NY. Amanda teaches three classes, each one with diverse student groups who have a wide range of reading levels and interests.
One of her classes mixes regular education and honors education students with reading levels that range from the mid-sixth to the mid-seventh grades. Her two other classes are Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) courses with even more diversity. Students in these classes include regular education, special education, English language learners (ELL), and both special education and ELL students. In these classes, reading levels range from second to sixth grade.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Because Ms. Xavier works with a diverse group of learners, it’s difficult to find books the entire class will enjoy. Higher-level readers become bored with reading choices that serve at-risk students while at-risk students become frustrated by advanced texts that suit higher reading levels.
But now the task of choosing books isn’t such a chore, and it’s easy for Ms. Xavier to find titles that meet the needs of every student she teaches. Her subscription to Big Universe gives her access to more than 10,000 eBooks plus helpful tools for differentiating literacy instruction to keep students engaged in learning and motivated to read.
Books for Every Season and Every Student
The Big Universe digital library has proven useful for year-round literacy instruction in Ms. Xavier’s classroom. “I use it at the beginning of the year to review good reading strategies,” Xavier explains. For the first two months of the school year, classes explore eBooks to refine important reading skills such as identifying story elements, defining characters, writing response to literature essays, and more.
“The rest of the year we use it as enrichment,” Xavier says. “When kids have finished their classwork and have extra time, they use Big Universe for independent reading.”
While Ditmas does offer students access to a physical library, Ms. Xavier says that many of the books are limited to Common Core mentor texts, which don’t always satisfy students’ interests. “And in the middle school we don’t have a lot of lower-level books,” she says. “A good third of my kids read on a second- to third-grade level.”
Big Universe gives students in Ms. Xavier’s classes access to on-grade-level books about topics they care about. “No matter what their reading level or their interest is, students never have a hard time finding books on Big Universe,” she says.
Ms. Xavier has found that two student groups in particular benefit from the wide selection of eBooks within Big Universe. Students who struggle with reading can inconspicuously enjoy lower-grade-level books on their personal devices without judgment from their sixth-grade peers. Then there are those students who excel at reading, but simply don’t enjoy it. Many times, that reluctance to read stems from limited access to books that are of interest. On Big Universe, these students can search for specific topics they actually want to read about.
Helping Every Reader Succeed
Ms. Xavier has found a connection between book type and willingness to read. When students are reading about subjects they are interested in, they are more engaged in the text. And when they’re more engaged in the text, they are more likely to actively participate in classroom discussion.
She’s also discovered another benefit: Students are more likely to read on their own, outside of the classroom. “When I get the weekly report, I find that a lot of kids are reading from Big Universe at home on their own,” she says. Many times, nonfiction is the focus of this independent reading.
Ms. Xavier credits this increase in reading — particularly independent reading — in part to Big Universe. She believes it also has played a role in the academic strides her students have made. Most of Ms. Xavier’s students have improved 60 Lexile reading points since the beginning of the school year — some have exceeded 120-point improvements. The average child typically improves 90 Lexile points over the course of the year. With time still left in the school year, her students are already ahead when it comes to reading — no matter their reading level.