I strongly believe that everyone has the right to learn to read and write and it is our role to make sure that every student we work with develops the best literacy skills possible. As part of this we need to have high interest texts on topics of their choice available to all the students we work with – so that they can read them! In addition these books need to be easy to read so that the students can gain confidence and skills in applying and using their new skills with easy texts. And there need to be lots of these easy texts of course so that every student has choices as they read every day! And – just to add to this – since many of the students we work with are older students who are just starting on their literacy journey we also need these texts to be appropriate for teenagers and adults.
In answer to this seemingly impossible list of wants, along came TarHeel Reader. TarHeel Reader is the brain child of Karen Erickson and Gary Bishop and is supported by both the Centre for Literacy and Disability Studies and the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It has been around for just over 3 years and has nearly 20,000 easy-to-read books, available to be read freely – with more being added regularly.
Starting to use TarHeel Reader is easy. You just need to type in a topic to search for books and then hit the search button – see the image below for an example. The shield icon on some books means that the book has been reviewed and approved for educational quality. The red exclamation mark on some books means that the book may contain material inappropriate for some readers. And the stars are the rating given to the book by those who have read it.
When you select a book you can choose to have the book read to you in a child, woman or man’s voice (synthesised speech) or click on the silent option to read it yourself. Once you have made a selection then you can read the book – just use the arrows to turn the pages.
When you begin using TarHeel Reader you will also discover a number of other features. For example, also on the title page of each book, there is a Setup button – which takes you to the Reading Controls. This is where you can go to change the font and background colours. It is also where you can download a book to use it offline – and this is a feature I use a lot. I find it useful to download books to use offline so that I can use them with a student when we don’t have access to the internet. I usually download them as a PowerPoint file as then I can use PowerTalk with the book if I need speech support. Paul Hamilton has written an excellent blog post on using PowerTalk with downloaded TarHeel Reader books that you can access here.
It is also very important to know that books in TarHeel Reader can be accessed via a switch or an Intellikeys keyboard – as well as the more traditional mouse and keyboard. For more information about the alternative access options click here.
Another feature is the use of Favorites. You can add books to Favorites by ticking the box in the top right corner of each book in the search page. See the screenshot below for an example. Once you have clicked in the checkbox press “Update Favorites” to add this book to your list.
You can then click on the link towards the bottom of the list on the right hand side to see your Favorites bookshelf.
Each Favorites bookshelf has an individual web address – it is important that you save this as a bookmark or as a shortcut on your desktop as TarHeel Reader will not remember your favourites any other way. For example, the address of the bookshelf above is http://tarheelreader.org/favorites/?books=353,92299,87557,66157 – and I can use this again and again to get back to this bookshelf. I use this feature to build individual bookshelves for different students so that they can have quick and easy access to the books they like to read – and to offer new books on their topics of interest.
And finally there is one more part of TarHeel Reader that is important for this amazing resource to continue to be successful. TarHeel Reader needs authors – the number of books only grows when everyone contributes books. So make sure that as well as reading books, you also sign up to write your own books and share them with the world. And let’s hope that TarHeel Reader has 30,000 books available before too long!