Reading program celebrates 10th anniversary

March 22, 2012 8:24:21 PM PDT
Though Kindles and iPads are all the rage now, electronic books have a much longer history. This month, one of the pioneers in the world of e-books is marking its 10th anniversary.

Fifth grader Vincent Nava wasn't always enthusiastic about reading. Big words were slowing him down and he kept getting distracted.

"It was difficult, very difficult," Nava said.

That's why Nava is among the kids at a San Jose school using a program called Bookshare, created, quite literally, by a rocket scientist.

"I was learning how to make smart bombs at Cal Tech and figuring out how they would blow up a tank or something like that by recognizing them," Jim Fruchterman said.

Fruchterman realized he could use that same technology to recognize words on a printed page and read them out loud.

"We built this for blind people and then we surveyed our users and then we found a bunch of our users were people who weren't blind, they were people who had dyslexia and they learned differently," Fruchterman said.

Quite by accident, he found that highlighting words as they're spoken is the perfect way to help kids who have trouble reading.

Ten years later, Bookshare has well over 100,000 books in its library -- all free to the kids who need them.

"I get to read harder books that I could never read before," fifth grader George Silveira said.

Students have been reading with the help of computers in the resource room for about four years. But now that Apple has dropped the price on the iPad 2, they'll be able to take Bookshare right into their regular classrooms.

"They can be independent in their learning, and it gives them a lot of freedom and, I think, just a lot of self confidence," resource teacher Tammy Irvine said.

Bookshare also helps kids with vision problems and building vocabulary.

Now, kids like Vincent Nava can keep up with the class instead of misbehaving.

"I'm quiet, like a little bunny," Nava said.


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