Motivating students to read, encouraging their love for reading, and building confidence in their reading skills are important steps in integrating reading into life plans and adulthood success.

Over a number of years, we have emphasized a multi-tiered instructional design that addresses a wide range of students learning needs.  Students enrolled in the specialized programs within the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO), a special education cooperative located in the Chicago suburbs, need engaging, interactive approaches to reading that enhance their learning. Our most reluctant readers have been empowered to access books independently using a newly adopted digital literacy environment, myON. For the first time, many of our students are actively engaged in digital books that match their interests and reading level.

At NSSEO, we have students learning in three different schools based on their unique and intense educational needs. A majority of students require customized “sensory diets,” which include frequent breaks, social/emotional supports, whole-body listening skill training to help focus and engagement in class, and support from paraprofessionals to address academic and vocational goals.

Technology has played a significant role in increasing student engagement levels by providing on-demand access to a wide variety of high-quality text. For today’s generation, navigating digital programs using iPads and laptops comes naturally. In addition, kids often associate technology with games or fun, so when students see the devices, their enthusiasm and engagement increases.

Students in NSSEO schools are proud of their ability to access our digital literacy environment to learn independently. They’re motivated to read because they get to choose books they are interested in—not ones the teacher chooses for them. Within seconds, a student can navigate the digital library, choose a book, and begin reading with little to no help from a teacher. (Click here to see a video featuring NSSEO learners engaged in reading.)

Being able to personalize students’ libraries based on individual interests and reading levels provides a level of individualization that most of our students have never experienced at school before, and they become empowered and excited when learning about topics they’re interested in. For example, one struggling reader was very interested in cars. Using myON, he was able to access dozens of books about cars, and was exposed to similar books about trucks, trains, and other modes of transportation. Teachers were also able to customize their lessons to fit the genre of books he was interested in.

NSSEO’s digital literacy environment gives every student in every classroom unlimited access to a personalized library. Coupled with developing greater enthusiasm for learning is the focus on making independent choices, a skill that is critical for their future as life-long learners.  The enthusiasm for reading has been contagious. Students, families, and educators across NSSEO share the love of reading that has become an integral part of school, home. and life.

Judy Hackett has been an educator for 36 years and is the current superintendent of the Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO). In 2016, she was named Superintendent of the Year by the Illinois Association of School Administrators.
Cathy Kostecki is the assistant superintendent for human resources and instructional services at NSSEO.