Redwood Literacy Unlocks the Power of Bookshare

By Shareef Phillips, posted on

In an interview with the Redwood Literacy staff, Benetech asked a number of questions regarding digital literacy. Below are their answers with an overview of how the organization uses Bookshare to improve literacy among students.

Redwood Literacy is an organization committed to offering top-notch literacy remediation to any student who needs it, regardless of how much money they have or where they live in the world. They offer a variety of in-person services in Chicago as well as virtual services both nationally and internationally.

Redwood believes that the pathway towards literacy access includes both remediation and accommodation. We use the analogy of a train track. Each side of the track is vital in students accessing independent literacy skills. Tools like Bookshare are a crucial part of the accommodation side of the track and we are passionate about exposing our students to them.

How do you think a technology platform like Bookshare can best help students develop a love of lifelong learning?

Bookshare offers students a love of lifelong learning because they are able to access content that may be higher than their current reading level. It enables students to pace with their peers and class work and gives them empowerment. When using Bookshare, it helps students realize their reading barriers can easily be overcome when adopting and putting into practice the use of technology that Bookshare provides.

What do you believe is the greatest barrier to accessible content for students?

Bookshare is very user friendly for students, however I believe the one common barrier we see often is the lack of understanding how to have access to books of interest. Students often fail to realize a book needs to be assigned or they need to ask for that access when it is an organizational account and parents have not opted for the individual account.

Tell us about the tools/resources you all use to help connect students with assistive technology?

Redwood currently uses common extensions such as Grammarly & Google Dictionary for all grade bands. Educationally driven extensions such as Kami, Snap & Read and Co:Writer are also intertwined with several curriculums we offer that we interactively use with Bookshare.

What impact does Bookshare have in the Chicago area community?

Chicago has a reading deficit crisis. According to Illinois Policy, nearly 80% of Chicago’s students are not reading at grade level. These students are then kept from accessing content at their comprehension level because of a deficit in their decoding skills and oral reading fluency. This disconnect tends to grow as students get older and leave many students with large gaps in their vocabulary and background knowledge, which negatively impact their ability to access many educational and professional opportunities. Tools such as Bookshare have impacted our community in helping close that gap. Bookshare allows students to access robust content that they are ready to comprehend but otherwise would not be able to access.

Could you share an example of how you have seen Bookshare inspire and help a student or teacher?

Incorporating Bookshare into the Writing Our World® (WOW) curriculum has been inspiring to teachers as well as to students. We use content from Core Knowledge that is written into the WOW writing activities. Bookshare allows us to assign specific content books to their accounts as we move through Core Knowledge. For example, there are chapters with content on Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Joan of Arc, among many other famous historical figures. These classic medieval figures are so engaging, students are left wanting to know more. We often take the opportunity to explore Bookshare so we can search for additional books centered around the same content that peak their interests. We often do this live so students can practice how to search, can observe the steps to have books assigned and understand the process of having access to the ‘read now’ button.

A Case Study by Redwood Literacy

Redwood Literacy introduced Bookshare to their students in the 21-22 School Year, and used it as a resource to provide access to books that students would otherwise not have access to/ have to travel to their local libraries to find and decode without support. Redwood also used the app to do a book study on Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood. So many of the students were intrigued by the access to diverse text, and one student in particular was floored by the opportunity to participate in a high-vocabulary text with the text-to-speech support. This student would sit and listen to the story excitedly, and weigh in on the post-reading conversation with more confidence than the times he had to decode text by himself. Bookshare also gave Redwood Literacy the freedom to access pdfs and books in files that could be taken apart on other platforms.

“LCLC’s reading and comprehension lessons have been elevated because of Bookshare, and we are grateful for that.”

Redwood Literacy

Bookshare is only available for individuals who have a qualifying reading or perceptual disability, a visual impairment, or a physical disability that affects their ability to read printed works. Bookshare brings people from all backgrounds together through technology that makes reading easier. Learn more at