How Two Crazy Reading Ladies Teach Even Crazier Reading Skills

By Laura Deck, posted on

The expectations of middle school are daunting enough without the added challenges for students with learning disabilities. Students who have difficulty with reading skills and comprehension find themselves at a disadvantage that has repercussions academically and socially.

Fortunately, Horace Mann Middle School in Franklin, Massachusetts, has Erin O’Leary and Mary Cotillo, affectionately known by their students as “The Crazy Reading Ladies.” Erin is a reading specialist who provides intensive reading instruction while Mary is the assistant principal and a former 8th grade English Language Arts teacher who cultivates a schoolwide community of readers and literacy.

In a recently published Bookshare blog series, Erin and Mary share their wildly successful techniques and philosophy on removing barriers and getting reluctant readers to succeed.

Part 1: When It Comes to Reading, This School is All In

In Part 1, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” describe how they address Post-Traumatic Reading Disorder and heal the negative relationship their students have with books and reading. Bookshare’s text-to-speech capability provides audio support for decoding so students can focus on visualizing, connecting, and keeping track of what’s going on in the story. “Finishing and understanding a book is such an accomplishment for students with reading challenges,” says Mary. “That one win is the start to rebuilding their confidence.”

Part 2: Ebooks and Assistive Technology Are the Gateway to Reading

In Part 2, Erin and Mary stress the importance of using whatever combination of digital books, reading apps, and assistive technology is necessary to help students improve reading skills. Students can adjust the background color, font size, type of voice, or reading speed. “I love that they are taking ownership of the experience and doing whatever works for them,” says Erin. In addition, reading delivers social as well as academic benefits. “When my students with dyslexia can read the same books as their friends, new social interactions open up for them.”

Part 3: The Secret to Getting Reluctant Readers Hooked on Books

In Part 3, “The Crazy Reading Ladies” share their top ten tips to engage even the most reluctant readers and create a schoolwide community committed to literacy. The secret is to expose students to engaging books and authors in whatever format is appropriate for their reading level and disability. “When kids are reading, they are practicing empathy, visualizing, learning about history, taking a different perspective, improving their fluency, and developing their vocabulary,” says Erin.


In recognition of National Teacher Appreciation Week, we would like to give an extra big thanks to “The Crazy Reading Ladies” and the difference they are making in their students’ lives.

Learn more about how Bookshare and AT help students break through disability barriers.

For more resources on supporting reluctant readers, visit “The Crazy Reading Ladies’ blog”, or follow them on twitter and Instagram.