Principal Jennifer Saenz said students have been more engaged by the convenience of the tablets and the ease with which they can find information about books by author and topic.

Third-grader Alexis Rivera flipped through a book about the sun on his iPad on Friday morning with headphone buds in both ears. As he glanced at Spanish-language text at the bottom of each page, an app read aloud the English words at the top.

Rivera, an English as a Second Language student, has 20 books downloaded on the tablet device. Instructors at Bonham Elementary and other campuses in the McAllen, Texas, school district see the technology as a tool to boost reading rates among younger students and say they’ve already seen a difference in the first months since the tablets were introduced.

“My Spanish-speaking students, they can hear the way it’s pronounced,” third-grade teacher Lorena Guerrero said. “They can hear it first, listen to it first, and then say it on their own.”

Students reading English-language texts can use the same tools to listen to entire texts or hear how a single word is pronounced. Those features can make a big difference in homes where students do not have a parent reading to them regularly, Guerrero said.

Educators at the campus say reading participation has shot up for both ESL and English-language readers. In October, students checked out about 2,000 books from the campus library at Bonham. That number rose in January to more than 7,000, including both hard copy books and those downloaded from the library on students’ iPads.

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Jennifer Saenz, the principal at the campus, said students have been more engaged by both the convenience of the tablets—they can carry up to 20 books on the devices at once—and the ease with which they can find information about books by author and topic.

“Look at the shelves. When all they see is the spine of a book, it’s hard for them to know which book [to choose]. Here, they can look under topic, they can look under authors. They see the whole cover of the book,” Saenz said. “Especially with the little ones, they need to see that to make those choices.”

The program also makes it easier for students to demonstrate their understanding of the books they’ve read. The district’s use of the Accelerated Reading program from Renaissance Learning includes a test for comprehension for each book students complete.

The iPad program allows students to take tests remotely on as many books as they can download from the district library.

Brenda Huston, the Bonham librarian and coordinator for district library services, said students in the past have often picked the shortest books with the tests in mind.