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Digital Library - Featured Website of the Month (May)

How are you doing during this crazy time of COVID-19? I feel like so many things are on pause and yet so many things are going full-steam ahead. And now that many schools have transitioned into distance education, there are many things on the mind of teachers and parents. How can I implement effective assessment? How can I get materials to my students? How can I deliver good instruction? How am I going to carry out some normalcy for my students or children?

Well, I don’t have the answers to these questions because it depends on so many factors. But I am so thankful for the many websites that are offering their resources for free during this crazy time. It’s also given me a chance to check out some online resources that I haven’t had a chance to research yet. So this month, we’re going to dive into EPIC. This is an online library of books and educational videos. And right now, this online resource is free until June 30. Even if you aren’t going to use it as an instructional tool, I would suggest checking it out while it’s free. Then you can see if you want to use it next year. 

EPIC is advertised as the “leading digital library for kids 12 and under”. Kids have access to 40,000 of the “best books, learning videos, quizzes and more”. When you create an account for EPIC as a teacher, you will be given a remote-learning access code which you can send to your students. This will enable your students to access this resource from their devices at home. Or you can import students' names and invite them by email.  They could download the EPIC app or they could use their computer to log into the website. 

After the teacher creates an account, they are able to select which book leveling system they use in their classroom, such as Lexile Levels, Fountas and Pinnell, or DRA. The books will categorize themselves depending on the system you pick. After picking the leveling system, you can then search for books. You can search by author, topic, title or reading level.

From here you can assign books to your students. When you click on a book, there is a little icon in the top left corner that says “assign”. You can assign the book to individual students, groups of students or the whole class. The next time your students log into EPIC, they will receive a notification telling them they have a new book assigned to them. 

What I especially like about EPIC is the teacher can see which books each student has completed. By clicking on the Student Log button in the menu bar, the teacher has access to a running record of all the books their students have completed. They can also see how many books the students are still working on. Additionally, they can see how long it took students to read each book. This is especially great because if the book took a student 1 minute to read, they likely flipped the pages but didn’t actually read the words. Whereas, if it took them 10 minutes, they probably read the book.

While on EPIC, students can read the stories to themselves. If a word is tricky, they can click on the word and the computer will read the word for them. There is also a “Read to Me” feature which is essentially an audiobook. The students can click the play button and have the story read to them while they follow along with the words. 

All that said, there are some downfalls about EPIC to be aware of. The books on EPIC are geared for elementary aged students. However, just like in a library, there could be books that you might not approve of. For instance, some people do not like books about ghosts. There are some books on epic about this topic. There are ways for parents to go into their students’ profiles to restrict specific genres, but this process can get a little complicated. So I usually just tell parents to monitor the books their child reads. So far, I have come across NOTHING regarding sexual issues or swearing, because all the books are children’s stories, but there are some “spooky stories”.

The other downfall to EPIC, is that students have access to all the books, which can get tricky for our lower level friends who shouldn’t be reading higher level books. Some students might fall into the trap of only using the “Read to Me” feature instead of reading books to themselves. 

That being said, the positives for this website outway the negatives, especially when you lay out some instructions for families around the use of this resource. Have you used EPIC before? What do you like or dislike about the website? Have you come across any other websites that are offering their resources for free during this time of Distance Education? I would love to check out some more websites.

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