For our second installation of The Novel Effect, the Novel Effect team sat down with Kentucky-based librarian, Christi Unker, who uses Novel Effect to inspire a love of reading and teach students with visual impairments.
Since 2016, Christi Unker has worked at the Kentucky School for the Blind with students ranging from kindergarten to 21, focusing primarily on elementary students. She learned about Novel Effect six years ago from a professor while receiving her Master’s in Education for Visual Impairments and has used it ever since! The sound effects and music have become a reward for her students as they read aloud.
Teaching Students with Visual Impairments with Novel Effect: An Interview with Christi Unker
Novel Effect: Can you tell us a little bit about how you ended up at the Kentucky School for the Blind?
CU: I’ve worked for the Kentucky School for the Blind for about 7 years and have been a librarian for 25. Before the Kentucky School for the Blind, I had been employed as an elementary, middle, and high school librarian. Usually, as a librarian, you can get shooed into one spot but I had jumped around and had experience with all grade levels.
Someone posted on our state listserv from our State Department that there was an opening at the School for the Blind. I was intrigued and thought it might be a new challenge and something I might enjoy. I felt comfortable coming in with my experience in all grade levels.
Before starting, I had a Training and Development and Library Science degree, but for this position we all have to have a Masters in Visual Impairments. We learn about the various kinds of visual impairments, how to read Braille and are trained in how to adapt materials and devices for our students.
Novel Effect: What is the average age range you work with at the Kentucky School for the Blind?
CU: We start with kindergarten and go to the age of 21. There is a preschool for children with visual impairments that’s separate from us in our state. Kindergarten is the first time that we meet our students. We have dorms and some of our students live on campus and go home on the weekends. I would say about 40% of our kids live here because they live too far away to be transported every day.
If they live within an hour and a half radius they are usually bused in, but if they’re further out in the state than that, they live in our dorm. We have no snow days because our kids are always here!
“Prior to Novel Effect, I'd never given them a book and spread them out and said you just read the book. I just don't think they would have been that motivated to read by themselves without that little 'reward'."
Kentucky School for the Blind
Novel Effect: Are you using Novel Effect with just your elementary students or are you using it across the board?
Novel Effect: Can you tell us a little bit more about what twin vision books are?
CU: Each state has a regional library that was set up back in 1931 that was designed to push out materials for the visually impaired. Ours is called the Kentucky Talking Book Library and it is located in Frankfort. They send us a free copy of any elementary age books that are turned into braille by the Library of Congress. Twin vision books have an overlay that has the braille text, the same as the print text. It’s primarily for someone teaching a braille reader when you don’t know braille. A lot of our parents don’t learn braille, so it’s hard for them to help their kiddos, but if they have that print right next to the braille then they can read side-by-side. Once they get up to middle school books, around 5th grade text, it switches over to totally braille text with no pictures or print.
Novel Effect: Cool! Are you able to use any of the Novel Effect book activities with your students?
Novel Effect: That’s so great to hear. Are there any other challenges that you faced in your library that you feel Novel Effect has helped solve?
Novel Effect: Has there been a time where Novel Effect has helped impact a student and their experience with reading?
Novel Effect: That’s great! What is your favorite part about the app as an educator?
CU: I just enjoy reading and seeing what sounds you guys come up with! I was just processing a book, The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Mac Barnett, and I was like “Oh, my gosh! This will make a great Novel Effect book.” And then I looked at your list and you already had it. In the book the trolls are going over the bridge and talking about the horse hooves. It lends itself for sounds.