Bruce Frost: Launch and Exploration of E-Readers in Classroom Book Clubs
A month ago, with everything finally falling into place, I launched the use of e-readers (Kindles) in my classroom book clubs. For weeks, my students had been drooling over the opportunity to go digital, ready to snatch them up the second they were offered.
Originally, I had grand plans for this launch. But due to time restrictions and lessons learned, I decided to keep it relatively simple. A little more than a third of the class would use the e-readers for a week and then switch off with each succeeding week. During that time, the remaining students would read from the hard copies and record responses in paper journals. These same responses would also be recorded as Notes in the e-readers, either throughout a chapter or at the end of the chapter. And after every few chapters, students reading both e-book and traditional book would discuss the story.
Fortunately, once the ball got rolling and the desire to read electronically infected everyone, students began bringing in their own e-readers, each purchasing a copy of the book. This allowed me to lengthen the time each student had with the e-reader.
Though for the most part this initial experiment has been a huge success, there have been some snags.
I wish I had researched my original purchase of special-priced base Kindles more, saving me some of the below hassles. But some of the basic differences come down to ease of use, such as
- manual letter selection on a keyboard via a cursor vs. typing
- page movement
In addition, the special pricing of the base Kindle includes advertising that is more evasive than I was aware of at the time of purchase. So far, it seems that the ads are kept PG. I keep my fingers crossed!
Kindle Touch is the only e-reader that comes with this application and is one of the primary reasons I chose the Kindle. Yes, though its voice software is unsophisticated and does not always pronounce words correctly, I do still feel comfortable using it to help students follow along with their reading. I also found that with the headphones and text-to-speech, students who are usually very inattentive seem more focused.
However, there are often glitches with the application. Too often it stops working, frustrating the child reader. And the only way to fix the problem is to reboot the Kindle.
I really love the ability for students to add notes into the passages that they are reading. Not only is it less of an interruption than putting your book down and opening up a journal, these quick responses and questions that students record are always accessible in the spot where the thought occurred. A reader can either open up the Note within the reading or go back to the Home Page and open My Clippings to see the complete list of Notes.
In addition, every note written on the Kindles registered to my school is shared with the other Kindles. Book club members reading the same book can view what others are thinking, creating an informal cyber club. How this can be enhanced, I haven’t figure out yet. But I do plan to fool around with it a lot over the summer.
One drawback to the Notes design is from an educator’s perspective. I had hoped to open My Clippings and print out the Notes in a journal format. Unfortunately, there is other miscellaneous information attached to each Note, making it difficult to print and hand back to the student with comments.
Obviously, the ability to highlight unknown words in text is a priceless tool to many of my struggling readers. At the same time, I need to monitor how it is used and to make sure that these readers are also using context clues to find meaning.
My biggest frustration so far has been the inability to move e-books around from Kindle to Kindle so that I have similar reading levels together on a Kindle — especially those Kindles that have touch and text-to-speech. In addition, I need to make sure my limited e-book list is spread economically across all school Kindles. This is partly my fault for not figuring out an organizational system for the e-readers prior ro purchase and download. But it is also a fault in Amazon’s design. I wish they would come up with a system that allows the user to drag and drop e-books and media online.
Kindles are very limited in the types of PDF files that can be downloaded and used. Based on my initial research, it seemed that all PDF files could be placed on the Kindle. This was important to me because I had planned to build interactive PDF files (such as multiple-choice and open response questions) that would be linked with the e-books. That way, students could not only respond in an electronic journal but also answer questions electronically. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I can only hope for an update some day in the future.
Despite these bumps in the road, I am still very excited with what my students have been able to accomplish with the e-readers and how it has sparked some of the reluctant readers. And I am sure with more investigation, I can enhance the experience even more.
However, I still feel that Amazon, if they were smart, could delve into a new educational Kindle model. Nothing fancy, but a model that allows for interactive PDF files and better note-taking and sharing. One that includes a more reliable and sophisticated text-to-speech application. And outside of just the educational market, they need to do something about e-book management.
If Amazon doesn’t do it, someone else will take advantage. Until then, I’ll keep exploring.