A new trend has begun showing up in sixth grade. Many of my students have been showing up with eReaders. It’s not surprising. The price of entry-level readers has gone well below $100, even for name brand readers such as the Kindle or the Nook. With prices this low, most parents seem happy to give a reader as a birthday or Christmas present.
I, for one, am excited about this development. A student can carry dozens of books with him or her and read them at leisure. But there is also another benefit. In a recent study by Pew Research, it has been shown that the average person owning an eReader reads 24 books per year compared to 15 by the rest of us. This is good news for the publishing industry, since eBooks are cheaper to produce and distribute than paper books. To me, it is all irrelevant when compared to what I see in my classroom: kids reading who did not read before.
Maybe it is the novelty of the medium; maybe a time will come when eReaders are considered boring and turn into the 8-track of literature. I think it has something to do with the convenience factor, that from that simple device they can pull up what they want to read when they want to read it. For those of you who live near a well-stocked library or a giant book store, that might not seem important. But for my students, living in a rural setting, acquiring things to read is harder and the ability to read something at the push of a button makes that first step a lot smaller.
As a teacher, I hope to see more of these devices, not just for reading, but also a wider move to a ‘bring your own device’ policy, where we welcome more electronics into the classroom just as we would books, notebooks, and pencils, treating them not as novelties (though they may be filled with novels) but as vital and useful tools for learning.
Our wonderful library has received a set of brand new Nook Color eReaders, and being more than happy to be a guinea pig (or, at least, to let my students play that role), I decided to give them a try this month for my literature circles.
I gave six Nooks to one of my reading groups and loaded them up with a few popular Project Gutenburg titles: Tom Sawyer, Doctor Doolittle, The Jungle Book, and Treasure Island, all available for download free along with thousands of other classics. (My students found Treasure Island boring—the first few chapters anyway.)
How well do the eReaders work? Here are some of the good things that I found from my initial trials:
- The page numbers of eReaders are different, so getting on the same page is a little hard. I could see having kids getting lost easily without a common point of reference. Setting up bookmarks will have to be a must.
- That said, being able to change spacing, text size, and other features in what you are reading could be a boon for students who have trouble reading fine text.
- Research, research, research: You can touch any word and get an instant definition. This is so easy and effortless that my students were looking up all kinds of terms. Another link takes them to Wikipedia or a Google search for searching for names or places. So much of reading is making connections, and using an eReader allows you to make those connections easily.
- Internet access makes these eReaders a watered down iPad in many respects. My students can look stuff up, post to my blog, or work on their Edmodo page. However, most don’t have the kind of control over content and oversight that a school would like. Until we figure out how to properly manage WiFi on the readers, we shut it off.
- Organization/management rights. Most of the e-book market is made for consumers; you buy the rights to a single copy of a book and can install that single copy. How does a school keep track of all those rights? How can it manage 10 copies of each text? How do we lend a copy to another school? Ten years from now, when we want to know what copies we have rights to, where will they be?
- Asset tracking. How do we keep students from walking off with the Nooks? Having them sign a waiver seems a little much, but unlike the iPad, most eReaders don’t have the ability to track their location.