Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Wonders of the Kindle E-Reader

Last Fall I received a Kindle for my birthday.  I was never against using an e-reader over print text, but I definitely preferred reading printed text over text on the computer (my eyes cannot tolerate more than 15 minutes of reading on the computer and I usually try to print out text from the computer to read it in its printed version).  I also learned about the 20-20-20 strategy when reading on the computer- it entails to stop every 20 minutes from reading on the computer and look away for at least 20 seconds, 20 feet away from where you are.  With this being said, I was completely surprised at how fast I took a liking to reading on the Kindle.

As it became more and more enjoyable to read on the Kindle, I began to see how the Kindle could be used in the classroom.  And then, the Kindle Project was born- with the nudging from a fast friend I made who was subbing as a paraprofessional in my school, I jumped into what would be a year long journey to gain support from other educators, administrators and donors to get Kindles in the classroom.  Below is an overview of my project- maybe I can inspire other educators to support their use in the classroom, or at least persuade readers who are reluctant to join the 21st century and buy a Kindle.

 Imagine a classroom where students can grow as readers without judgment from peers: a classroom where students are engaged in authentic learning.  Add a sustainable library with endless possibilities for students to read.  This classroom will exist with the assistance of Amazon’s Kindle Wireless Reading Device.  The Kindle is an electronic book (ebook) that all students should have access to, and is an invaluable resource for schools.  With currently 27,023 children and young adult texts available, the Kindle is every teacher’s dream.   

Using Kindles to Ignite Minds on Fire

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Year after year, I have many students come into my classroom with reading abilities well below their grade levels.  Because of continued difficulty with reading and comprehension, these students become frustrated and turned off to reading.  They develop poor attitudes towards reading.  This mindset might seem irreversible by many, but in my professional opinion, children do not hate to read, they hate the associated failure.  This failure is the result of poor book selection that occurs when students try to read books above their independent reading levels in an effort to look like they are reading at the same levels as their peers. They want to avoid the embarrassment of feeling like they have been left behind.  Unfortunately, this causes the gap between the grade level standard and the student’s level of success to widen.  Authentic learning only happens when students have texts they can actually read and understand. 

Our task as teachers is to teach our students how to comprehend texts that are difficult for them ~ with greater depth of understanding. The Kindle allows students to mirror the reading comprehension strategies we model for them and because it is new technology, it is extremely engaging for them.  When reading in hardcopy, we model how to highlight important concepts or vocabulary. Now the Kindle allows for electronic highlighting which certainly supports 21st century learning.

I can take up to six Kindles and download texts within a certain band of difficulty (ex. guided reading levels R,S,T) and then place these designated Kindles in the hands of students at that reading level. These students will be able to enjoy reading on their current levels, work towards higher reading levels (and better comprehension) and no one knows at what levels others are reading. This evens the playing field for all students.

Not only can Kindles assist struggling readers, they can enrich and push all students towards higher levels of thinking. Writing about or responding to literature encourages dialogue.  While reading on the Kindle, students can make notes right on the device. This is a particularly important tool for students with handwriting legibility issues.  But more importantly, this feature creates discourse between the reader and his teacher, between the reader and his peers and even between the reader and the author.  It certainly aids the teacher because it serves as an assessment tool. When a teacher can go back and reread what a student wrote about being connected to a character, a conflict in the story or some particular detail, it opens the door for further opportunity to deepen understanding for the student/reader.
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Working at the middle school level is difficult when it comes to tapping into students’ interests and motivating them to achieve.  For some students, the sight of a book turns them off to learning due to negative past experiences.  With the addition of Kindles in the classroom, I can use children’s fascination with technology to spur real interest in reading.  The Kindle allows reading to be personalized and differentiated for individual readers.  The Kindle uses e-ink technology that simulates print text to minimize eye strain.  Students can vary the font size, set the screen to show one page or two, access the built-in dictionary (which helps readers expand their vocabulary) affording each student the right to choice.

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As a Kindle user myself, I have first-hand experience with the benefits of using it as a learning tool in the classroom.  Both economical and sustainable, the Kindle will help students read and succeed in the 21st century, as well as give them the most important gift for success in life and that is being life-long readers. 

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