Apr 04 2013

Why Our After-School Book Club Can't Wait to Get Its New E-Readers

For reluctant readers, e-readers can engage students in ways print has not.

"Hey, Mr. Renwick, when are the tablets coming in?"

"They are e-readers. I am not sure."

Two days later.

"Hey, Mr. Renwick, when are the tablets coming in?"

"They're not...nevermind. Soon!"

This is a continual conversation I have been having with one of my 4th graders. He, along with nine other 4th and 5th graders, will soon be receiving e-readers. They are members of our after-school book club, which also serves as a reading intervention.

The book club’s goal is simple: Get our most reluctant readers to start reading habitually. And we believe that introducing digital books as part of our library will further engage our students in this most critical skill.

Why Go Digital?

The book club students are not lacking in available books to read. Before it started, one of our reading teachers purchased many high-interest, easy-to-read texts for the students from a local bookstore. Additionally, the book club meets in our school library media center where they are surrounded by stories.

But proximity to literature doesn’t mean students will develop the thirst for reading. After all, they have had access to these books for years. Why haven't they picked them up yet?

After reading the current research on digital literacy, we felt e-readers could engage our reluctant readers in a way that print has not thus far. While the printed word is revered by previous generations, these students go home after school and play video games or interact on social media. Media is mostly a digital experience for them.

By shifting to a medium that embraces interactivity, the chance that they’ll read may independently increase. E-readers, even the basic ones we have purchased, boost the relevancy of reading and shows that the school is trying to speak their language: technology.

Two Types of Text: Similar but Not the Same

It is not that technology is the end-all, be-all for our students' reading diet. We see it as a segue to a more literacy-centric life. Words are words. The whole point of reading is to be engaged and informed. Remember, the actual comprehension, enjoyment and learning happens inside one's head, not in the text.

In that respect, both the print and digital word provide the same thing: an opportunity to experience lives, cultures and worlds different from our own.

But in other ways, reading print versus digital text requires a shift in instruction. For starters, students can see their progress with a print book by simply looking at the thickness of the remaining pages. With e-readers, we have to teach them how to assess their reading volume with the percentage complete data on the bottom of the screen.

Second, annotating and highlighting important passages in a digital text requires only a touch of the screen. With print, a packet of sticky notes and a pencil would be necessary to mark text that resonated with the reader.

Finally, we can increase the font size if the type is too small on an e-reader.

However, print books don't require recharging every month or so. Forgetting to plug in an e-reader before the battery dies could mean that valuable reading time goes down the drain.

It’s critical that teachers and schools guide students on managing and using e-readers in the same way we’ve taught students the value of using book covers, bookmarks and highlighters for print.

A Balancing Act

Our book club students are allowed to choose the texts that are downloaded on the e-readers. But as we navigated through all the choices, we slowly realized that too few nonfiction books work with our e-readers. Many newer nonfiction books have lots of graphics, which might make them better in print at this time.

That’s why I make this point to our students: Lifelong readers rely on a variety of formats, reading both digital and print. As the written word has transitioned from print to digital books, we shouldn’t focus on choosing digital exclusively. The most important thing is choosing the right tool for the job.

And right now, e-readers are a part of the literacy toolbox that can help reluctant readers access text that might have evaded them in the past.


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