Ahhhhh eBooks. A form of technology sharing the epicentre of a huge debate: “what’s better? EBooks or physical books?” Now, to be clear, I’m not writing about the debate in this post and I’d like to avoid it at all costs. It’s a personal rule of mine to not jump into an argument online with a bunch of strangers. However, I will talk about some of the benefits it holds over physical books in the classroom. This blog is about using text-related technologies to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, after all.
Now, you might be saying that eBooks don’t hold a candle to the practical range of uses one might find for a physical book, but the view would be wrong. Now, that’s a bold statement, outright declaring that somebody’s view is wrong. But in this scenario, it would be. EBooks and traditional books (which I’m going to refer to simply as books from here now) do hold some differences. A striking feature of e-book apps, which are generally viewed on iPads, pods, phones, e-readers and android, is that a reader can touch the screen of their device in order to activate various features. Including colour balances, dictionary applications and even articulation applications to pronounce words you might struggle to read. Options like this not only encourage students to learn visually, but also kinaesthetically, because they have to use their fingers to activate the different features of the applications.
There are some justified beliefs that the multimodal features (animations, sounds, etc.) of interactive e-books may potentially distract children as they read and make sense of the story (Burrell & Trushell, 1997; Matthew, 1996). However, studies have found that reading motivation appears higher after children interact with multimodal texts, especially among children with reading difficulties (Glasgow, 1996). On top of this, eBooks can be presented in an individualised format. Students with special needs (ELL, visually impaired, struggling readers) may benefit from the additional text tools available with the use of electronic texts (Larson, 2010). A case study conducted by Larson found that a teacher, Mrs. Miles, who only had one classroom computer, relied heavily on a ceiling-mounted LCD projector to display the computer screen during whole-class instruction. Through shared literacy experiences, her students frequently read and responded to digital texts. During weekly visits to the school’s computer lab, the second graders practiced independent computer skills or engaged in Internet explorations. In addition, Mrs. Miles encouraged her students to use the class blog to share their opinions about books that they read in class (Larson, 2010).
If my talk of eBooks has piqued your interest in integrating eReaders into classroom practice, then let me tell you one possible method of introducing the idea to the school. To get started, you should communicate closely with school administrators and technology staff to develop common literacy and technology goals. Discuss funding options for acquiring digital readers and subsequent e-books (i.e., grants, PTA/PTO support, or fundraisers). You must also decide how to effectively use the digital readers during whole-class instruction, literature circles, and individual reading experiences. If the access to digital readers is limited, download multiple book titles on each device, which can be shared by several students. Use a visual presenter and projector to initially introduce the e-book reader’s many tools and features. During ensuing lessons, students may further use this technology to share digital notes or favourite text passages with their classmates.
Secondly, craft a schedule that allows each student frequent blocks of uninterrupted reading time. Establish class expectations for note taking and markings in the e-books, particularly if multiple students share a digital reader. Decide if students have the right to access one another’s books and if they can read one another’s notes. Also, consider if multiple students may add notes in the same book, possibly responding to one another’s notes and comments.
Finally, as students read and respond to e-books, it is important that teachers carefully observe their reading behaviours. Note how students access and use e-book tools and features (e.g., font size, dictionary, text-to-speech). Review students’ notes and mark-ups on a regular basis. Carefully consider types of notes written, as well as strategies for nudging students toward a broader repertoire of response options. Encourage students to share how the digital readers support their individual reading processes.
The sad reality of eBooks in the classroom is that it can’t be done properly without the appropriate funding, and with an incredibly large amount that would be needed for the classroom, even if they are shared between students, makes it difficult to guarantee its integration. EBooks will not magically make the reading experience the best it ever will be for an emerging reader, the factors that encourage reading must all still be there, including the most important factor, parental support. What about you? Would you ever want schools to integrate eReaders into the classroom environment?