Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kindling Report

At long last, we are using Kindles in my LA 7 classroom. At the end of this post, I will navigate the waters of setting up our Kindle library, but first I want to proclaim the pluses of the device.

I am using the Kindles in two classrooms. One comprises strong readers (measured by test scores, not time spent on reading), scheduled together by chance. The other comprises less strong readers (measured by ditto), scheduled together on purpose at mid-year. Because we were able to purchase only 8 Kindle 2 readers, I have split the readers between the two classes, 4 in one group, 4 in the other.

For the less strong class, I have selected strong but less challenging novels for the Kindles. These include: Kit's Wilderness, Among the Hidden, and All of the Above. Because I don't believe in under-challenging students in a low-reading group, I also loaded on a longer "grabber" book (Night Runner), and some books that can be read in a guided-reading environment (The Entertainer and the Dybbuk and The Hunger Games). These are supplemented by print versions of the novels and by different novels read at the same time by other groups in the room. In fact, since I am currently teaming this class as an intervention, we have three novel-study groups, only one of which is reading the Kindle. I work with all three and the Kindles will rotate among the groups. 

In my high-powered class, I have a group that has finished reading Hiroshima (Yep paperback) and that is moving on to Milkweed (Kindle/print). Champing at the bit is a group of girls that has finished reading paper copies of Homeless Bird. They want the Kindles for The Lovely Bones.

This is how it has played out so far. I am reporting my observations only:
  • The reluctant/low-reader group is reading slower, more deeply, and more responsibly with the Kindle. I have taught them how to highlight text and how to access the dictionary (really simple), and this has made each of them think more while reading.  The reading group discussions have been excellent. Readers ask for the "Location" of a word or passage. They have self-defined their reading assignments by percentage rather than by page. The slowest reader in the group, who also has the lowest comprehension scores, is making connections and abstractions he has not made all year, and he is keeping up with the reading.  During every group, we have used the Note files to locate vocabulary words in their exact Locations. Reading the sentences makes the meanings clear!  And students love to sit in the room and read the Kindle during class time.  BIG THING:  None of the students in the other two reading groups (paperbacks) is sustaining this type of reading.  OTHER BIG THING: This group will be stunned when they learn that they can email annotations and notes to each other.
  • The impatient High-Scoring Group is not doing as well. After a superior read and discussion of Yep's Hiroshima (print), this group took on Milkweed on the Kindle.  Actually, one girl refused a Kindle and wanted the library hardbound copy instead.  [Note to self: print should always be a choice.]  One boy had the Kindle for less than 48 hours before he broke (?) it.  So - I am struggling to get copies of the novel so all can read it before April 12.  The positive of that experience is that the breaker boy read at least one, maybe two, of the novels on the Kindle before he broke it.  And he read three assignments ahead (yes, he reads that quickly).
  • Before our reading groups began, I responded to student interest by signing loaded Kindles out to curious readers. Without exception, every student read a complete novel and investigated several more.  Titles included: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Hunger Games, Night Runner, The Jungle Book, Kit's Wilderness, Among the Hidden, The Lovely Bones, and Nation.
So, what do I make of this digital book experiment?
  1. It motivates middle school readers. The device itself is a motivator for both boys and girls. Having multiple books on one device propels reading for interest and curiosity. 
  2. It helps to teach reading comprehension and energize readers at the difficult middle school level IF student readers are required to use the Kindle tools for annotation and highlighting and WHEN this reading is guided by a teacher. There is much press recently about how "slow reading" promotes comprehension (you have heard it here).  This device is a "slow down" device. Students look up words in in the on-board dictionary, underline and annotate.  In a public school, this is the only way to teach these skills, short of giving books away (which I have also done this year).
  3.  Newly published titles can be in student hands the minute (literally) they become available, for a cost at least $5 less than even Amazon's discount of the print version.  Loading one book on 6 devices (the limit) is a seamless activity if accounts are set up correctly.  I have used popular, classic (free), and literary novels this year with my 7th grade. 
  4. Cost and time are an issue.  See the next section of this comment.
Setting Up Accounts

My school declined to get an Amazon corporate account to help with purchasing. If you can get such an account (an Amazon Visa), do.  I ended up getting a low-rate Amazon Store Card under my own name.  This limited me to purchasing only 3 Kindles at a time, so I had to make the purchase, get the refund check, and wait for the check to clear before I could purchase 3 more Kindles.  It took a month. If I get a major grant, I will need the corporate card with a high limit.

I hit upon this method of managing our 8 Kindles: I color-coded the purchased covers. The covers are necessary if the devices go home - they are nicely padded and eliminate slipperiness altogether.  I purchase the least expensive hinged covers in 8 different colors.  I named the Kindles by their cover (blackstitch, pink, navy, etc), names being necessary for book delivery and for email. 

Because a book title can be put on 6 Kindles, I set up 2 Amazon accounts and registered 4 Kindles to each.  This way, I can track which titles I put on which machines.

Digital books, unfortunately, can not be purchased with the Amazon Store Card. So I have had to purchase them with my own dollar and get refunded.  The same is true for digital audio, which I have not yet tried (I do listen to books on my personal Kindle).

Overall - a great tool for school!  If I had a personal secretary, I would consider applying for a grant to have a Kindle for each 7th grader.

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