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Alternative pedagogy:bringing e-readers into classroom

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sitting on a train last week were two children,a girl perhaps eleven and her brother who was about nine.they were being escorted home to parents after a half term jaunt,I inferred,by their grandmother.After a bit they were ready to settle.Both asked granny for their kindles which they then read with total absorption until the train reached St pancras station 45 minutes later.

This was the first time I'd seen children doing as so many adults now do:reading happily on e-readers.And it set me thinking about the potential for these devices in schools.If I were still teaching ,I would by now have tried to find a way of using them to promote and develop reading.

As I am sufficiently single minded and puritanical about "proper books," an e-reader would be my choice.Not only are they much cheaper than an iPad, but put the latter in a child's hand it won't be long before s/he is on Facebook and/or playing games or succumbing to other distractions.

No one seems to know how fast or slowly the kindle mentality is filtering into schools,although Amazon is quietly encouraging it.There are discounts,for example,for schools,colleges,universities businesses which purchase 25 devices or more.

Tynham School at Christchurch Dorset piloted the use of e-books in schools in 2010.Although they found the iPad better for high quality color screen and interactivity,according to assistant head,Mike Herrity,the kindle and the sony e-Reader proved better for text enthusiasts.

'Many schools libraries are investigating ways in which they can tap into the e-book revolution and use it to enthuse reluctant readers about losing themselves in a book'says Bev Humphrey,Literacy,School Librarian and Technology Consultant."The e-Reader of choice appears to be the kindle,although it is not without its difficulties when using it in a school environment."

Earlier this month a secondary school teacher posted on Amazon customer service discussion forum: "My school library has a few Kindles loaded up with a selection of texts.Children can curl up there with wcichever has on it a selection they fancy.They can adjust print size as needed.Some kids love them.Its a great way for children to try out a Kindle before buying one themselves and it gets some reading who would be reluctant otherwise.

Good to hear.Although, of course,many families are not going to be able to afford to buy Kindles for their children,whatever this teacher thinks.It makes perfect sense to me to put them in libraries and English departments and primary classrooms where they save space and allow and make hundreds of books instantly portable and accessible--especially out of copyright classics which can usually be downloaded free.

The children teachers call "reluctant" readers have always done better with larger print.Years ago,when I was secondary school's head of English,I remember the excitement of a 12-year old,very excited to have finished The Railway Children--the first novel she'd ever read right though."But it was only the easy version' she said, apologetically.I was delighted to be able to tell her that every word she'd read was the same as in the "proper" version.The only difference was the large print format.With an e-reader you can enlarge print size at the click of a button.There are obvious benefits to children with sight difficulties too.Yet,neither of these things is mentioned much when the pros and cons of e-books are discussed.

In my view there is a lot of nonsense talked about the soulless 'evils' of e-books and the tactile and visual beauty of print books.Real readers--those who are hungry gobblers of meaning --want content and nothing else matters.It's what's inside the parcel which matters.The wrapping is a side issue.
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