I grew up a 20th century student reading physical books. I wrote in my books, dog-eared pages, spilled tears on breathtaking passages, borrowed them, and lost many classics to friends. Now, technology has asked me to rethink the efficiency with which I read introducing e-readers to contest my reading status quo. I struggle to make up my mind, and abandon one for the other because I love the reading experience they both can offer. But, as a non digital native, I’ve realized that today's students haven’t had the same reading experiences; therefore, they cannot have the same nostalgia for physical books like I do because they spend more time using digital products than paper ones. They were born into a society with an entirely different delivery system of information. It is the non-digital natives, like me, who will need to embrace new technology, like e-readers, if we are to fight illiteracy and aliteracy.
Ironically, the first e-book I read on my e-reader was Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. While reading this e-book, I was actually more connected to people than I ever was when reading physical books. My e-reader made it easy for me to adapt and for my students to engage with text.
E-readers allow readers to:
- instantly share pages, short passages or quotes with anyone via Facebook, Twitter or email.
Books obviously can’t compete with these features!
E-readers also let readers instantly:
- rate and post an online review of a book
- share a reading status with friends on Facebook and Twitter so they know how far along readers have read.
- bookmark pages
- add notes about a page or passage
- highlight key sections while the e-reader keeps track of it all.
- search for keywords
- touch a word to look up its meaning
- adjust the size of the text or the lighting
Although e-readers’ features empower reading experiences, why do so many of us non digital natives still long for physical books?
We long for physical books because they are and were a part how information was presented to us to process and learn. Our brains got used to this type of delivery system of information. The 20th century learning experience lacked the level of stimulation and engagement that tech like e-readers offer today. Today’s students rarely engage with paper products, and the printed word in a physical book, no matter how well written, does not offer the degree of stimulation students are used to receiving through other media. However, just because we, as non digital natives, are not used to this delivery system, we cannot hold our students back from the benefits this technology offers them to improve their reading skills.
If your school happens to have e-readers, here are some ideas that could help change students’ attitudes toward reading:
- Create a Class Facebook or Twitter page. This can be done safely giving access only to students and parents. As students read class wide or independent selections, they can use the e-reader’s Facebook and Twitter share feature to post their favorite quotes and thoughts to discuss texts with each other. (If students need coaching on how to select significant passages and write effective FB and Twitter posts, then I recommend modeling how to do this first using a high interest text all students will enjoy.) Schools could even connect with grade levels or other schools inviting them to add to the Facebook and Twitter feeds uniting students nationally or even globally in their reading experiences.
- E-readers may even motivate students to take the time to look up unknown words while they read because the dictionary feature makes it virtually effortless. Students just tap on the unfamiliar word to see a definition in a pop-up window.
- E-readers also reinvigorate the concept of the “book report” because the book review feature is limited to 3500 characters or less. Students benefit from learning how to write a succinct book review. Although there’s no guarantee an e-reader motivates students to write book reviews, the connectivity aspect of writing a review for an online community may attract more students to use this feature since they know they will be writing to a real audience of fellow readers. Determine what your students like to read: humor, mysteries, sci-fi, romance, etc. Allowing them to read books they like may encourage them to use the book review feature without a fight.
- E-readers even facilitate annotation because it takes seconds to highlight a passage of interest and add notes to it. No more lost sticky notes, or illegible marginal notes.
- Students can also lend each other books through the e-reader, and there’s been talk of apps enabling e-borrowing from local public libraries.
E-readers are not the panacea of illiteracy or aliteracy, but an e-reader’s features definitely offer a level of engagement physical books cannot. E-readers connect readers to each other in a way physical books cannot. We’ve tried using traditional strategies to fight illiteracy and aliteracy, and many of these have failed. Why not try the technology of e-readers where students not only interact with the text, but can also connect with an online community of readers.