When Richmond Hill Middle School English and Language Arts teacher Missy York received a grant to purchase Kindles for her classroom in December, she knew they would change the way her students read.
What she could not have predicted were the many different facets of change the e-readers would elicit.
“I applied for the grant thinking the e-readers would maybe help the struggling reader, but it's helped the range: the advanced readers are reading even more,” said York. “Kids have caught the reading bug because of this.”
Her students’ points on Accelerated Reader, a program which allows students to take computerized quizzes on books (read in and out of the classroom) for extra credit, have skyrocketed.
York requires a minimum of 20 Accelerated Reader points per quarter. Her students have reached into the hundreds – at the time of our interview, Erin Scooler had garnered 642 points and Rachel Hammesfahr had accumulated 777.
Truman Wayne, a student who previously felt ambivalent about reading, said, "I think the Kindles are awesome, and they make me want to read more."
"Kindles let me interact with the books more by having the underlining and highlighting features. This helps me understand what I'm reading," said student Emma Hampe.
Many students are already well-versed in using the e-readers. They explain that the devices can read to them, most classic books are available for free, they can “carry” many books at once, purchasing e-books on the internet can be easier than searching for books at stores or libraries, and the dictionary function helps them to understand words as they read them.
But English isn’t the only area in which Kindles are being utilized at Richmond Hill Middle School.
Social Studies teacher Mary Jo Fina said that her students are utilizing the Kindle to make “higher-level connections” between the themes they read about and historical events.
“One student compared ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to the Age of Discovery - both completely ‘New Worlds’ to those entering them,” Fina said. “A Grimm's Fairy Tale about a child discriminated against because she had two eyes instead of three became the focus point of a comparison to the Civil Rights Movement.”
Fina added, “The students have taken to these as nothing I have ever seen. One student commented, ‘if the library were like this, I would be there every day.’”
There are, however, some students who still prefer “real” books.
Chesney Bromm was one of the first students in Mrs. York’s class to assert that she enjoys the old-fashioned way of reading, flipping the pages of a book.
“Regular books smell better,” added Nick Wheeler.
York believes that e-readers will continue to play an important role in education.
“This is the classroom of the future – downloading textbooks, downloading resources,” she said. “I want my students prepared for the society in which they're going to be contributing. With Kindles, I've never had them more engaged ... they are engaged in their reading and they're learning. So much about education is changing, but reading is still a fundamental key to learning. That is not going to go away. We're not going to replace reading, but we may replace the tools.”