Saturday, 5 March 2016

Kindles, Nooks and eReaders - or Paper Books? Savita Kalhan

Recently I heard of a very large school, with eight or nine classes per year group, which has invested in kindles and nooks for all pupils in Years Seven, Eight and Nine. Most classes have over thirty children, so that's a heck of a lot eReaders. The school has preloaded each eReader with a total of eighteen books for the school year. It also preloads subject specific word banks, revision tools, and other tasks to support work in lessons and out of school.

Interesting, although the school allows its pupils to read paper books, all their form reading time and reading in English lessons must be on the eReader. Even more interestingly, pupils require a permission note from the parent to bring a paper book to school!

Apparently, "a student's academic success can be greatly increased through active reading and the process of actively engaging with texts, and tools such as 'look up' on the eReaders are excellent in supporting this."

I know a couple of kids who go to this school and they don't much like reading on the eReader - they far prefer paper books. The trouble is they're no longer encouraged to read paper books in preference to the school's preferred preloaded digital books.

Is this happening in other schools? I wonder if this is something that's being rolled out in schools right across the UK. I don't know the answer.

Do I like that this might be happening? No, I don't, because I think it discourages kids from making their own choices in reading. It also discourages an enquiring mind - one that picks up a book at random, looks at the cover, reads the blurb, the opening page, and then decides whether or not to read that book over another one that on the bookshelf, or to continue browsing. Browsing a bookshelf is not the same as wading through a prescribed list of books on an eReader.

I think there's a danger that enforcing eReader use in schools may end up being counter-productive. If the preloaded books do not appeal to the kids then they are essentially stuck. Reading should be a pleasure. Yes, we all had to read certain texts for schools that we may not have cared for ‑ but not up to eighteen of them, and not to the apparent exclusion of anything else.

I have yet to see the list of books preloaded onto the school's eReaders. Some will be set texts, but I don't know the criteria for how the other books are chosen. It would be interesting to know what these criteria are.

I'm not against e Readers - I have an eReader, which I love. It's great for holidays, and for reading samples of books. For all sorts of people who live in countries where it's hard to get books for whatever reason, social, political etc, I'm sure an eReader is absolutely indispensable.

I also have a lot of paper books - I buy lots of books, I borrow lots of books from the library, I love books. My eReader has its place, but it does not take the place of a proper paper book.

Schools may well find eReaders to be a valuable tool, and used in conjunction with other resources, I'm sure they perform a valuable function. But I don't think they should ever wholly replace a paper book - and, more importantly, kids don't seem to think so either. 


Sue Bursztynski said...

I wonder what has happened to that school's library? My own school's senior campus library was closed down, though the space is still used for homework, and the books given away or thrown in the bin! But not so they could be replaced with ebooks - we don't have that kind of money and neither do our students - but because "they can get it all on the Internet, can't they? Why waste money employing a librarian?" This, despite having a huge literacy program which requires paper books and someone to organise them.

I see your point about random choices. You can't do that with ebooks, unless there are specials advertised, when you might try something you otherwise wouldn't, but it's still not the same. I still run a library, though when I leave I am unlikely to be replaced. I have a bookseller come in about once a term and invite students to choose our next lot of books. They love it!

That said, as someone who has lived long enough to acquire several thousand paper books, I am very grateful to have the option of buying ebooks and carry them with me when I travel to work and back. I keep my paper books for bedtime reading. And if I read about a particular book that sounds wonderful, I no longer have to defer gratification. I can just go to the iBooks store and download. :-) Which may not always be a good thing, of course. For one thing, if you don't like them or don't want to reread them, you can't give them away as I recently did with about 100 books, donated to the fundraising effort of my local science fiction convention, to be raffled off to a new home.

John Dougherty said...

Nicola Morgan could give you more detail, but I believe there's considerable and growing evidence to suggest that, yes, readers do interact differently with paper books and e-books - but that the engagement with the text tends to be on a deeper level with real books. This doesn't sound like an educationally sound policy.

Julie Sykes said...

I had to check the date because when I first read this I thought it was an April Fool's joke.

It sounds very dystopian to me and as John says, not like an educationally sound policy.

The school I visited on Friday had just invested in a new library. It was in a gorgeous room and stuffed full of books. E-readers are fantastic but they are no substitute for the real thing.

Savita Kalhan said...

Sue, I'm so sorry to hear about your school library. The kids in the school I'm talking about don't have access to the internet on their eReaders, so they only books they can read are the ones that have been preloaded by the school. I think that's wrong on so many levels. As I said, I love my kindle, but it doesn't take the place of paper books, which, yes, I buy far too many of!

Savita Kalhan said...

John, no, it doesn't sound like a sound policy for any school to adopt. I hope Nicola spots this post and can tell us more.
Julie, sorry, I wish this was an April Fool's joke, or dystopian fiction! But it's not, sadly. I really would like to know how many other secondary schools in the UK are adopting this fatally flawed policy.

Lydia Syson said...

I'm also a big e-reader fan, as are 3 out of 4 of my children - the middle one is a refusnik, but reads far less than the other three. And actually I quite like the fact that they end up browsing and trying samples and reading out of copyright stuff, and I can send them things I think they'd like, and they can be reading the same thing at the same time. And, as Sue says, there's that instant gratification thing, which is specially good for children. But I completely agree that this sounds horrible prescriptive, and I can't imagine why paper books could be banned. Awful to hear about your library, Sue.

Nicola Morgan said...

Excuse me while I calm down.

Sorry, i need some more time to calm down.

Excuse me while I fume and am appalled.

I'm still fuming, appalled and not calm.

This is a fundamentally unsound policy. John is right, that the growing evidence, such as it is, suggests a *slightly* better comprehension and recall of print text compared to digital (though actually it's difficult to measure these things in a real-world setting rather than an artificial research setting.) There are several brain-related reasons why this should be the case.

As Savita says, enjoyment of text is the crucial thing and this is NOT best served by telling children that one form of reading (print) is somehow less good than another and that their enjoyment or preference for print is somehow wrong.

This quote - "a student's academic success can be greatly increased through active reading and the process of actively engaging with texts, and tools such as 'look up' on the eReaders are excellent in supporting this" - is an example of manipulating sciencey-sounding words to try to imply some solid truth. What exactly is meant by "active" reading? All reading is active, involving many parts of the brain. Yes, it's great to "engage" actively with the text, but I fail to understand how looking a word up is engaging with the text. Engaging with the text is about understanding, making empathic leaps, becoming narratively transported. Frankly, stopping to look up a word is likely to lead to NOT engaging with the text in the important sense of narrative transportation, the act of "being carried away in the story."

Please don't tell me the name of the school or I might feel compelled to write to them and ask where on earth they came up with this idea. I hope to goodness you're wrong, Savita, and that something has been profoundly lost in translation!

This is even worse than the boys' school I heard of recently where they have apparently removed the non-fiction fro the shelves because...non-fiction won't improve the boys' empathy. Because, of course, increasing empathy must be the *only* aim of reading a book.

I think I managed to sound calmer than I feel.

I'm currently in Spain, where tomorrow I'm doing workshops for teachers on reading and the brain. None of the schools I talk to would ever decide to relegate print books to second place. Let children read. Just them them read.

Savita Kalhan said...

Thanks, Nicola. I was in disbelief when the kids told me about this. I've seen the letter that was sent home to parents informing them of the new eReaders, so I don't think anything has been lost in translation.
I think the huge amount of money the school spent on eReaders would have been better spent on revamping their library and buying more books. I will ask the kids about the state of their school library - or if they even still have one. Sad and worrying.

Savita Kalhan said...

Lydia, I don't actually know any kids who prefer an eReader to paper books, including my son. I run a teen reading group at my local library, and the teens would rather read a paper book than an eReader, (two of them attend the school in question). I have nothing against eReaders - I've got one and I like it. An eReader definitely has a place as long as it's alongside paper books, and you're right - this school is being prescriptive, and really shouldn't be pushing them in place of paper books.

Emma Barnes said...

It depends.

A lot of schools in the UK don't provide any books for children to take home that relate to their academic subjects. (They might be able to choose a book from the library to read for pleasure, that is all.) So if this policy is allowing kids to take books home, then I think it is actually a good thing. Eighteen books trumps no books.

If the school is really limiting the kids only to the eighteen books - yes, missed opportunity. But I think e-readers could be a great solution for high school children: a light and convenient way of carrying around all their text books/set texts, plus the chance to download so many classics for free, plus privacy, plus chance to choose fonts and font size for reluctant/dyslexic readers...all sounds great to me.

Savita Kalhan said...

Emma, yes, I understand how the eReaders may be a good thing when it comes to set texts and textbooks for various school subjects. The school preloads 9 books, and then another 9 at Easter, so 18 books sounds quite good. Reading for pleasure is another matter. Access to the internet has been disabled on the eReaders, so kids cannot download anything else at all, not even free classics. Also, the only available reading time that the kids have in school must be devoted to reading what the school wants them to read on the eReader.

Nicola Morgan said...

But, Emma, how can it be right to try to discourage children from reading print versions if they want to? (Which is they part I am worried about.) And how can it be right to imply that science justifies encouraging children to use ebooks over print, when it doesn't? I'm not suggesting they shouldn't encourage reading ebooks but, as I understand it they are doing more than that: they are discouraging print reading. And that seems bonkers.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Nicola, I visited(book launch) a selective boys' high school where there was a small bookshelf of fiction and the rest was non fiction. I know boys love their non fiction, but that's mostly reluctant readers and I suspect most of the books were study-related. Despite that, there was a book club, which the kids ran themselves(selective, remember). I asked the head librarian, whom I knew from her work at the Centre for Yourh Literature, about that tiny fiction section. She said it was her predecessor who had made that decision(why?) and she was going to do something about it. I hope so.

One of our students, a boy who always had his nose in a book, discovered the joys of the Kindle and was like a small child in a candy store once he had access to the free borrowing facility. We have a literacy program that involves streaming and I had to explain to the co-ordinator that he was reading books, he was not playing with his phone.

Her concern, though, was for students who were downloading books they couldn't handle because of films based on them, eg The Great Gatsby being downloaded by students reading at Grade 3 and 4 level. She preferred them to read paper books that could be chosen by the teacher.

Emma Barnes said...

Of course I don't think schools should be limiting access their pupils' access to print books. But I wonder if we might be prejudging a new system on the basis of limited knowledge? I can see that the school would have to limit pupils' access to the internet, and that they might start by trialling the system with only eighteen books. I would hope and imagine that they would find ways to make more books available to pupils and that the system wouldn't be at the expense of a school library with a wide range of print books. I still think e-readers make a lot of sense for high school pupils.

Nicola Morgan said...

I think the school has been "pre-judging a new system on the basis of limited knowledge"! I publicly and passionately advocate the use of ebooks and all the electronic devices available to deliver them. I also and equally passionately advocate print books. I also fully understand the science (such as it currently exists) informing my passionate advocacy of both systems of delivering words; I know enough about the differences and the different ways of mediation by the brain to talk about it at length, though I don't claim to know everything,not least because there's a lot we don't yet know (but a lot we do know). What I can't ever be passionate about (except by being against it) is any policy that makes it harder for any reader to access books in whichever their preferred way is. There are powerful and evidence-based reasons why we might on occasion choose either one method and our children need equal and equally validated access to both. That school's policy *seems* to fly in the face to that equality, based on a misrepresentation of the science as it currently stands.

C.J.Busby said...

It's interesting the way many teachers/senior managers take science stuff and then totally misunderstand it. The 'active reading' is a case in point. It's completely obvious to me that looking up a word, as Nicola says - or browsing related webpages or whatever - is only 'active' reading in the sense that your fingers are moving. Active reading as far as I'm concerned is actively constructing a world in your head out of words and projecting yourself into it.

Our local secondary decided that because brain science showed that brain development involved 'making [neural] connections', the best way to foster that was by teaching cross-curricular 'topics' where the 'connections' between subjects were emphasised, rather than separate history and English lessons, where clearly it was impossible for kids to start 'making connections'. (Obviously there are no connections involved in studying the first world war, because it's all 'history').

I think giving kids e-readers could be quite a good thing, but it's always the compulsion, isn't it? Why don't schools get that compulsion produces the opposite effect to the one you are seeking?

adele said...

I agree with much of what has been said here BUT I do think that e readers could become repositories of what we used to call TESXT BOOKS in my day. None of us would ever have considered reading a text book in our leisure time....surely things like maths books, French grammars, physics books etc would be fine on an e reader? I picked up my granddaughter's school bag the other day and nearly had a cadenza. I could hardly lift it...and to think she's carrying that around all day long...I reckon there is room for both. In ten years time, we won't even be discussing this. An e reader will be as much part of your school kit as your protractor and compass and rubber! Fiction should still be stacked up high in the school library with a PROPER LIBRARIAN in charge!

adele said...

We called them TEXT BOOKS....sorry!

Jo Franklin said...

I'm sorry to hear that this school is using Ereaders in such a restrictive way.
My son (12) loves his Ereader. When he is in reading mode (which comes in fits and starts) he will read a book a day and loves the fact that he can download the next one in the series instantly.
My daughter (14) does not enjoy reading and has complained that some of the set texts are impossible for her to read because of the close typeface on fuzzy paper. An Ereader would have solved this problem but the teacher had already told someone else off for going electonic because she needs them to be able to follow page references so my daughter refused to take her E reader into school. Gah!