Confessions of a Struggling (E-) Reader

Posted by on Sep 30, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Confessions of a Struggling (E-) Reader

My Kindle is so old that it has a keyboard on the bottom and the screen doesn’t light up. When I first got it, it was love at first read. Dozens of books all at my fingertips? Great for long trips. Super lightweight? I can read in bed without my arms getting tired. Hover my cursor over a word? Get the definition instantly. So many benefits. I’ve read dozens and dozens of all kinds of books on my Kindle, and have been telling anyone who will listen how great Kindle reading is.

Until And the Mountains Echoed.

I bought the Kindle version of Khaled Hosseini’s new book months ago when it first came out. I read the first chapter and part of the second and left it, turning to some other nonfiction book for a while. Then I picked it up again, forgot where I was and re-read it from the start. I was lost again, and got distracted with another book in my e-pile. Then my local bookstore announced Hosseini was coming to do a talk, and only those who purchased the hardcover book at the store could gain admission. So I bought another copy – a paper copy. I started reading it from the start again. But this time, I couldn’t put it down.

Simultaneous to my Hosseini experience, I’ve been working closely with a group of teachers in a district in CT on conferring with readers. In this district, many parents have purchased e-readers for their kids, and the kids are loading them up with books at home and bringing them in to school. More than once, I’ve been asked to model conferring with a child reading an e-book. And more than once, I’ve found myself struggle.

These two experiences with e-readers – as a reader and as a teacher of reading – have led me to do some thinking and reflecting about challenges inherent to reading on devices that make me at times prefer paper, and tricks I use to teach when students are reading on a device. These thoughts are just the beginning, and I would love to hear what you’re thinking, too.

When paper beats device:

  • When a book is filled with characters and/or when the plot is nonlinear, I prefer to read on paper. Flipping back and forth is just too hard on an e-reader. For kids who are reading a book at the upper reaches of their independent level, paper books are probably best. And the Mountains Echoed is both filled with character (with names unfamiliar to me) and the plot is woven together like an intricate braid. Needless to say, I was more engaged when I could flip.
  • When I want to do in-the-moment writing about reading, paper is probably better. For many students, jotting sticky notes as they read helps them to hold onto the story, pause to reflect, or prepare for conversation. When I’ve asked students to show me their thinking, they have to toggle to a new comments page on their e-reader, and then navigate back to the page on which they had the thought. To me, it’s too clumsy. If a student is going to read on an e-reader, I ask that the student keeps running thoughts externally, like in a reading notebook, and indicate the location of the idea from the e-book. I also recommend that the student highlight the text on the e-reader to correspond to the jot on paper.
  • When I’m getting ready for a book talk (club, partnership) I prefer paper. Again, paper makes it easier to flag pages and thumb through to find spots I want to talk about. When kids try to talk in partnerships and clubs using e-readers, I find they do more staring and fiddling with buttons than looking at each other.

Tricks for conferring with students who e-read:

When I’m conferring with readers, I find that many of the quick ways I typically use to orient myself to a book I haven’t read don’t work. I usually read the back cover blurb, check to see how far into the book the student is, check the student’s writing about reading, and think about what I know about the author, book level, or series. On an e-reader, everything is so hidden, so here’s what I do:

  • I start by asking the student to turn on the feature that shows how far into the book he or she is. This gives me a sense of where the student is in the narrative arc, and allows me to ask questions that are appropriate. For example, to someone early on in the book I might ask “Tell me what you’re learning about the characters” while mid-way through I might say, “Describe the problems the character is encountering and what s/he’s doing to try to overcome them?” To someone late in the book I might ask, “So what does it seem this story is really about?”
  • Since I don’t have a back cover blurb to scan, I find that a quick check on my own iPad to learn a bit about the book is helpful (I’ve taken to carrying around an iPad during conferences, to use for this purpose, as well as anecdotal notetaking. I also load up by bookshelf with books I can use to demonstrate in-the-moment). Using Amazon or something similar, I often take a moment to read about the book before engaging the student in conversation. The bonus to this is that I can use the “People Who have Read this Have also Read…” feature on Amazon to see what some themes or features of the text might be, based on the company it keeps.
  • I ask the student to show me the highlights/notes page in the device. I scan to learn about the kinds of thinking overall that the student has been engaged in. I also might ask the students questions such as “What made you want to highlight that? What struck you?”

What are you finding are some challenges with e-reading, as a reader or as a teacher of reading? What are some tricks you’ve found to overcome those challenges?