George Lucas Educational Foundation

Reading Programs and Technology - Partners or Enemies?

Reading Programs and Technology - Partners or Enemies?

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Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately has been the issue of reading and how important it is for students to read regularly, widely and deeply. I’m sure I am not alone in thinking that reading will remain one of the fundamental skills for academic success for a long time to come, regardless of the ubiquitous nature of technology. As an English teacher, I am sure that books and libraries will remain important in the classrooms of the future - although they may not be used in the same ways that they are now.

However, what really interests me are the opportunities provided by technology for ‘better’ reading and comprehension. Let me explain a little bit more. One of the best outlines of a reading program that I have read is ‘Every Child, Every Day’ by Richard L. Allington and Rachael E. Gabriel. This short article - always important for time-pressed teachers - suggests that a successful reading strategy has six elements:

  • Every child reads something he or she chooses.
  • Every child reads accurately.
  • Every child reads something he or she understands.
  • Every child writes about something personally meaningful.
  • Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.
  • Every child listens to a fluent adult read aloud.

I’m paraphrasing here-  if you’re interested in the way to implement a reading strategy at your school, I strongly encourage you to read the original article. 

So far, so good. But it got me thinking about the way table devices like iPads and so on might intersect with some of these elements. Something that Allington and Gabriel emphasise is the importance of students having an appropriate book that they are interested in - for this purpose, they recommend schools purchase class libraries, rather than spending the money on worksheets and photocopying. 

I agree with that sentiment, but I think some of the online bookstores can be even more powerful in this respect. Students can potentially choose from any book at all - rather than a libraries limited supply - as long as it is sold online. Of course, this introduces other issues - the number of choices will be very large, and getting students to select a book that is appropriate might be difficult and so on, but at least it means that students probably won’t be fighting over the same book!

This is also linked to the idea of children reading something that they can read accurately and understand. Again, tablet devices - used appropriately - and with guidance from teachers, can provide a solution to issues about resourcing and differentiation. Rather than having a limited selection, students could potentially choose from a huge range of books based on their level of ability and their interest. More importantly, the books are much more affordable on the iBookstore. Our students have saved a lot of money moving from print to digital - each book is roughly half the price.

Even more exciting is the prospect of using some of the inbuilt tools to aid comprehension. Many tablets automatically include dictionaries to explain difficult words, and some will read out sections of the text. It’s also possible to make notes with some tablet devices. All of these can improve the way that students practice active reading and hopefully, this will develop their comprehension.
There is already a little bit of research into the use of reading and technology.

For those who are interested, I’d encourage you to read the following example of practice in a primary school. A warning: it is on the Apple website:

I’d be interested in hearing from other teachers who have been using technology to aid in reading - or equally, those who feel that it is not the right way to go, and have research to argue that.

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

While I'm not a reading teacher, I think that ANYTHING we can use to get kids to read is going to be a good thing. If they find the iPad more engaging or readable than a print book, so be it. I'm a big fan of all things in moderation, particularly when different tools are selected with intentionality and thoughtful design.

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

You know, I struggled with this very concept as a writer, not really a reader. When my book was first offered publication, it was in an e-reader format. While I struggled with not having a hard copy of a book, I accepted it. As a reader, I don't care how my students read (Or my own kids) I just want them to read.

Here's an interview with Stephen King about digital delivery of books. I'm not sure if most people know this, but SK published a novella just online a decade ago that just blew up the business aspect of books.

"The book is just the delivery service. What's important is the story and the talent." --SK

Here's the interview:

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