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February 6, 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned During My Classroom Kindle Pilot

By Jeremy Rinkel
Grades 6–8, 9–12

    In September, I began using Kindles in my high school English classroom with my students. My school district is looking at various alternatives to textbooks, so I proposed to pilot a classroom set of Kindles. Throughout the year, I have tried to use the Kindles for reading and research. I have also experimented with creating my own materials, from the Web and other sources. It has been a year of trial and error.

    Over the course of the year, I have asked students for feedback on and concerns with using the Kindles. I have also noted frustrations as well as positives for using the Kindles in my classroom. Continue reading for five lessons I learned during my classroom Kindle pilot. 

    Lesson 1: Increase size of pdf documents.

    The first lesson I’ve learned with the Kindle pilot program is to increase the font size on materials I create. When creating a reading from the Internet or typing a quiz, it is important to remember to increase the font size before saving the document as a pdf. I created a quiz the first week and my students had difficulty reading it. Students can readjust the size of the font, but the formatting is lost when using pdfs on the Kindle. Another thing we learned about teacher-created pdf documents is that the text-to-speech function was not available. 

    Lesson 2: Students need to be able to take the Kindles out of the classroom.

    The first novel my class read on the Kindles was The Hunger Games.  Students were excited to continue reading, and I had to say reluctantly, “You will have to wait until tomorrow or borrow a Kindle during your study hall.” I finally received my classroom set of Hunger Games books from Scholastic about a week and a half after we started reading the book on the Kindles. Some students chose to borrow a paper copy to take home so that they could continue reading. In a survey of students, 85% of my 120 students would take a Kindle out of the classroom to read. I will admit it was a challenge structuring enough reading time within the class period. Another challenge I faced was the varied speeds of the readers in my class. 

    Lesson 3: The text-to-speech function was sometimes a crutch.

    Initially, I loved the text-to-speech function on the Amazon Kindles.  My students, who are struggling readers, understood the text and seemed a little more excited about reading than usual. As time passed, I began seeing my better reading students using the text-to-speech to listen to the book instead of reading and following along with the text. I soon realized that students were using the text-to-speech function as a crutch, a way to be lazy when they were supposed to be reading. In some cases, when I circled the room, I would see students with their eyes shut.  I should probably be happy that students were at least listening to the text, but I want brandonthem to be active readers. I want them to be engaged with the text and apply it to their lives. The text-to-speech function is definitely a great tool for some students, but a crutch for others.

    Lesson 4: Some students prefer “paper” books.

    According to my most recent survey, 28% of my students prefer paper books over digitally formatted books. Students stated that they want a paper book in their hands.  They say that it is easier to go back and look up answers to questions than to scan back on the Kindle. The Kindles do provide a search feature, but for some students it is hard to figure out.  If students own the book, they say it is easier to remember key material because they can highlight and underline it.  You can also highlight on the Kindles, but it can be complicated for students. Also, as stated above, students cannot remove the Kindles from the classroom, so reflecting back on a highlighted piece of information is a challenge. 

    Lessons 5: Students want more . . .

    Most of my students have had some exposure to touch screen tablets or the iPod Touch.  The browser on the Kindles is weak to say the least. The browser crashes or freezes very easily.  Students want the ability to search the Internet with ease. They also want word processing capability.  I recently purchased the Kindle Fire to experiment with. I am very impressed with its Web browser and touch screen capability. 

    Students also want access to apps. I remember the second week with the Kindles, when I was explaining the functionality, one student asked, “So this Kindle is just a reader? That is kind of boring.” Students want more, and I feel they probably need more than just an e-reader.   

    In September, I began using Kindles in my high school English classroom with my students. My school district is looking at various alternatives to textbooks, so I proposed to pilot a classroom set of Kindles. Throughout the year, I have tried to use the Kindles for reading and research. I have also experimented with creating my own materials, from the Web and other sources. It has been a year of trial and error.

    Over the course of the year, I have asked students for feedback on and concerns with using the Kindles. I have also noted frustrations as well as positives for using the Kindles in my classroom. Continue reading for five lessons I learned during my classroom Kindle pilot. 

    Lesson 1: Increase size of pdf documents.

    The first lesson I’ve learned with the Kindle pilot program is to increase the font size on materials I create. When creating a reading from the Internet or typing a quiz, it is important to remember to increase the font size before saving the document as a pdf. I created a quiz the first week and my students had difficulty reading it. Students can readjust the size of the font, but the formatting is lost when using pdfs on the Kindle. Another thing we learned about teacher-created pdf documents is that the text-to-speech function was not available. 

    Lesson 2: Students need to be able to take the Kindles out of the classroom.

    The first novel my class read on the Kindles was The Hunger Games.  Students were excited to continue reading, and I had to say reluctantly, “You will have to wait until tomorrow or borrow a Kindle during your study hall.” I finally received my classroom set of Hunger Games books from Scholastic about a week and a half after we started reading the book on the Kindles. Some students chose to borrow a paper copy to take home so that they could continue reading. In a survey of students, 85% of my 120 students would take a Kindle out of the classroom to read. I will admit it was a challenge structuring enough reading time within the class period. Another challenge I faced was the varied speeds of the readers in my class. 

    Lesson 3: The text-to-speech function was sometimes a crutch.

    Initially, I loved the text-to-speech function on the Amazon Kindles.  My students, who are struggling readers, understood the text and seemed a little more excited about reading than usual. As time passed, I began seeing my better reading students using the text-to-speech to listen to the book instead of reading and following along with the text. I soon realized that students were using the text-to-speech function as a crutch, a way to be lazy when they were supposed to be reading. In some cases, when I circled the room, I would see students with their eyes shut.  I should probably be happy that students were at least listening to the text, but I want brandonthem to be active readers. I want them to be engaged with the text and apply it to their lives. The text-to-speech function is definitely a great tool for some students, but a crutch for others.

    Lesson 4: Some students prefer “paper” books.

    According to my most recent survey, 28% of my students prefer paper books over digitally formatted books. Students stated that they want a paper book in their hands.  They say that it is easier to go back and look up answers to questions than to scan back on the Kindle. The Kindles do provide a search feature, but for some students it is hard to figure out.  If students own the book, they say it is easier to remember key material because they can highlight and underline it.  You can also highlight on the Kindles, but it can be complicated for students. Also, as stated above, students cannot remove the Kindles from the classroom, so reflecting back on a highlighted piece of information is a challenge. 

    Lessons 5: Students want more . . .

    Most of my students have had some exposure to touch screen tablets or the iPod Touch.  The browser on the Kindles is weak to say the least. The browser crashes or freezes very easily.  Students want the ability to search the Internet with ease. They also want word processing capability.  I recently purchased the Kindle Fire to experiment with. I am very impressed with its Web browser and touch screen capability. 

    Students also want access to apps. I remember the second week with the Kindles, when I was explaining the functionality, one student asked, “So this Kindle is just a reader? That is kind of boring.” Students want more, and I feel they probably need more than just an e-reader.   

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