Last spring, Pleasant Valley Elementary purchased 30 Kindle electronic reading devices. Now, students who all but loathed reading books are learning to love reading on the devices, Harrelson said.
Friday about a dozen sixth-graders excitedly told a reporter about the stories, characters and lessons they’d learned while reading on the devices. Some of the students said they are longtime readers, but others picked up the habit when they picked up the Kindle.
“I used to not want to read; now I do. I love it,” said Kade Owens.
Harrelson said educators at Pleasant Valley are gauging increased interest in reading by reviewing students’ reading-comprehension scores.
One Pleasant Valley sixth-grader, who was reading books on a second- and third-grade level last year, is now reading books on his own grade level, educators said. And his reading comprehension scores have shot up from below 50 to 90, they added.
“It is student after student after student,” said Terry Sherrill, a sixth-grade reading coach. “They’re making 90s and 100s on tests instead of 20s and 30s.”
The reading devices, also known as e-readers, serve as a sort of compact library. Each can hold multiple electronic texts which have been transferred to them electronically from the Internet. At Pleasant Valley, each Kindle holds several “chapter books” for elementary school children. The devices are about the same size as a paperback book. The face of the device is covered by a screen, which can be read like a book page.
The Kindles are fixed with small elastic bands inside what look like leather bindings. They’re stored on a shelf and checked out to fifth- and sixth-graders like books.
The devices aren’t for every student. Only students in the fifth and sixth grades who have shown progress in reading comprehension can use the Kindles.
Harrelson said some students are working hard to read more books so they, too, can check Kindles out from the library.
Shaylynn Morris said she started reading more this year so she could use the Kindle.
“I thought that if I could get the Kindle, I’d like to read better,” the sixth-grader said. “When I got the Kindle, I started reading better, and I started reading a lot more books.”
E-readers do not make reading easier or better for students, but they can provide motivation to read, said Janet Bavonese, who teaches reading education courses at Jacksonville State University.
“Students that are motivated tend to read more, and, as students read more, it becomes easier,” Bavonese said.
The ability to change fonts and font style and to read along with the Kindle’s electronic “voice” are among other features students said they like. But not every sixth-grade reader is inclined to pick up one of the devices. Some prefer reading books the same way their parents and grandparents did in elementary school.
“I really didn’t want it,” said Destiny McIntyre, a sixth-grade student who said she is an avid reader. “I just like feeling the real pages of a book.”
Anna Bryant, also in sixth grade, prefers a paperback for a more practical purpose. Paperbacks, she said, are less expensive to replace if broken or stolen, and she said she has to save up to buy a car in a few years.
“If you lose it, you have to pay more than a hundred bucks,” she said.
The cost associated with e-readers is a concern for the school, for students and for their parents. Students must also have parental approval to use the Kindles, because if students lose or break one of the devices, their parents must replace them.
Today the Kindles are sold for less than $100, but when the school purchased the items last spring they were $150.
Officials said the school used state money and money from the Parent Teacher Organization to buy the devices. They cost a total of about $4,000, Harrelson said.
The thought of turning the devices over to the children was nerve-wracking for Harrelson at first, too, she said, but that is ultimately why the school got them. So far, none of the devices has been lost or stolen, but the screens on a few were damaged. But the devices, which are under warranty for one year, were quickly replaced.
“I think that was a concern for parents,” she said. “But we’ve been very fortunate.”
The Kindles are one form of new technology available to readers and Harrelson said she’d like the school to buy more of them, but she’d also like to offer books to students using other forms of technology. One thing Harrelson said the library could begin doing is renting downloadable audio books direct to students’ personal MP3 players.
The books would be electronically transferred to the devices and removed two weeks later. The school system already has a small stockpile of MP3 players that come with books already programmed and downloaded for one book, but they’d like to purchase a enough of the devices to be rented like the Kindle.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544.