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E-books: The Controversy Part One

Written by Adrienne Pisaniello
October 17, 2012

We know that e-books have many benefits:  accessibility, ease of use, portability, etc.  They can be wonderful for students with specific learning needs, and many of our very own teachers *love* their e-readers   Students do too!   So, what’s the controversy?

The first argument is that e-books actually impede children learning to read because parents interact differently when reading an actual book.  I can understand this research:  a young child points to a picture in a book, and the parent says, “Yes, Susie, that’s a cow.  We saw a cow at the farm last week!  What does a cow say?”  Or a parent says, “It’s almost midnight, Susie, what do you think is going to happen to Cinderella?” When young children use e-readers, parents were more likely to make comments about how to use the e-reader rather than about what they were reading. The child missed out on crucial opportunities to stop and make connections, broaden vocabulary, ask questions, and make predictions.  In short, reading with young children is and should be a reciprocal and interactive process.

But what about adolescents?  Are e-books and e-readers appropriate for them?  Can students interact with e-texts in ways that younger children and emerging readers cannot?  I would argue that they can.  Certainly we spend lots of time as teachers working with students on building skills for reading – we help them learn to ask their own questions and make their own predictions, use context clues to figure out the meanings of words, and make connections between self and text.  In short, teachers spend quite a bit of time and energy helping students become independent readers and thinkers!    If a student is an independent reader, they should be able to use those skills no matter the text or medium.  Whether it’s a science textbook or a novel on an e-reader, students can use the skills they have as good readers to make meaning.

The important take-away with this research though is that it’s important to tell students this through explicit instruction.   I was always surprised in the brick and mortar how students would practice reading comprehension skills in my classroom and throw all of those skills out the window in their other classes.  They needed to understand that those were reading skills, good for any class, any text.   The strategies we use in English class could help them use context clues on a math word problem, make connections in history class between their lives and the Revoluntionary War, and make predictions about a biology lab. 

If students are going to use e-readers, they should still use virtual post-its, take notes, complete graphic organizers, and ask questions.  Those skills they use with a paper text should also apply to a virtual one, and this is something I’ll concentrate a bit more on in the future with my instruction

Says You:   What are your thoughts on e-readers and e-books?  At what age or reading level are they appropriate?  How can we support students who use e-books?  Please leave us your comments!   We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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