What is the influence of e-readers on struggling readers?
Struggling readers need to be motivated in a positive way to choose to read. This study used e-readers as a way to engage students in reading. A classroom of 21 students were introduced to four e-reader programs over four weeks. Qualitative data was collected from students through surveys, interviews and observations. The results showed e-readers may have had a positive influence on the struggling readers.
Keywords: motivation, 2nd grade, reading, e-readers, struggling readers, reluctant readers
Background and Need
On a national level the US Department of Education published their National Education Technology Plan (2016) which reviews the progress made nationally in leveraging technology to “transform learning”. The NETP outlines how much work there is to do in increasing access, closing the digital divide, and researching the effectiveness of technology. The NETP contains recommendations which then transfer the onus of developing the effective use of technology and the training of teachers to the states and school districts. At the state level A Blueprint for Great Schools, published by the California Department of Education (2011), states that California “wants to make digital technology as effective and productive a tool in the school environment as it is in the world beyond schools”. The CDE document also states that budget constraints hamper the ability of the state to implement technology effectively. The national and state plans coincide in suggesting that individual districts or even individual schools (and as this author sees it individual grade levels) need to develop their own plans.
This paper focuses on a school district in a rural and well-funded area of California just two hours north of Silicon Valley. It has the bandwidth in order to ensure that technological innovations in their schools are supported with internet access. It is a school district with three schools (an elementary school, a junior/senior high, and a continuation high school) serving approximately 850 students. The school district has one to one devices with ipads in grades K-3 and a mixed array of devices for grades 4-6 including ThinkPads, Chromebooks, and desktop iMacs. The junior/senior high and continuation high school use Chromebooks. When there are problems with devices turn around to fix the problem can take a week or more. Sometimes the ipads in classrooms are little more than paperweights. The district has an outdated technology plan, from 2009, that does not reflect the current technology and devices available. Training is available from time to time but it is outside of the contract day. Teachers are trying to find their own way with some teachers more adept and excited than others. The teaching staff uses Aeries Information System to submit attendance and to access student information. The staff also uses gmail, and the Online Assessment Reporting System (OARS) to generate report cards and input assessment data. The K-2 classrooms use Lexia CORE5 (a reading skills application) which students must use for a minimum of one hour per week (usually broken up into 20 minute periods throughout the school week). Students also have access to DreamBox (a K-8 math practice program). Grades 2 - 12 use the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) as a benchmark which is given once per trimester and is accessed through ipads, laptops and desktops in the computer lab. In general staff use technology for communication and assessment but collectively technology has not been harnessed as an integrated learning tool.
The driving question of this study is - How can e-readers can be used to influence struggling readers to read?
When choosing appropriate technology for grades K - 2 early childhood education (ECE), organizations agree that society has to move past guidelines that target only screen time. Technology is much more than television and videos. While screen time is still a component educators also need to look at technology’s content, how it is used, why it is used and how often. As with any educational tools it is important to leverage the potential of a device or program by assessing their developmentally appropriate uses. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) an ECE organization that advocates for responsible educational practices for children birth through 8 years of age suggests the following steps:
Key Steps to Successfully Evaluating Educational Technology
1. Establish learning goals for the children.
2. Identify the hardware or device(s) you have or would like to have.
3. Analyze features and content of the software/program in meeting learning goals.
4. Plan how the educational technology will be integrated into the curriculum. (NAEYC, 2012)
When establishing learning goals for children, the ability for technology to motivate should be a consideration. The word motivation is derived from the Latin “movere” meaning to move. “Moving” students is the daily task of educators. There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the student. When a child is curious, interested, has a fear of failure, or conversely has a desire to succeed; these are intrinsic motivators. If a child is uninterested, has a fear of failure, has a low self image of themselves as a reader then they require extrinsic motivators. Teachers often utilizes extrinsic motivators such as grades, rewards (treats, stickers, computer time), exams, and fear of punishment (loss of recess, conference with parents). Could e-readers be a better way to enhance a struggling readers motivation?
All tools require some form of guidance in their use. This guidance is required for educators as well as students. The use of certain classroom tools are more straightforward than others and therefore do not require a lot of direction. But with the increased prevalence of one-to-one computing teachers as well as the students need guidance and well-informed recommendations for their use. Referring to the current generation of students as digital natives does not mean that they intuitively know how to use technology in a gainful manner. And technology changes constantly, devices and programs are constantly being updated and needing to be relearned. With these ever changing tools, diverse and divergent uses, how can they be used to support and motivate those learning to read?
The seminal author for this paper is Katia Ciampa. Ciampa’s work stems from the concern that their is a perceived decline in reading motivation after the early years of schooling (2012). Motivation is essential to allow students to actively engage in reading or learning to read. Learning to read proficiently in the primary grades is one of the cornerstones of academic achievement and the foundation for children's later success in school (Ciampa, 2012). Once a student reads fluently they have better access to a text which improves comprehension. Improved comprehension leads to a positive self image as a reader which means that a student is more apt to be intrinsically motivated to read. Ultimately the student is reading for pleasure which is the ultimate goal of learning to read. E-readers (also called e-books) are a possible extrinsic motivational tool for struggling readers to achieve this goal.
Standing in the way of some struggling readers is the phenomenon known as the Matthew Effect. Many reading researchers (Ciampa 2012, Quirk and Schwanenflugel 2004, Zipke 2012) refer to a study done by Stanovich in 1986. This study documented the Matthew Effect which state,s at its most basic, that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When attributed to reading, the Matthew Effect says good readers become better and poor readers remain behind never enriching their vocabulary, never achieving sufficiently, basically not learning along with their peers. The Matthew Effect has consequences throughout a student’s life playing a part in the high school dropout rate, poor employment, and the inability to use education to improve life. More recently reading researchers Quirk and Schwanenflugel (2004) describe this gap between good and poor readers as a gap which often widens because good readers tend to read more and gain skills and confidence through additional practice, while poor readers continue to be unsuccessful because they tend to avoid reading. Barring any physical or mental impediments to learning to read, the unmotivated struggling reader needs something which will “move” them up and out of the Matthew Effect phenomenon.
Breaking the Matthew Effect involves increasing vocabulary (Stanovich 1986). Reading and reading well is about vocabulary growth. In order to increase vocabulary students must be exposed to new words through written text. Prior to being able to read children acquire vocabulary through exposure to oral language. Vocabulary growth continues through a combination of written text and oral vocabulary. Yet, acquiring vocabulary through oral language in a child’s early years can be hampered by the simultaneous acquiring of a second language (as in the case of English Language Learners), and/or home life (stressors, lack of reading material, no spoken English) and lack of motivation. If a child will not pick up a book then free reading time in the classroom is a lost opportunity to practice and be exposed to vocabulary.
To mitigate the Matthew Effect and assist in preventing early reading difficulties it is important to emphasize motivational tools. Struggling readers face issues of poor self image as a reader, a negative attitude toward reading, and low motivation which hinders their progression and ultimately contributes to their inability to derive meaning from texts in all subject matter. Many programs for struggling readers emphasize properly leveled literature, properly leveled phonics, and the proper training for teachers and aids but fail to include tools to motivate. The ultimate goal of learning to read is the ability to read for pleasure. Teachers are constantly challenged to enhance a student’s long-term intrinsic reading motivation. Some extrinsic factors that may motivate students include using non-fiction texts especially for male students, a positive personal relationship with a teacher who encourages reading, effective scaffolding that increases interest, the influence of mothers, accessibility to books, and a student’s positive identity as a reader (Guthrie, 2006). Morgan (2013) and Ciampa (2012) suggests multimodal e readers also serve as extrinsic motivators because they create a pleasant experience that will likely enhance motivation.
By the end of 2nd grade a student should be able to read between 61 and 117 words per minute. A student in the 50th percentile should have an average weekly improvement of 1.2 words. Students who are not making this improvement are a challenge especially when a student may be an entire grade level behind in their reading. Therefore the average weekly improvement must double for the struggling readers who are one grade level behind. Barring any physical or mental challenges a teacher is often dealing with a reluctant reader who faces poor self image when it is time to read in the classroom. Teachers play a huge role in helping students have a positive attitude toward learning to read and loving to read. Practice is the key but struggling readers often avoid practicing which then puts them further and further behind. If reading does not happen at home or of the child’s own volition (due to intrinsic motivation) it is up to the teacher to dig deep into their toolbox and find ways to extrinsically motivate the struggling readers. This is where e-readers come into play. E-readers can be a motivational tool for readers (Ciampa, 2012). If e-readers can assist in delivering a successful, positive experience for students then, the successful experiences (will) enable struggling students to see themselves as readers and to develop more positive attitudes toward reading (Conradi, 2014). Digital tools and technology can be used to support student reading, which, in turn, should positively affect student self-concepts, particularly for beginning readers...who struggle (Conradi, 2014).
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