Action Research Methodology
This four week study is a naturalistic, mixed-method (qualitative and quantitative) study. The qualitative methods entail information drawn from surveys, interviews and an observation journal. Quantitative information comes from pre-test and post-test fluency scores.
Before implementing this project the Key Steps to Successfully Evaluating Educational Technology suggested by the NAEYC were revisited. Step one requires a learning goal. The learning goal for this study is for struggling readers to be engaged with text in order to acquire more vocabulary. Step two specifies identifying hardware and devices. This classroom contains a class set (21) ipads. Step three indicates analyzing the features and content of the software/program. The e-reader programs were analyzed according to their multimodal features (See Table 1). The final step, step four, requires a plan on how the technology will be integrated into the curriculum. For this study the e-readers were used in conjunction with print books in the course of language arts during a daily reading time of 20 minutes per day.
The purpose of this project was to observe the use of e-readers with students in a 2nd grade classroom. Twenty-one students were included in the study. Two students, J and W, were observed more closely as they are struggling readers who are reading below grade level, not showing growth in their fluency rate and are at risk of retention. The e-readers were added to their remediation agreement as interventions being used to boost their fluency. Also included in their remediation agreement is a 10 minute, twice weekly fluency and comprehension practice with a Paraprofessional using Read Naturally.
Students in this 2nd grade classroom read each day in a 20 minute block of time called read to self. During read to self students have with them a cloth book bag which contains six “good fit books” (books that they picked, that interest them, and are on their level). Students have been taught how to find a “good fit book” by reading the first page of the book, if they make five errors while reading or there are five words than cannot read then it is not a “good fit” for now. “For now” is an important phrase, it lets students know that eventually the book will fit them but it is not suited for practice. For 20 minutes a day students read while sitting at their desk, under their desk, laying on a pillow or any number of places throughout the classroom. Prior to the beginning of the study J and W, two struggling readers who are far below grade level in their reading, often selected books which were too challenging for them. Even though the students in the classroom were instructed on how to choose a good fit book J and W consistently chose books for their book bags by looking only at the covers or picking a book similar to that of a friend. When the teacher helped them select books which were on their level both students reluctantly added the books to their collection in their book bag . During read to self time J and W were often off-task, disrupting their neighbors, or quickly swiping their fingers across the pages pretending to read.
With the struggling readers in mind the class was introduced to e-readers. The first e-reader to be introduced was HMH Readers. HMH Readers is an app which is part of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt language arts program. The app contains e-readers at multiple reading levels, fiction and non-fiction. Students can simply read the e-book, the app can read the book to the student, highlighting the words as it reads, or the student can record themselves reading the book and play it back. All students were encouraged to let the e-reader read to them first, then to read it on their own and then to record themselves reading the book. Three readings per book. The multiple readings per book mirrors small group instruction with the teacher.
For one week students were asked to use the HMH Readers only for read to self time. Again students sat in various places throughout the classroom. Some students allowed the e-reader to read to them and then recorded themselves, others chose to simply read the book on the e-reader without narration.
In the week following the introduction of the HMH Readers students were asked to take their book bag and the ipad with HMH Readers on it with them during ‘read to self’. They could choose to use only the e-reader, only read from their book bag, or use both.
Week three the second e-reader was introduced - Tumblebooks. Students were trained in Tumblebooks use and it was added to the e-reader options in the classroom. Tumblebooks contains picture books (all trade books which can be found at the school or local library) and chapter books. Tumblebooks reads to the student and the picture book pictures are moderately animated. The chapter books do not have animation. Recording oneself is not possible in the Tumblebooks website. Tumblebooks were used exclusively for one week during read to self time in the same manner that HMH Readers were used.
As before in the week following students were allowed to take their book bag and the ipad, now containing the two e-readers during read to self time.
Storyline Online, a website in which actors from the Screen Actors Guild read popular picture books, was assessed as a possible e-reader option and rejected as it contains no text. Storyline Online is simply the pictures from the book with the actor reading the text.
Storia, an e-reader program from Scholastic was also assessed as a possible e-reader for this study. Storia has the most multimodal features of all the e-readers considered for this study. It contains narration, text, highlights the text as it narrates the story, contains a pop-up dictionary, and includes comprehension quizzes. All multimodal features were deemed favorable to this study but funding could not been appropriated in a timely manner for the Storia app to be piloted with students.
DATA ANALYSIS AND INTERPRETATION
Once the e-readers were introduced observable indicators of motivation were noted in a daily journal. The journal observations included the following indicators of motivation:
The teacher observed during the second week of HMH Readers use, when students could chose between books in their book bag or an e-reader, that the week started with 100% participation with the e-reader. As the week progressed 80% of the students reverted to their reading books from their book bags. Through student interviews this was attributed to the fact that HMH Readers had only a few titles at each reading level (the school district did not commit to purchasing more titles beyond the introductory set).
In the fourth week when students could chose between books in their book bags and the two e-reader programs the majority of students chose to use Tumblebooks instead of books from their book bags or HMH Readers. The use of the Tumblebooks e-readers did not drop off over the ensuing week as it had done with HMH Readers. Students said there were more books to choose from and they liked finding books in the Tumblebooks program that they could then check out at the school library.
Each step in this study was done with the struggling readers J and W in mind. The expectation was for the struggling readers to “read” even if it was an e-reader reading the story to the student. This was accomplished with struggling readers J and W. W used the e- reader TumbleBooks almost exclusively during read to self time or any free reading time. J used the e-reader Tumblebooks 80% of the time with the remaining 20% of her reading time selecting “princess” books from her book bag.
Oral Reading Fluency test used for this study was part of the Houghton Mifflin language arts program. The initial fluency score data were from the end of the 1st trimester which culminated the beginning of November. The first e-reader was introduced in the week following. The fluency test entailed reading an on-level passage for one minute and after adjusting for errors calculating the words per minute. Two passages were read at two separate sittings, and then the two fluency scores were averaged. Pre and post e-reader introduction fluency test scores can be found in Table 2. Table 2 does not include the two below grade level readers J and W. Their test scores can be found in Table 3.
Student surveys and interviews indicated that when comparing the two e-readers, TumbleBooks and HMH Readers, the preference was for TumbleBooks (86% of the class preferred to use TumbleBooks). This was due to TumbleBooks large selection of high interest books. Student comments included - “It has my favorite book, It gives you brand new books, There are a lot of books, The pictures talk and move around”. When inquiring about the preference between print books and Tumblebooks the preference was for “real” books (81% of the class preferred print books). Student comments from this comparison included - “A real book you can learn better, I like real books because you can get whatever you want, You can read them by yourself, and The library has more animal books”. When comparing HMH Readers to print books students again preferred print books (76% of students preferred print books). Student comments from this comparison included - “I like reading them (real books) and turning the page, Real books are more interesting, and HMH Readers doesn’t have chapter books”. Those students who had a preference for HMH Readers said that they liked being able to record themselves reading the books.
With the data collected through surveys, interviews, and observations the influence of e- readers on motivation of struggling readers is positive. For the struggling readers J and W their time off-task diminished and read to self time became productive. While there is no guarantee that J and W were looking at the highlighted words as the words were read, they were listening to stories and possibly acquiring vocabulary as they listened. This 20 minute block of time was no longer wasted by off-task behavior.
The data collected is inconclusive as to whether the e-readers have a positive effect on fluency scores. The scores for J and W did increase but e-readers were just one of multiple interventions used to assist these students in boosting fluency. Additionally, post-test scores were obtained from students one week after returning from a three week winter break which could be an influence on the decline in some students’ scores.
SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
So, do e-readers influence struggling readers? This study suggests that e-readers can influence struggling readers. The struggling readers in this study were motivated to use the e-readers. All indicators of motivation were fulfilled: time on task, increased interest, positive emotions, and help seeking. When given a choice between a print book or an e-reader the struggling readers in this study chose the e-reader almost every time. Read to self time in this classroom became more productive for the struggling readers. Instead of pretending to read, being off task, bothering those around them or simply sitting the struggling readers were listening to stories and acquiring vocabulary auditorily. If the students were watching the highlighted text then they were also acquiring vocabulary visually. More in-depth studies which focus on acquisition of vocabulary through the use of e-readers needs to be conducted. Additionally, other e-readers need to be piloted with the ability to test vocabulary acquisition and comprehension.