Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Digital vs. Paper Readers (aka Books)

Slice of Life Challenge
Please join the challenge over at Two Writing Teachers!

Night before last I accidentally stumbled upon a discussion about digital readers vs. books. I had no plans to participate in a twitter chat, but I found myself unable to resist. That chat inspired my post today. 

Technology is a tool! Let me repeat that, technology is a tool! It's a valuable tool with many benefits and lots of ways to make learning easier and our teaching more effective. 

When I hear people talk about eReaders I am surprised at the vehemence with which many approach the topic. In discussions about Kindles or Nooks I've heard people say, "It's not really reading." "It's bad for reading." I don't get that. I totally get having a personal preference, but to deny that it's reading is silly! When one of my favorite authors was asked about eReaders vs books, here's what he said:

“I don't really care how people read. 

I care if people read.” ― John Green

In 2007, when the Kindle first made it's appearance I was skeptical...very skeptical. I was reluctant to give up my beloved books. Kindles were out at least a year or two before I tried one...but once I took the leap...I haven't looked back. Today, I happily read on my Kindle, my iPad, my iPhone or I read books.

Why do I love the Kindle? 
First: Convenience! 
Carrying around one device that holds dozens of books makes my bag so much lighter. It makes traveling easier and everything easier. Books are always at my fingertips. Heaven! Now, the books are on my Kindle and iPad, as well as on my iPhone...I can read wherever I go! I love it!! I don't mind waiting in lines anymore, because I always have my books with me. 

Second: Better reading comprehension!

As I started reading on a digital device, I noticed I struggled with turning the page before I was done reading it and I found myself digitally flipping back & forth. So I started to really pay attention to my reading habits and how I read. I realized that as I turned the page, I always glanced at the bottom of the right page before I started reading. My eyes would scan back and forth through the pages. I guess I thought if I read that sentence and it made sense, I could skim over those two pages. No one taught me to do that. I never even realized I'd been doing that. When I started using the Kindle, I couldn't do that anymore. It literally slowed down my reading. My reading rate slowed, but I believe my comprehension increased. I became a reader who read more closely and paid more attention the the details. 

Third: It doesn't feel like reading!
OK, this reason really isn't for me, but it's a story I have to tell. One of my best friends, Jen, was never a reader. Jen used to co-teach with me. She didn't enjoy reading, she resisted reading...until the Kindle. Overwhelmed by the sheer size of books, she'd give up before she started...until the Kindle. She told me, "I'd start reading a book and I was able to enjoy it without worrying about how much more I had to read. All of a sudden, I was done! I love reading now!" Today, she's in a book club and often says, "I don't watch television anymore, I just read." We share book recommendations all the time. 

My gut tells me if some adults feel this way, so will some students. Reading on an eReader is reading and it is a different experience. Teaching students about all experiences of reading will reach more students. I'm not saying one is better than the other, but I do believe that we need to embrace eReaders and allow them into our classrooms. We need to plan mini-lessons and teach our students how to use them effectively. 

To be a great English teacher, you need to be a reader. You need to read. You need to love reading! But, we English teachers, need to be open to the new experiences of reading. We need to let go of the good old days and share all kinds of reading experiences with our students and allow them to make the decision for themselves. eReaders or books? Which works better for you? Why? We need to have these conversations in our classrooms!

Technology is not a replacement for an effective teacher! I believe effective teachers will use every tool at their disposal to teach their students and to help them become readers and writers...every tool, even those tools that may not work for us. We need to look beyond ourselves and see what our students need.

Here are some great ideas shared last night in the chat...


  1. Great topic Michelle! I don't have an iPad, but I love taking my Kindle when I travel. It is convenient. I also love using my Kindle at night; I don't need to turn on the light to read. I am not sure that I like reading on my phone. And of course, i still read paper books as well. My belief is that it does not really matter what your medium is as long as you are reading. Thank you for a thoughtful post to begin my day with!

  2. I clicked on your slice because I stayed up late last night writing remarks that I will later say tonight at a county meeting regarding library budget cuts. I'm on the side of the librarians who are trying to get more money for more books--mostly printed books. I've only read one book electronically...I'm just in the traditional zone here, love the turn pages and I want a break from all things electronic.

    I agree with you that e-books are a fine choice for adults and and also for teenagers and maybe even tweens, too. BUT not picture books. My remarks are all about how picture books just can't be replaced by e-readers because the experience reading the book--the intimacy with a grown up (or just themselves), the attention span that is slowly developed, the ability to feel the weight of a book and fall in love with the huge illustrations... Picture books are, I think, an exception to the path to go digital. Those are my thoughts!

    1. Book Mama, Thank you for your comment! I tend to agree with you regarding picture books. Please understand that I don't think eReaders will or should take the place of books and this post isn't about schools spending money on them. My focus is more on allowing students to use them...however they get them. Some classes have some, some schools have them, and some students bring in their own. I, too, am on the side of librarians and reading. I think we're all on the same side. Let's allow and encourage and show our students how to be readers! Thanks for commenting!

  3. Reading anywhere is still-reading! I agree. I don't have anything to add, love the IPad, Kindle & all my books. I especially liked that idea of kids reading what they want without worrying about others judging their choices. I will share that insight. Thanks, Michelle.

  4. I agree with Sara that students who are struggling love e-reading because the stigma is absent; no one can see what you are reading except you. Also, I have found that books wear out so quickly. Students won't pick up some excellent titles because the book is worn and appears "bad". I tell them that the worn books are the best ones, because they are used harder. Our school does need more access to technology, and having a chance to have e-readers in classrooms, I feel, is a wonderful step towards the future of reading!

  5. I agree that we need to open up to the idea of eReaders. Our schools, however, do not allow them. (We are still in the dark ages.) So when my student told me, I can't read because my book is at home on my Kindle, I laughed and said, "Here, try this one," handing him an actual book. I was not taking any excuse for not reading.
    Michelle, I am trying to build a blog round up for Sundays about Digital Literacy. Please consider reposting this in the blog round-up this weekend. And spread the word!

  6. My post includes a shout out to you for inspiring my Lenten resolution to practice more kindness.

  7. I'm with John Green - whatever you choose, just read.

  8. I agree with John Green also! BUT if I had to vote, I would still vote paper. I just can't do it yet...maybe some day!

  9. It is most definitely a personal thing. You gave great support of the ereaders. I agree with Green - read what ever you want, as long as you read. I still prefer my books tho.

  10. Margaret, I'm very surprised that your school doesn't allow ereaders! I use ereaders on the iPad for my students with reading disabilities because it's easy to change the background, font, and font size. I also like that they can read books on their level without other students making fun of the lower level book that they're reading. I'm heading on a vacation soon and I was telling my friend that I want to bring 3 books because I hate to run out of books… she looks at me and says… you need a kindle!

  11. I've been a Nook owner for a few years. I go through phases of using it and phases of it collecting dust beside my bed, frustrating me because of the investment I've made and my sorry lack of use...and I hate how I always grab the Nook charger thinking it's my cell charger. Oh, And have you ever been reading your e-device in bed, getting sleepier and sleepier...fighting to stay awake...just one more page click...when...suddenly....AHHHHHHHHHH!!!! What the what?!
    Ohhhh yeah. They're HEAVY when dropped on your face. Countless paperbacks, even hardcover editions have free-fallen onto my face only I've never suspected my nose was broken.
    I do LOVE being able to read in the dark because I'm lazy when I'm snuggled into my book and I hate reaching for the lamp I've left on...
    And I agree with you and Jenn about how e-readers motivate reluctant readers and non-readers to attempt books they never would have if seen on the shelf.
    And I am with you and John Green and everyone who believes the important thing here is that you're reading.
    With the whole picture book thing--I agree with the paper-supporters. Watching Mason begin what I hope is a lifelong love affair with literature--I note a lack of intimacy with the picture books on my Nook. Sure, they're cool and interactive and get his attention...but they simply can't compare with the pop-up books, and the Touch-and-Feel books, and the way a big picture book seems to hug us both close before he goes Night-Night.
    Reading paper books makes me feel like I've accomplished more. I love to feel the shift of the weight from one side to the it starts off a little overwhelming and slow and I'm unsure if I'll ever reach even the the scale balances itself and I delight in the perfect symmetry that is the middle of the book...and then after that, it's all smooth-sailing through the falling action to the resolution as the book's pages begin to weigh down my left hand.
    Also, I can't smell the pages of my Nook. ;-D

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    1. Your story about Jen makes me laugh. I am the complete opposite. While I love my Kindle and my tablet, I am one of those people who reads the last several pages, if not the last chapter, of the book after I am a chapter or two into the book. I can not easily do this on an eReader. And I always want to know how long the book is. As I am reading on an eReader, I find myself clicking on the bottom bar to see how far I have to go! I guess it takes all kinds!

  13. Thanks for linking this post up today. A very pertinent conversation.

  14. Michelle, on the question of book or device I have to say both. I just bought a Nook with a gift certificate that my teachers gave me for retirement. I have to say, I love the lightness and portability. On the otherhand, I cannot part with my books. They are my friends, my treasures and since I am consulting now my resources/tools. Thank you for opening up the discussion. It is a fascinating one.


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