Thursday, November 29, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions

I gave a presentation to our entire faculty yesterday about how I am using Kindles in my classroom this year.  The response was great!  A math teacher in our upper school, Tad Wert, did a nice write up on his blog!

I wanted to take a minute to address some common educator questions regarding using and allowing e-readers in the classroom.

What about the cost?  Isn't it expensive to ask students to buy Kindles?

At our school, every student has a laptop and the Kindle app is free!  So, they don't have to buy an e-reader.  They can purchase the e-book and read it on their laptops.  The Kindle app is also free for smartphones.  I have a students reading her outside reading novel on her iPhone!  Also, the number of students who own or have access to an e-reader at home is higher than you think.  iPads can also be used for e-reading.

Books in the public domain can be purchased for free.  So in a British literature class, if you download Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Great Expectations for free (websites like Feedbooks have a huge selection of free public domain books for easy downloading), you have almost paid for the Kindle. 

Can't you get on the web on an e-reader?  Won't they be distracted?  

Yes, it is possible for you to access the web on an e-reader, but in the case of the e-ink Kindles, it is very slow and in black and white.  If a student wants to procrastinate, they will take the path of least resistance and use their phones or laptops. 

What if they are using the reading app on their laptops?  How can I keep them off of Tumblr?

The same way you keep them off of Tumblr any other time they are using their laptops.  Vigilance and swift consequences.  But, in addition, you could ask a student to put their laptop in tablet mode (for those of us using the Lenovo tablets).

What about active reading?  I ask students to actively read and then I check that in class for credit.

Actively reading on the Kindle isn't just possible, it's awesome.  They can highlight and type comments easily.  These show up as a list on the Reading app.  When I check this with Ellie, my star Kindle student, she just pulls up her Kindle app and scrolls through her list of notes and marks.  

Do students have to buy two copies of the e-text?  One for the Kindle and one for the app?

No!  The accounts are all linked and amazon uses something called Whispersync to sync all of your devices.  So it detects the page you ended on when you last read the book on your Kindle, and automatically syncs to that spot on your app.  If you then take out your phone later and do some quick reading in line at the bank, it will sync to your last spot.

As long as all of your devices are connected to the same Amazon account, all the syncing happens automatically.

But what about good old library borrowing.  Don't I lose that free service with the Kindle?

No!  Many libraries (Nashville Public Libraries has a great system) have e-book lending systems.  You log on, choose a book and have it sent to your Kindle via wi-fi.  You can "check it out" for 14 or 21 days with the option to renew.  When it "expires" it just disappears from your Kindle.  Some popular books have waiting lists, but you usually get an email when it is your turn.  Simple, easy and free!

Okay, I'm sold!  What Kindle should I buy for myself, and what should I recommend to students?

For the casual reader, one who doesn't need or want to make a lot of marks or notes:  The standard Kindle.  It is small, light, has built in wi-fi, and has no physical keyboard or touch screen.  It has page turning buttons and a 5-way controller for selecting, purchasing, etc.  $69 with ads.  The ads are only on the sleep screen and are not invasive at all.

For the student who needs to highlight and make comments who prefers a touch screen: The Kindle Paperwhite.  At $119, This is the reincarnation of the KindleTouch.  It has wi fi and is capacitive, which means that only fingers will work on the touch screen (my sleeve makes my Touch's pages turn, argh!).  It also has a built in LED light that allows for easy reading in low light.  It also has some software improvements for reading texts with comics or illustrations!  As an English teacher who loves graphic novels, this makes me very happy.  (There is a 3G version that means you don't need wi fi for internet access.  The 3G carries no extra cost, except that the Kindle is more expensive--$179).

For the student who needs to highlight and make comments but prefers physical buttons: The Kindle Keyboard.  At $139, it offers the ease and convenience of physical buttons.  Some users really prefer to turn the pages with a button rather than a touch or swipe for the Paperwhite.  It also comes standard with 3G in addition to wi fi.  If you are going to be desperate to download books and have no wi fi options, this is the Kindle for you.

Is the physical keyboard faster or more effective than the touch keyboard?

In my experience the touch keyboard is excellent.  It is fast and I accurate.  It is really a matter of taste, and I would encourage you to try them both out to see which fits you best. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

NaNoWriMo and my feature in our school paper

In addition to teaching, raising an 11 month old, using Kindles in my classroom and blogging about it, I am writing a novel.  November is National Novel Writing Month, which spawned an organization called NaNoWriMo.  Mere mortals sign up to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 a day. 

I keep track of my progress on the door to my classroom, and students have been cheering me on.  I have 41,713 words as of today, and a reporter for our school newspaper interviewed me! 

Click here to read my interview about NaNoWriMo!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trouble with the Kindle App or downloading for the first time?

If you are installing for the Reading App for the first time, or having trouble with the one you already have, watch these handy dandy screencasts about how to uninstall and re-install those Apps!  If you are just starting with the Kindle App, skip the first video.

Uninstall the Kindle for PC App:

Downloading the Kindle App from Amazon--it's free!

Once you have installed the Kindle App, here is how to use it!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Kindle in the classroom from a student's perspective

I sat down with Ellie last week, who has used her Kindle in my 9th grade English class since the beginning of the year.  As my Kindle pioneer, I wanted to get her perspective on the benefits of using a Kindle to study literature.  (If you want to read about how she used her Kindle to find the frequency of particular words in The Secret Life of Bees in class, follow this link)

Ellie gave me a great insider's view into how useful a Kindle can be for a student.  I appreciated how she talked about using her list of notes and highlights from the app on her laptop as talking points for class discussion. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The new Kindle Paperwhite!

Amazon has unveiled its new Kindle Paperwhite. 

Here are some highlights:

-Still e-ink, but has built in fiber optic lights that allow you to read in dark, but you can turn it down to read in the sunlight.  Awesome feature. 

-Improved browsing of your archive and the store by covers instead of just a list

-Higher pixels and faster response

-It tracks your reading speed and estimates the minutes left until the end of the chapter and the book!

This last one is great for students and for teachers.  A student can see their own reading rate and I can also check and see how quickly they read.  So often I am guessing how many pages they can read in 30-45 minutes for homework, but now we can get actual data!  Perhaps a book is particularly challenging and 20 pages is the right amount, but there may be texts where 40 pages a night is appropriate.  No more guessing!

At $119 (for the wi-fi only), this is very affordable.  I paid $359 for my first Kindle 2!  You can get the Paperwhite with 3G for $179.  My first Kindle had 3G which was great for downloading books anywhere, but wi-fi is so ubiquitous now, that with minimal forethought I can download my books on wi-fi.  I would only recommend the 3G version if you don't have home/work wi fi.  But really, that is probably a rare case. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The power of Kindles in literary analysis

Today my freshmen were discussing chapters 8, 9 and 10 of The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd.  As we are approaching the end of the novel, I am starting to highlight possible topics for a final essay that are coming out of our discussions. 

Today, a student brought up the author's continued use of fire and heat as a motif throughout the novel.  I pointed out that that would make a fascinating essay topic.  It could even be juxtaposed with the author's use of water.  My star Kindle student, Ellie, opened up her Kindle for PC app and did a quick search of the text.

"The word 'fire' appears 54 times in the book," she interjected.  The collective head of the class swiveled in her direction.  I briefly explained that with the Kindle app, you can search the entire text for a word or words. 

"'Water' appears 83 times, and 'wet' appears another 15."  The class was gasping and excitedly asking about other terms. 

"What about 'earth' and 'dirt'?  We already have fire and water, what about the other elements?" 

"'Dirt,' 30 times, 'earth,' 17."  The oohs and aahs continued. 

"Think of how quickly Ellie can find a quote she is looking for, or look for other quotes related to her topic," I added.  The envious nods swept through the room. 

This was an aha! moment for many of them.  We are a laptop school, so the Kindle app is at their fingertips.  This Kindle movement is coming from the grassroots up. 

Stay tuned for an interview with Ellie in the coming week!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Off we go!

We are comfortably into the school year now, and it is time to check in with my Kindle classroom.

On the first day of class, I was so happy to see that 3 students had done their summer reading on their Kindles!  I love that it is becoming a part of our culture to use an e-reader.  Some students confidently entered on the first day with their Kindles and some were excited to learn that using Kindles they already owned was an option.

One particular student, Ellie, is very computer savvy, and has been seamlessly using her Kindle and Kindle for PC app in class.  She does most of her reading on her Kindle, but uses the app on her laptop in class to easily search the text, make highlights and write comments as we discuss the text.

I have some students with Kindles who are unfamiliar with the Kindle for PC app, so I have created a screencast to highlight some of the main features.  You can watch that below.

I am going to profile and interview Ellie for an upcoming post so you can hear about using a Kindle in the English classroom from a real student!

How to download the app: (HH students: you probably already have it on your laptop.  Check before you download.)

How to use the app:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Active Reading and Sharing on Social Media on the Kindle

Active reading is a top priority in my classroom, and in the classrooms of most English teachers. One common question I get is, how can students actively read on the Kindle?  In the first video I will show you how you can highlight and make a note while you read, and also share it to Twitter.  (I am on vacation in Topsail Beach, North Carolina right now, and that's the ocean you hear in the background.)

In the second video, see what that note looks like on a Twitter feed.

My vision for the coming year is to highlight and make notes on passages that I want students to pay close attention to.  I think it would be cool to highlight a passage we will be discussing in the next lesson and in the note I can pose a thought-provoking question.  Students can then preview the passages and topics that will be discussed in the upcoming class.  For example, I might highlight a particular literary device or narrative technique that we are currently studying.  I could also highlight a symbol and my note could challenge students to consider a deeper significance to the passage.

If I have any students using Kindles, I would love to have them share their notes.  Other students and I can follow those notes and gauge the reaction to the night's reading.  I think of it as a way to get the discussion started before class even begins.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Joanne Harris tweeted me!

This is what I am talking about people.  You highlight, you blog about it, you tweet it, and the author tweets back!

I have been reading the books on my sophomore summer reading list (which I have included at the end of this post, in case you are interested.)  I just finished Chocolat by Joanne Harris.  I adored it.  The sophomores have to blog about their summer reading, so I joined in and wrote my own post about Chocolat.  I tweeted it and tagged the author.  She tweeted back!

I feel all a-flutter!  I really loved her book, and it is so cool that she read my post!  I am going to start tagging all of the authors of my Kindle highlights!  Amazing how social media can connect us all.

English II Choice Lists

Choice List A
Choose 1
Choice List B
Choose 1
An Ordinary Man*
by Paul Rusesabagina

Persepolis I: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis II: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi

Sarah’s Key
by Tatiana de Rosnay

Dispatches from the Edge
by Anderson Cooper
by Joanne Harris

The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith

Memoirs of a Geisha*
by Arthur Golden

Maus: My Father Bleeds History
and Maus: And Here My Troubles Begin
By Art Spiegelman

The Namesake
by Jhumpa Lahiri

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress*
by Dai Sijie
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan*
by Lisa See

The Camel Bookmobile
by Masha Hamilton

Sister of My Heart
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Pomegranate Soup
by Marsha Mehran

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe

Between Shades of Gray
by Ruta  Sepetys

*Indicates adult subject matter or language.

While students only need to read one book from each list,
students are encouraged to read further from these lists.  These works
provide an excellent introduction to the study of Literature of the World.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Fontacular, Fontacular!

I stumbled upon a great poem about the Kindle and its font options, I thought I would share it:

This poem was written by Bufo Calvin can be read in its entirety on the I Love My Kindle blog.  The excerpt below was used with permission.

Whatever happened to reading a book?

The font’s a bit boring, I think that I’ll change it
This menu right here will let me rearrange it
I’ll make it much bigger, no, smaller, no darker
I won’t need my glasses: take that, Dorothy Parker!
Wow, this is such fun: I feel like the Sheriff!
Curlicues out of town! I’ll go with sans serif!
Mwah hah hah! Now I’ll switch it and put white on black!
All you layout artists are under attack!
I’ll do it my way, I don’t care what you want!
I’m finally freed from the force of the font!

One of my first pitches to people in favor of the Kindle, is the control you have to change the font.  As a teacher, I often bemoan the tiny font, minuscule margins and cramped lines of many trade and mass market paperbacks.  Tiny font and crammed pages tends to start students off on the wrong foot and make the reading feel like a chore.  Personally, I hate it when I am at the gym and I can't read the book I am obsessed with as I bounce along on the treadmill or elliptical machine.  

Enter the Kindle!  On my touch I can pinch or spread the screen with my thumb and index finger to make the font bigger or smaller.  I can make the line spacing larger or smaller and choose margin size.  I can also change from a serif to a sans-serif font.  The white on black that Bufo Calvin mentions in the poem is an option you have when reading on the Kindle for PC app.  

Watch me demonstrate in this video below!

If you want to see written directions, you can follow this link to read Amazon's instructions on changing font and spacing.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

My Kindle Classroom Won't Be Built In a Day

In my original vision of my Kindle classroom, I planned to contact the students in my classes at the beginning of summer.  The email would look something like this:

I am really excited that you are going to be in my English class next year.  I wanted to let you know about a cool opportunity you have for how you read your class texts in English next year.  

Some of you may have seen the "What's on My Kindle?" poster in my window, or you may have seen me with my Kindle.  I am planning to use my Kindle instead of paper copies of our texts, and now you can too!  

Do you own a Kindle, a Nook or any other e-reader?  If so, you are welcome (encouraged!) to purchase an e-copy of the class texts and use your e-reader.  

"Why use e-texts?  What about active reading?" you ask.  

Great questions!

Why e-texts?
 One slim e-reader can hold all your books so you don't have to dig through your locker and it will lessen your back strain.  If you have a Kindle, you can see all of your books on your laptop as well through the Kindle for PC app.  Also, e-texts don't use paper, so we save some trees.  Yay trees!

What about active reading?
 Did you know that you can highlight with just your fingertip (on the Kindle Touch, for example) and then type notes?  Did you know that you can share these notes and highlights on social media?  You can also see what your classmates and I have highlighted--as we read.  All of my notes and highlights (and the marks of all your peers) are public on a special amazon page just for Kindles.    

"But wait, I don't have a Kindle.  Do I have to go out and buy one?"  

No!  This new Kindle experiment is just another equally valid option to paper texts if you already have a Kindle.  If you would like to get a taste of what it's like to read with an e-reader, the library has many Kindles with books already loaded on them that you can check out.

So, that was the plan.  Reality interfered, however.

The first roadblock is scheduling.  I won't get my actual section lists until right before school starts in August.  Presumably, all of the students have already purchased their books, so the parents of kids who have Kindles and want to use them instead of paper would not be too keen on their daughter asking to purchase them again in e-book form.  Possible solution: they kept the receipts and they can return the paper copies.  Or, the parent doesn't mind double purchasing the book.  One idea I floated to my department was that I could email the entire freshman and sophomore classes and tell them that if they have a Kindle, they should hold off buying the paper copies until they see whose section they are in.  That one was a no-go from the department.  Too confusing--kids might show up to another teacher's class with Kindles.

The second roadblock is the possible stress to parents.  Parents are under a lot of pressure these days, and they might perceive this as a maxim to go out and buy Kindles for their daughters.  This is most definitely NOT the message, but I wouldn't want to put any additional strain on anyone.

So, my grand symphonic idea has become something more akin to me on the corner playing a saxophone.  For now.  A revolution begins with one person.  I will be using my Kindle to teach, using the app to project important excerpts in class, sharing my notes and highlights on Twitter and using the interface to house all of my notes and marks for a text.  Perhaps it is too much to hope that a student will use her Kindle in class as well.  What I am hoping is that the Kindle users in my classes will use their Kindles for independent reading (outside reading is required each semester.)  The library has a bunch of Kindles for loaning, and I actually have my old Kindle2 on my desk.  I might loan that out to a different student each unit so that can try it out, see if it suits them.

I know there is a lot skepticism out there, so I will lead by example.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Kindle Story

Why do I feel like I am writing the "Our Story" page of a wedding website?  Maybe because my relationship with my Kindle has been something of a love story, or perhaps something akin to an epiphany.  When I talk about it to friends or colleagues, I know that the funny look they give me is due, in part, to the mystical look I get in my eye when I talk about e-ink, or blowing the font up so I can read on the elliptical machine, or tweeting my highlights.  I have the fervor of a devotee.  

Funny enough, I was sort of dragged to the temple of the Kindle.  Soon before my first Christmas with my husband, who was my fiancee at the time, he told me he wanted a Kindle for Christmas and he, in return, wanted to give me one too.  I looked at him a little skeptically.  Kindles were in their second generation and I had seen a few ads, had a vague idea of what they were.  I said to him the same things I hear from others: How can I live without turning the page?  How can I read in the sun on the beach?  Won't it give me a headache to look at a screen all day?  What about my beloved marginalia?  I need to scribble little notes and symbols when I read.  I need to highlight and underline.  Not to mention the roughly $350 price tag.  

My husband had already joined the e-reader world when he got a first generation Kindle from his parents for Christmas a few years prior.  Ironically, he had lost his Kindle in a Barnes and Noble right before I met him.  (I have created an elaborate hostage story in my head about the paperbacks snatching the Kindle and holding it captive for years in a ink-and-paper storeroom jungle.)   

I was in my third year of teaching middle school English in New York City and I had a close relationship with books.  Before we started a novel in my class I would make the students fan the pages, smell the ink, rub the paper between their fingers.  Books were an experience.  I cherished the smell of old libraries.  I felt proud of the weight of my sagging carry-on filled with books for a beach vacation.  

Undeterred, David began his campaign.  First he explained that the Kindle emitted no light.  Instead, the screen was made up of tiny little magnetic balls of ink.  Simply put, they were white on one side and black on the other.  The Kindle would magnetically orient the tiny balls of ink to make the screen show the words.  No light.  Which meant I would need a light if I wanted to read in the dark, and I could read it in full sun on the beach.  "You mean, it's like a computerized etch-a-sketch?"  Sort of, he answered, but much more complex.  The balls of ink actually had more than just black and white.  They had other shades of gray so that it could also display images in black and white.  The key thing was, no light=no headache.  

Then he started to woo me with the creature comforts the Kindle provides.  I could download books in seconds, from anywhere (the Kindle had built in 3G).  No more heavy carry-on for the beach.  I could hold a 1,000 books in my little slender Kindle.  And, I could subscribe to the New York Times and have it downloaded automatically every day.  I have to say, that the Times piqued my interest.  No more complex origami needed just to read an article in a crowded subway train.  

"But the pages, David, the pages!  I must turn them!" I countered melodramatically.  He conceded that I would no longer have pages to turn.  But, I could read one handed and turn pages with the click of one button.  You have to be a strap-hanging New Yorker to recognize the value in this.  "Strap-hanger" is the term given to those of us who rode the vast bus and subway system to get around each day.  The straps are actually gone, but they refer to old straps that used to hang from the poles so that during rush hour, when all the seats are taken, we could stand in the center and hold on while the train or bus lurched forward and screeched to a halt.  With one hand clutching a metal bar above you, it is really hard to hold a book open for reading.  It's possible, but a hand cramp is bound to come your way and turning the page requires letting go or using your nose.  Neither is graceful and both result in uncomfortable consequences ("Oops sir, sorry I just fell into your lap, that wasn't on purpose!")

As for my beloved marginalia and highlights, he explained that the Kindle had a keyboard and a cursor and I could highlight and make notes.  I could even search my notes quickly on my Kindle, rather than having to thumb through to find that beloved passage.  

His battalion of reasons overwhelmed my defenses and I gave in.  He dismissed the pricetag saying that we were early adopters, we were the avant garde and this is the price we pay.  (Did I detect a twinkle in his eye, a sense of duty to lead the e-reader crusade by way of our example?)  We ordered the Kindles before Christmas and when mine arrived first, he ripped it open and I found him playing with it at the kitchen table when I came home one day.  I pouted that he had robbed me of the opening experience, but the wonder and awe in his eyes made it hard for me to stay mad.  He was a (big) kid with a new toy for Christmas.

I can't remember what my first book was but after the initial shock of not turning the page, I was hooked.  I loved the New York Times every morning, I loved browsing the Kindle store right on my Kindle and having the book in seconds.  I highlighted and typed out notes galore.  I consumed oodles of books during my hour long commute--look Ma, one hand!  I was sold.  

Flash forward to 2012.  I am now teaching high school English in Nashville, Tennessee and Kindle comes out with the Kindle Touch which I upgrade to for Christmas.  Many new features have been added, included public sharing of notes (on Twitter, Facebook and my own page) and I can now see what others have highlighted as I am reading.  I can see what all readers of that book have highlighted, or I can create a community of readers and see just their highlights.  

I've been dreaming of creating a Kindle classroom and it seems that the new features are making that possible.  Every time I have brought up the idea of a Kindle English classroom, I hear the same argument: students need to actively read and I need to be able to check that.  They need to be able to highlight, underline and comment and I need to be able to see that.  Now, however it is possible.  I start really seeing the possibilities.  I could see what my students have highlighted as I read.  I can tweet interesting passages.  They can go to my Kindle page on Amazon and see all of my notes and marks.  

What I see is the possibility to really create a community around a class text.  I see them highlighting and tweeting, then reading other's highlights and retweeting them.  I see them observing the passages that are getting highlighted by their classmates.  I can see myself coming in ready to start the class discussion based on the students popular passages and the comments the students are sharing about the text.  Instead of just a cursory glance at their novels to check they have actively read, I can participate in their active reading.  Our class discussions will not be limited to just our class period.  They will begin to happen as we read, wherever we are.  

So here I am at the beginning of a Kindle Classroom experiment.  We start with the willing.  I will teach from my Kindle and invite those who already own an e-reader to do their class reading on their e-reader.  I will encourage e-readers for required independent reading.  The library at our school has a few loaner Kindles as well.  I will document this journey and ask my students to guest blog about their experiences as well.  

I am hoping that this blog will be an e-reader beacon that will entice other educators and learners to step in, experience the e-ink and taste a reading world without page turns.  

Welcome, the fire is warm and the Kindles are charged.  

Reading Joanne Harris' Chocolat as I sip a latte and eat an egg and cheese biscuit at Barista Parlor, a local coffee house.