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.