Monday, February 25, 2013

Another student's perspective

Another one of my students has offered her take on using e-books:

I enjoy reading on the Kindle because it allows me to highlight and write notes efficiently, in such a way that I can easily find them when I need them. In addition, the search button makes it easier to find a key phrase rather than flipping through all the pages. This, in the long run, saves a lot of time, especially when it's time to write papers. Kindle pages do not yellow over time and do not require real paper, thus reducing paper consumption. Overall, if it was an option to use my kindle for reading next year, I would definitely take that opportunity. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

From a student's perspective

I am going to start a series of posts that highlight the e-book experience from a student's perspective.  I have already made a video interview with Ellie, but I asked some of my other Kindle students to chime in to the discussion.  

Below is what my student Anne wrote about using e-books.

Hi Mrs Griswold, 
I have had my kindle touch for about a year and a half now. At any given time, you can see at least 5 library ebooks on it, not counting the ones I've actually purchased. Kindles are convenient, and extremely easy to use: with a touch of a finger you can turn pages, highlight, and make notes. It's basically digital active reading. Also, though I'm not a member of an official green or environmental club, I feel as if the paperless aspect of kindles is a great way to be eco friendly. The kindle is very portable, and very practical. I for one hate the burden of carrying around several pounds of text books throughout the Harpeth Hall Campus, and I often forget books I might need for a class. If for some reason I ever want to read something but have forgotten my kindle, all I have to do is open the kindle app on my computer and I can continue reading from there. As I understand it, a kindle app for phones was recently created as well, making the kindle program one of the most accessible ones out there. I believe that use of the kindle application whether on an actual kindle or on the computer app would be both efficient and beneficial in a class room setting. I know that students who might choose to use a kindle or kindle program in class would do so responsibly, and I don't think that students would be using prohibited internet sites during class. Kindles don't require any internet server connection, so If anything one could always ask students to flip the little green switch on the side of their computer off, and thus there would be no way to access the internet. Needless to say, I am very excited about the potential use of kindles next year. 
Thanks, Anne

Friday, February 15, 2013

Page numbers vs. percentage

E-books and page numbers have a long sordid history.  First, Amazon Kindle e-books only had locations, rather than pages.  This is a new unit of measurement, based on word count and characters.  I don't know exactly what one location equals, but it was how Amazon measured its Kindle books.

Well, as far as I understand it, Nook had page numbers and it became a selling point.  Amazon should have seen this coming.  We may be ready to relinquish paper, but we like our page numbers.  This is especially true for teachers who have some students using paper copies and some using e-books.  We need a way to both get on the same page, no pun intended.

So, most e-books now come with page numbers and page numbers are being added to old e-books that previously didn't have them.

One other measurement of booktime is the percentage.  At the bottom of the Kindle for PC app, you can see that a page number is given, a location number, and a percentage of completion.  See below.

I enlarged the bar at the bottom.

If you tap the screen as you are reading on the iOS (iPhone and iPad) apps, you see this:

There are mixed feelings about the percentage.  I really like it.  I never thought of page numbers when trying to determine how far I was to the end, but usually used the feeling of thickness in my right hand to determine how far I had to go.  Thick in my right hand meant I was far from the end.  Only a few pages, woohoo I am almost there.  

In my pleasure reading, or at least reading by myself, I don't really pay attention to page numbers.  Where it becomes life or death is when we are working together as a class.  I have some e-books and many paper books in the room and I have to give page numbers for students to find where we are.  

The really bugaboo comes from the public domain books.  Books in the public domain can be downloaded in e-book form for free from many different sources.  But, what page numbers with any are attached?  There are many printed versions of Jane Eyre and many e-book versions.  E-books are now getting better at publicizing which print edition their page numbers match up with.  Then we have to insure that all of our students have the right version in both paper and e form.  

Updates to Kindle app for iOS

I follow A Kindle World Blog, and they posted today that there are new updates to the Kindle for iOS app. Read the post from Amazon here.

Here is the summary:

Kindle for iOS 3.6 is now available in the Apple App Store. New features include:
* Multicolor Highlights - Four color choices make it easier to distinguish important passages. * Book End Actions - Just finish your book? Share the accomplishment with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Rate and write your own review.* Brightness Control - the brightness setting will now be saved across device sleeps.

I am excited about multicolor highlights.  Everyone on forum seems to love the brightness settings.  Okay, whatevs.  Book end actions are also cool, and could be a great teaching tool.  Students can color code their notes.  Just imagine: Blue=symbolism, Yellow=poetic device, Pink=connection, etc.

I took some screen shots of what it looks like on the iPhone.
A page of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, with some previous highlights at the top and bottom.  Yellow was the only available color previously.
I highlighted a passage and then tapped the highlight and the little menu popped up.
Pink highlight!

But, what about Kindle for PC app?  Is it going to get the multi-colored highlights?  When can I label my notes and be able to search or group my notes?  I checked it out and here is what I saw:

No pink highlight!  Maybe there is an update coming?  I will investigate and get back to you.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Kindle or Reading app?

As I have been navigating a Kindle classroom this year, I have been juggling and experimenting with the Kindle device and the Kindle for PC app on my laptop.  I often get asked about which is more useful, the app or the Kindle device.

The answer is both.  What I have discovered is that my best practices involve using them in tandem.  At home, when I am initially reading the chapter or assigned section, I read on my Kindle device.  I have a Kindle Touch and I highlight with my fingertip and add notes with the virtual keyboard.  Because the virtual keyboard is a bit more cumbersome for typing, I write very brief notes.  I might type, "aud. image", "symbol of hope", "connection to F. 451".

In preparation for class, when we will be discussing that section of the text, I open my laptop, open the app and my notes and marks are synced.  This means that any notes or highlights done on my Kindle device, also appear on my Reading app on the laptop and vice versa.  In preparation, I often open the app and expand on my notes.  There is not limit to the amount of text I can type into a note, so on my laptop, where the typing is much quicker and I can write more depth, I can expand on my initial notes.

When we are discussing a passage as a class, I click on my highlight and I am taken to that quote in the text. I project my laptop onto the screen or whiteboard and direct students to the page that we are discussing.

When using the Kindle Reading app, the students find the passage in the text by either using the search function to find the passage, or dragging the scroll bar along the bottom to find the page we are discussing.

Is it the same as a paper book?  No.  As with all technology, it is not an even trade.  We gain some things and lose others.

Locating a passage in the text take a different set of steps than just flipping pages.  It can be slower.  If the e-book doesn't have page numbers, the search function is your only option and what you enter into the search field needs to be typed in exactly as it appears in the text.  This can slow down the old practice of "Turn to page 119 and go the third paragraph."  To address this hiccup, I project the text onto the screen in the room, so that we are not losing class time waiting for everyone to find the passage.  They can all see the passage on the screen.  That way we don't have to wait in radio silence for all of us to get where we need to be.

On the upside, by being able to project a text onto the screen, we gain a shared focus.  I like that we are all looking at one jumbo text.  I like that I can put my projection screen away and "write on" the text by writing on the whiteboard.  When discussing a particularly meaty passage, I can mark up the text by writing on the white board on top of the projection.  If you have a Smartboard you can write on the text electronically.

In the classroom setting, when discussing an e-book as a class, I think the reading app is essential.  However, if we are talking about independent reading, literature circles or other work in groups or as individuals, a Kindle device alone is suitable.

What about using just Kindle devices only for a whole class discussion?  This may be your situation if you are at a school that does not have a 1:1 laptop program.  Perhaps you just have a class set of Kindles.  Can a whole class text be used then?  Yes, but it depends on the device.  The Kindle devices have search functions as well.  This will be very slow though, with the plain Kindle that has no keyboard.  The most basic Kindle has only up, down, left, right and click functions, in addition to a page forward and backward button.  So, when typing on the keyboard, you have to use the up, down, etc buttons to move the cursor to the right letter, then click, then navigate to the next letter and click.  This could be very cumbersome and tiring and will result in delays.  (For a detailed description of each of the Kindle devices and my recommendations, please read this post.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Writing a literary essay on an e-text

I have been asked about the experience, for a student, of writing an essay on an e-text.

Let me break down the process and compare the paper student to the e-text student.

Thesis development: This is usually discussion based.  Students are sometimes consulting notes or active reading.  We often brainstorm as a class or in groups.  We bounce ideas around.  Students sometimes work alone.

  • Paper: Flip through the book and skim over active reading.  Re-read highlighted passages.  Read notes in margin, notice themes, trends and big ideas.  
  • E-text: On the Kindle for PC app, a list is generated of all marks and notes on that book.  It appears on the left hand side next to the text.  (See video below.)  Read through the list of notes and marks.  All notes are links to the text they are attached too.  Click links to highlighted text to review the context.  

Quote selection for 3 points: Students must select 6-9 quotes to support their thesis, or 2-3 per point/body paragraph.  

  • Paper: Flip through the book and try to locate all quotes relating to your topic.  This could mean you have to skim through notes in the margin, ask a friend, use visual memory, or just a slow methodical reading of all active reading to find a quote that may fit the topic.
  • E-text: If a part of the quote is remembered, the student types it into the search bar and goes to that page in the text by clicking.  The student can read the list of notes and marks on the left.  The note attached to the text may contain a theme, motif or big idea related to their thesis.  If the student is writing on a topic that appears frequently, that word or words can be typed into the search bar and any instance of that word can be located.  A list of links appears and each takes the student to that word in the text.  

Integrating the selected quotes into the essay itself: Students need to insert their quote into their essay and cite it parenthetically.  

  • Paper: The student locates the desired quote, usually with a post-it or a note on the page number, holds the text open, often with a heavy object, and retypes the selected quote into their word document, followed by the parenthetical page number.
  • E-text: Click the desired quote from the list of notes and marks, or by searching the text by typing the words of the quote into the search bar and clicking the resulting link.  Highlight the text.  Copy, and paste into the word document.  A citation is provided automatically.  It is not in MLA format, but it contains the page number for the parenthetical.  

Active Reading: How to do it and how to assess it

I wrote a post earlier in the school year about active reading on an e-texts, but I think it is worth revisiting.

I made a handy video.  It is much easier to show you, rather than try to explain it in text.

Also, we can't forget that pdfs are a form of e-texts.  In an effort to go paperless, my freshmen have been reading two short stories as downloads in pdf form.  I gave them the option of printing the stories or reading them on their laptops and using the note and annotation functions of the pdf reading programs.  Below are videos of how to actively read on a pdf!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Author/teacher team up!

I received this email a month or so ago...

Dear Meg -
I've been reading your blog on Kindles in the classroom and was wondering if you are interested in a collaboration of sorts.  I've recently published a Young Adult novel, Time's Twisted Arrow:  Book One of the CHRONOS Files.  One Amazon reviewer summed it up nicely, so I'll borrow her words: "Part science fiction, part historical novel, part young romance, mystery and action, all fast paced and riveting."  The book has been well-received and got a very positive review from Kirkus Reviews this past month.  It's currently at #25 on the Teen Historical fiction list at Amazon -- although that list is so volatile that it could be up or down by the time you read this!  :) 

Here's where the collaboration part comes in.  Rysa Walker is my pen name -- in my "day job," I'm Cheryl Walniuk, professor of history (with a focus on women's history) and government online for the University of Maryland's University College.  I also develop online learning modules for our courses.  As a history professor, one of the constant issues I face with incoming students is a lack of familiarity with primary sources.  Many of our students seem never to have encountered the concept, so I was delighted to see that the new Common Core standards are stressing primary sources.  One of my key goals in writing this series is to awaken young readers' interest in history by pulling in interesting events in American history and weaving them into the type of novel that appeals to most teen readers.   

Given that you teach in a private school, you may not be dealing with the Common Core, but I noticed that Harpeth Hall does emphasize cross-discipline learning.  So, would you be interested in previewing a video module for possible use in your classes that demonstrates how primary historical sources are used in writing fiction?  The module will focus both on the setting for Time's Twisted Arrow (1893 Chicago World's Fair) and the historical settings for the second book in the series (Gilded Age Boston & Depression-era South).  Both books focus on women's history and African-American history.  
I have also started a blog related to the series, where the emphasis is on imagining how events from our past will be viewed by writers in the future.  It is in its infancy right now, but the eventual goal is to serve as an outlet for student writers who can take a primary source or two, create their own story, and submit their contributions to the site.  Additional information can be found here. 

I anticipate having the video module finished by the end of February, and I am currently trying to line up some interested educators for a "test run."  If you are interested, either in reading the book or in previewing the module in your classroom, just drop me an email.  I'll send you an Amazon download certificate so that you can take a look at the book and will add you to the list.  

Best wishes, 
Cheryl Walniuk (AKA Rysa Walker)
P.S. If you know other teachers at your school or elsewhere who teach middle or high school and might be interested, please feel free to pass this along to them.  You were one of the first on my list because you are a Kindle advocate, but this is an open invitation.   
Rysa Walker
Time's Twisted Arrow now at Amazon:
More online at The CHRONOS Files:

I jumped on it.  It sounds awesome.  I got the e-book and I have been reading it in small spurts.  I was out on maternity leave last year during this time, so this curriculum is all new to me.  This means that my evenings are spent going through the literature I am teaching more slowly.  My hope is to be able to spend some more time with Time's Twisted Arrow beginning in March.

But I have had a chance to dig in to some of the early chapters of set up.  I like the teenage girl protagonist.  She is navigating a triangle of family relations, her divorced parents and her grandmother.  I like the tease of a romantic plot line to come.  The pace is snappy and there is a balance of humor and levity to go with some of the bigger issues.  If your goal is to teach something, make the vehicle of that lesson the most appealing you can.  That is what I have learned as a teacher.  If what you want to teach is "hard" or at least a "hard sell" then your vehicle needs to be super friendly.  I think this book is doing a good job of that.

Where am I envisioning this going?  A loyal group of readers of e-books is forming and there is some overlap with the creative writing club.  I like Rysa/Cheryl's approach that involves teaching students to be writers and creators of historical fiction.  I am envisioning a group of students using this novel and the material she is preparing as a learning experience both as readers and historians, but also as writers.  To that end, I think that forming a club that would meet during lunch would be the best way to start.  Perhaps a club that is focusing on new works, interacting with text, delving into creative commons writing and e-publishing.  I can't even completely define this group, because these realms are developing so quickly that definitions are shifting and evolving.  I want to gather a group of students and set off into this new territory.  This is exactly the place to start!