Just a quick update on the new lineup of Kindles announced earlier this month: as ever, the new Kindle models have one key audience in mind – the individual consumer. Backlight for reading in bed, integration with a vast media library, seamless purchasing opportunities, high resolution screen, touch navigation, whiter backgrounds, the works! All improvements sought after forever by consumers. And, as a consumer, I am delighted. The best thing for consumers is the constant increase in value that the whole Kindle line offers. To think, I am the owner of two Kindles that I paid $369 for apiece just a few short years ago! The refinement of the e-reader into a powerhouse gadget is something of which that Amazon can be rightly proud.
As usual, Amazon has also done some things with the new devices that incidentally benefits educators and their students. Two features that are actually groundbreaking in terms of impact on the instructional area most directly impacted by e-readers, reading instruction, are these:
1. “Time to Read” – This little addition, deemed annoying by some, is actually something that reading teachers and coaches can put to great use–an “on-the-fly” measure of reading speed to accompany all the measures of comprehension that are available in our test-crazy world. If you can measure speed and comprehension, you are getting close to a measure of fluency, which is truly the dark matter of the reading universe. Not the kind of fluency that is measured by reading aloud, but the kind of fluency that speaks to how easily the brain cuts through text and makes meaning of it all on the fly. Mike Sanford at NeoLithix and I used to wax rhapsodic about the potential for an e-reader to capture digital data about the pace at which a child is reading. That is exactly the data that a teacher doesn’t have when working with a roomful of kids, especially when the bulk of their reading takes place outside the classroom to begin with.
2. “Immersion Reading” on the Kindle Fire HD provides the ability to synch professionally narrated audio from Audible.com with the text on the screen of a Kindle. Again, sort of a “holy grail” for reading educators who understand that building fluency and comprehension may require audio support for reading, particularly in the case of struggling older readers who never had a modeled fluent reader sharing books with them when they were young. The evidence for the effectiveness of this strategy is definitive, if little known. But kids who have been read to regularly outperform those who haven’t by quite a margin for quite a period of time. The old “text to speech” function of e-readers like the Kindle works this way, but may actually do more harm than good because the inevitable mispronunciations and odd rhythms of text to speech do not provide the model that students need. So, the ability to synch professional narration with the text on an e-reader device makes a proven instructional strategy much easier for a teacher to implement. That strategy used to require tapes or CDs, batteries, players, print books, wires–all a bit much to incorporate into the classroom in a “frictionless” fashion. How it works from Amazon is here.
So, hooray. Along the way, teachers and kids benefit, if they can sidestep all the commercial sideshows like on-screen advertising, one-click ordering, and the like. But the judgment here is the same as it has ever been, the incredible power and value of the Kindle far outweighs the negatives when it comes to making more books available to more kids with more tools than at any time since the first half of the fifteenth century.