Research: Kindle-ing interest among reluctant readers

Stock photo of a boy tired of readingMiddle school boys rated reading more valuable as an activity after two months of using an e-reader, according to a new study.

The findings come from a study of middle-school students who struggle with reading and who participated in a reading improvement class that included Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, said one of the study’s authors, Dara Williams-Rossi of SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

The researchers found that boys consistently had a higher self-concept of their reading skill than girls both before and after using the e-readers. After use of the e-readers, boys’ attitudes about the value of reading improved, while girls’ attitudes declined, said Williams-Rossi, an assistant clinical professor in the Simmons School’s Department of Teaching and Learning

“The technology appeared to motivate the boys to read, while many girls preferred the actual books,” said Williams-Rossi, who is also director of undergraduate programs in Simmons. “The data showing the girls’ preference were statistically significant and particularly intriguing. This is part of a 3-year study and this data came midway through, so we are continuing our investigation and interviewing girls to understand their reaction to the e-readers. It may be that they prefer curling up with actual books and that they enjoy sharing their reading with their friends.”

Among the findings, students generally liked using e-readers and many felt that using it helped their reading improve. Sixth- and 7th-graders were more enthusiastic than 8th-graders about the e-readers, the researchers found.

For the study, the researchers provided e-books on the Kindle e-readers to 199 students at an urban middle school in Fort Worth, Texas. The students had about 15 to 25 minutes during their silent reading-improvement class period to read high-interest chapter books and stories on the Kindle. The researchers chose 25 classics, including The Wizard of Oz and Black Beauty, as well as ghost stories and scary stories, which were the most popular. Students said they read between one and four e-books over the course of the 2-month study.

Based on anecdotal comments from the children, the researchers found the e-readers sparked excitement among the students, resulting in positive attention for the students in the reading improvement classes. Over the course of the study, word about the e-readers spread around the school, and students who weren’t in reading improvement classes began asking how they could join “the Kindle classes.”

Teachers generally thought the e-readers were better at getting their reluctant readers engaged, but they reported being frustrated by students’ easy Internet access through the district’s Wi-Fi, which required them to monitor the students more closely. Also, the teachers had to spend time keeping the e-readers charged, checked out and locked up each night, but teachers told the researchers they plan to incorporate e-readers into their classes in coming years.

Overall, the students and their two teachers rated the experience as highly satisfying. In asking individual students what they liked about the e-readers, they said they liked not having to carry a lot of books; they liked other students not knowing their reading level or choice of book; and they liked that the book they were reading was always available and hadn’t been removed from the classroom. The voice-to-text feature was popular with students for whom English is a second language.

Written by Margaret Allen

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