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Teachers discover new ways to ignite love of reading

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Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009

Penn-Trafford students soon will be scrolling through the electronic pages of a novel rather than flipping through the pages of a printed book.

The district plans to order nearly 100 Kindles, Amazon's handheld electronic reading device (or e-reader) for use in its READ 180 classes, a course for struggling readers in grades three through 12, said Matt Harris, Penn-Trafford's head of student proficiency.

"The kids are used to technology, and this is another way to introduce technology into the class and get them interested in what they're doing in the classroom," said Somer Daniels, who teaches READ 180 at Trafford Middle School.

Penn-Trafford will spend nearly $47,000 on the Kindles, or almost $500 each, Harris said.

Many districts have said they can't afford to make that kind of investment, while a few have opted for other devices such as the iPod Touch. Several are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Incorporating technology into the classroom has the potential to motivate students, promote literacy in new ways and get teachers more involved in their students' interests, said DeAnna Laverick, an assistant professor in Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Department of Professional Studies.

"I look at my own children here at home, and I see the kinds of things they're doing," she said. "And, as a former classroom teacher, I see the benefit of bringing what they're doing recreationally into the classroom."

Maureen Harris, who teaches the READ 180 class at Penn Trafford High School, has shared her Kindle with her students. The district ordered e-readers for its 15 READ 180 instructors, and they've been familiarizing themselves with them since the beginning of the school year. The students said they're impressed.

"It has everything," said junior Jake Hohn, 16. "You can look up different books. If you want to search for something on Google, you can do that, too."

Kimberly Reevers, 15, a freshman, said she likes the convenience.

"It's just one thing to hold, and you don't have to keep flipping pages, and it keeps track of where you've left off," she said.

Daniels said the Kindles will give her more teaching options.

"If we're doing a novel that's not at their reading level, they could plug in and listen to it," she said.

In the New Kensington-Arnold School District, elementary school students soon will have access to the iPod Touch, said Assistant Superintendent Tim Glasspool. All of the district's three elementary schools will have two carts with 20 iPods apiece. Each cart will have a laptop from which educational content, such as books and games, can be downloaded onto the iPods. They cost the district about $24,000, Glasspool said.

District officials hope to use the technology to reinforce concepts students learn in a more traditional setting, he said.

"You can be teaching concepts when they don't even know they're learning," Glasspool said. The iPod Touch can be used as an e-reader by downloading the Kindle "app" or free e-books from Apple's Web site.

Jack King, director of academics and a teacher at The Oakland School, a private school in Oakland, said he'd like to know more about the benefits of iPods or Kindles before his school invests in them.

"All this is happening so quickly, and it's hard to keep up," King said. "What we're afraid of is jumping in with both feet before all the verdicts are in."

Laverick, who wrote a paper on technology in the classroom, which recently was published in an academic journal, said scholars are beginning to find evidence that technology benefits students when it enhances traditional teaching methods.

"(My students at IUP) realize that technology is a tool," she said. "But it might not be the best tool, so you have to think about your overall object with the lesson."



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