I have long believed that text read on a device just cannot match the benefits of a physical book. However, technology advances. It progresses. It improves. I change my thinking.
Just for perspective, let me share something I think of often. I can hear the echoes of farmers from long ago saying, "I love the feel of the reigns in my hand. The tug and pull of horses as they drag the plow through the field. The smell of the horses working. I cannot imagine that machinery will ever fully replace that." Horses still have their role, but we are also stunned today when we see a farmer using them as their primary tool for plowing fields.
Today our students have the ability to engage with text in a wide variety of ways on their iPads -- ways that many of us do not utilize, understand, or appreciate. However, it doesn't make these methods for reading text insufficient or bad. It is simply different. And in being different we get some benefits and some challenges we will need to take advantage of and address as educators.
Different digital reading tools have different features, but let's take a look at one tool, Raz-Kids, which we offer in Waukesha to see how text read in a digital platform can be better utilized while having kids engage meaningfully with text.
Reading in Raz-KidsThanks to my recent work with Lisa Lawrenz, I have had an opportunity to dig more deeply into Raz-Kids, a platform for students to read text digitally. Raz-Kids is wildly popular with students, and some teachers really like offering it to students, but some educators have outlined concerns. Below are a few of the most commonly held concerns that have been shared with me personally:
- Some students race through the text in Raz-Kids without actually reading (motivated by earning stars at the end of the text)
- Students can simply listen to text rather than engage in the exercise of actively reading the text
- Students are not reading text at their appropriate reading level
- Students are easily distracted while on the iPad; this is less likely to happen with a physical book
Racing Through Text to Earn StarsAccording to the Raz-Kids website, "Students earn stars for practice, completion, or success with different activities. Stars are used to purchase fun items to personalize the Raz Rocket and to create a customized robot using the Robot Builder."
Looking at the chart at right, we can see that students earn points for lots of things. While earning stars can definitely be motivational to encourage the behavior we want (more reading), 50 points for completing a book is also an incentive for some students to race through a book to earn the points (without a focus on developing the skill of reading). This is the root of the concern related to use of Raz-Kids.
However, Raz-Kids offers two pieces to allow teachers to manage this for the students who have turned reading in Raz-Kids into a point-earning game.
Using the "Reports" drawer in Raz-Kids gives teachers an at-a-glance view of each student's use and progress in Raz-Kids. A teacher can than click on a student's name and be given a comprehensive look at what the student has been up to in the platform. Here is a sample of one student's Raz-Kids report.
Let's look at the information and possible warning signs for a teacher in this example.
This student has earned 660 stars. However, in the recent alerts section we see a student that has failed the past 8 quiz questions at the end of the book. Looking further in reports (not shown here), this student has only logged in one time in the past two weeks. While there is no direct indication of a student off task, there is enough information for the teacher to prompt a follow-up conference to discuss what is going on. Additionally, the teacher can look into the questions the students answered incorrectly and determine if the student needs additional supports or small group instruction around developing their vocabulary.
This alone does not resolve the issue of the student racing through, though. As the teacher, I would make a part of my talk with the student a decision to toggle off the "Raz Rocket" and "Robot Builder" options. Until the student slows down and does better on their quizzes (set a goal with the student that you can track), they will not be able to build out their rocket or robot.
Collectively this is information and a tool set that allows me to be informed through data about a specific student, to act, to make changes, and to follow up with data on an individual student in the future.
Try doing that with text on paper. It is not nearly as succinct.
Listening to Books versus ReadingListening to text being read to you is important. It is an excellent practice and it is wonderful to have a tool that provides that support for students.
However, if you are learning to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. If you know how to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. There is no substitution for the act of reading. Just as I cannot only listen to a workout video to get in shape, I cannot only listen to a book to become a better reader.
One concern regarding Raz-Kids is that some students are ONLY listening to books. The great news is that Raz-Kids provides trackable data for each student. It can help teachers to determine who these students are, when they listened versus read, and whether they followed up and read the book independently. Let's look at a sample of one student's reading activity below.
- "Why do you prefer to listen rather than reading in Raz-Kids?"
- "Are you actively exercising the reading skills you when you listen to a book? What does that look like?"