Published Online: March 26, 2012
In Neb. School, Kindles Spark Interest in Reading
Taylor Christian never considered herself to be much of a reader.
The Lakeview senior had completed just one book in her life prior to this school year. That's all changed over the past several months.
Christian now finds herself reading outside of school, even picking up her Amazon Kindle to squeeze in a few pages during breaks at work.
Her story has become a common one at Lakeview High School since two language arts teachers there set out to change students' attitudes toward reading.
"We wanted students to like to read," said Kim Zach, who developed a pilot program with fellow language arts teacher Melanie Gustafson that was introduced to 10th- and 12th-grade students during the second quarter.
The goal was to change the status quo at the high school, transforming discontent with the long-time Accelerated Reader program to passion for the lifelong skill of reading.
"We were both interested in trying something different," said Zach.
The teachers agreed on a system that gives students credit simply for reading. To encourage participation, 30-40 minutes during each 52-minute class period was dedicated to the activity.
"We found that that was so important," Zach said of the daily routine, which resolved the inconsistency that often hampered the Accelerated Reader (AR) program.
AR requires students to read specially marked books, each worth a specific number of points, before taking a computerized test on the material. The number of points received is based on the percentage of correctly answered questions.
"That's not really teaching the kids to read for pleasure," Zach said of the AR program, which comprises 15 percent of the overall English grade.
The pilot program works by having students track the number of pages they read, both in and out of class, and also includes some class discussion and writing.
During the set reading times, Zach and Gustafson are freed up to work on other curriculum or hold one-on-one conversations with students.
"Even if it's just a minute or two minutes, that can have an impact on those kids," Zach said of the one-on-one time, which can help students select the right books for their interests.
And without the restrictions of AR, students had more books to choose from—something senior Tylor Szatko viewed as a definite benefit.
Prior to the pilot program, Szatko said any reading-related talk around the halls of Lakeview High School was about AR points, mainly, who didn't have them done. Now, students compare books and make recommendations to each other.
"It was just weird at first," Szatko said of the literary conversation.
Szatko has even began purchasing his own books and stopping by Columbus Public Library to browse the selection.
"I never would have stepped foot in there before," he said.
The program received an additional boost from 48 Amazon Kindles the school received earlier in the year.
These electronic readers, which cost approximately $9,000 total, add convenience for some students and allow the school to offer up to six additional copies of popular books, such as the "Twilight" series and "The Hunger Games."
"Once those kids tried it, they really did enjoy the Kindles," Zach said, particularly Gustafson's sophomore class.
The tablet-style readers don't have page numbers, causing students to read longer books at a faster pace, Zach said.
Zach plans to bring the pilot reading program back for a few weeks later this school year, but its future beyond that is uncertain.
Ideally, Zach said, each English period would be lengthened to allow for designated reading time, but that's something that must be discussed with administration first."We can't do it all year because that would become the curriculum," she said.
One thing that is certain, Zach won't have to look hard for success stories when making an argument for the program.
Just ask Christian, if it won't interrupt the book she's reading as part of a race with friends.
"I would pick the new reading program over AR," she said.