Can E-Readers Motivate Reluctant Readers?

By University Alliance

Avid readers love nothing more than sitting down with a good book and devouring page after page. Getting lost in an author’s invented world is easy; characters come alive and plots thicken deliciously. Many bookworms swear by “the real thing,” describing the satisfaction that comes with holding a book in their lap and enjoying the tactile experience of turning the pages. 

What about reluctant readers, though? For those children who are not easily drawn to the written word, how can schools and parents help develop their motivation to read? One answer may lie in the use of e-readers and other digital technology.

As part of a 2012 study in Texas, Kindle e-readers were provided to middle school students who struggled with reading. After two months of using the technology, boys had increased motivation to read but girls demonstrated a decline in motivation. The researchers believe girls may prefer “curling up with actual books.”

The issue is likely to gain heightened attention in the coming years as schools move toward digital technology. Citing cost savings, adaptability and other benefits, state and federal officials have called for printed textbooks to become obsolete by 2015. Numerous schools already have made the digital switch, including a Florida high school that equipped its more than 2,000 students with Kindles in place of traditional textbooks.

As for reluctant readers, there are a number of reasons why e-readers may be more appealing and helpful than traditional books. 

  • E-readers can level the playing field. If a student comes across a new word in the text, he can get the definition immediately without having to ask someone for help or look it up in a dictionary. Vocabulary development can benefit.
  • E-readers are adaptable and customizable to certain learning needs. For example, English Language Learners (ELL) may find advantages in text-to-voice features. For other students, simply adjusting font size may create a more comfortable and enriching learning experience. Digital technology can be an effective way to address the spectrum of learning styles in a classroom.
  • Interactive books often contain video, music, games, audio and hyperlinks that students can click on to add to their reading experience. In creating a livelier learning environment, this type of interaction may help stave off frustration and boredom.
  • Students can bookmark and take notes directly on an e-reader, making it easier for them to personalize their reading experience.

Schools are experimenting with the technology. In Arizona, a school started an e-reader book club, giving each sixth-grader a Nook to use for two weeks, after which time the students trained other book club members on how to use the e-reader. The target was to have every sixth-grader complete at least one e-book by the end of the school year.

Research has shown that reading engagement declines as children become teenagers, when friends, sports and other activities increasingly vie for their time.

According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 53% of fourth-grade girls and 39% of fourth-grade boys read for fun almost every day. Among eighth-graders, however, those figures had plummeted to 25% and 13%, respectively.

For members of the so-called “digital generation,” who are accustomed to the presence of technology in so many aspects of their lives, e-readers may prove to be a key player in efforts to keep reluctant readers engaged, curious and inspired. 

Category: Teaching Tips