Is the Kindle a Good Choice for Early Education Classrooms?

We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in the potential savings provided by the Kindle in educational settings lately.  Now that some of the initial antagonism is out of the way, people are coming to see eReaders as valuable tools.  It needs to be kept in mind, however, that as much as the Kindle can serve as a book analogue in the majority of situations it is still not a book and not suitable for every single situation where books are used.  How we decide which situations to use them in is something that still remains vague.

Perhaps the most interesting case is the early education classroom.  I’m thinking Primary School here (1st – 5th/6th grade).  On the surface it makes perfect sense.  Using a Kindle rather than buying books means that schools can potentially avoid everything from lost reading material to profanity scribbled in the margins of textbooks.  Students wouldn’t even need to worry about forgetting their books on the way to or from school.  For every positive, though, there is a negative.

The most obvious is probably also the most trivial to fix.  Kids break things.  Whether through overwhelming exuberance or deliberate malice, from time to time they just tend to do damage as a group even if the same isn’t necessarily true of any specific individual.  The Kindle, whatever else you might say about it, is not the most durable piece of electronics in the world.  Amazon has an amazing return policy and does great work in making sure that damaged E Ink screens are replaced when the occasion calls for it, sometimes even for customers long out of the warranty period, but we have to assume they would balk at 5-10 free service orders per classroom every six months.  Given the investment already being made in texts on a regular basis, it still might make sense to go with the Kindle.  At the very least, a good case can prevent all but the most destructive acts from doing damage in my experience.

More important would be the issue of efficacy.  While the Kindle is great for sequential reading, its limited navigational options and slow refresh rate can be a pain for referring to scattered parts of a book.  On top of that, until color screens come into fashion in the eReading world there will always be some question of whether enough is being done to hold student attention.  There is a reason that most textbooks for children are thoroughly illustrated and brightly colored.

Rather than just assuming a stance on this, I have to say that it feels like an issue best decided through trials.  There are surely ways to use the Kindle properly in these classrooms, just as there are obviously ways for it to be used poorly.  The only way to really figure out how to make it work is to throw the new technology into the mix and see how the kids take to it.  I do believe that exposing children to this sort of technology early in their lives can have positive effects on both their technical proficiency and their love of reading, but one person’s anecdotal evidence about a kid who loves their Kindle is hardly enough for me to argue for an educational policy even when the anecdote is mine.

I’m curious what you all think on this.  Do Kindles and kids make a productive combination?

7 thoughts on “Is the Kindle a Good Choice for Early Education Classrooms?

  1. I can see the pros and cons. I do not think there is a clear cut answer. I agree that trial would be the best way to go. I can definitely see many reasons to use them in the classroom. I think that they should be incorporated into the curriculum. I believe that technology should be incorporated into the classroom and I still see the need for books. I think that schools should try to find a happy medium where students get the best of both worlds.

  2. The problem is that many schools will only consider this option if it means replacing some or all of their traditional textbooks, I think. Which just won’t work since it isn’t a simple binary.

  3. Actually my wife is a school teacher that has purchased 11 Kindles for her class. She teaches 4-5 grade. She wrote a grant and a local organization funded it. It has not been used for replacing text books, but, to be used to improve reading skills. The kids are allowed to check them out to read at home. It has really help several of the poor readers start to enjoy reading. Here our some of the benefits she has observed.

    1) Using text to speech on the touch allows poor readers to read books that are interesting to them.
    2) Students are not overwhelmed by the size of a thick book, so they are not afraid to start a story.
    3) The adjustable font size allows for easier reading, and with a larger font the student feels like they are reading fast because of frequent page turns.

  4. I purchased kindles for my nieces (7,8,10) and so far the youngest isn’t using it at all (no big surprise), the middle is using it occasionally, and the oldest uses it continuously, but for playing scrabble, not as much for reading.

    he spelling is doing _very_ well as a result.

    not quite what I expected, but still a good result

  5. Wally,

    Since you chimed in, I’m curious about the impact of that text-to-speech application. Isn’t she worried that it might turn into a problem down the line by helping those kids avoid the need to improve their reading skills? I’m genuinely curious about that since while the Kindle doesn’t exactly make for a pleasant audiobook alternative it does tend to be quite accurate these days.

  6. using my nieces as an example, the yougest ones started with the text-to-speach, but the middle wan has mostly stopped using it, because even at it’s fastest speed it’s too slow compared to reading. She still uses it once in a while, but mostly when driving home at night to be able to keep going in the book rather than having to stop.

  7. Thanks David. I haven’t had the chance to observe first-hand, but that makes sense.

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