Active reading with Kindle

October 28th, 2010 | Filed under: teaching, technology

One of the first things on my list of things to do after moving to The Netherlands was to get a library membership. If I couldn’t work right away, I wanted to at least take advantage of the time through reading. I ran into a brick wall of sorts when I realized the selection of English language books at the library wasn’t to my taste (I’m sorry, James Patterson). I was also taken aback by the fees, which include an annual fee of around 25 euro and a fee for each item checked out. I wouldn’t mind the fees if the selection were more appealing, but it wasn’t so I walked out the door and started to think of other ways to feed my reading cravings.

Buying books, even used, was out of the question because my partner and I are trying to save money wherever we can. I began looking at e-readers as an option given the amount of books one can save to them, the portability (shipping books from the states is breathtakingly expensive), and the endless selection. For many reasons I won’t detail here, I went with a Kindle from Amazon and have been delighted from the moment I busted it from its packaging.

Sure, it’s great to have an endless selection of books at your fingertips. And with the use of great, open-source software like Calibre, you can get news on your Kindle and convert different e-book formats to fit your device in one click. But as an educator I’m much more interested in the highlighting feature.

As a teacher I always encourged, and often required, my students to engage in active reading. I would ask them to take Post-It notes and, while reading, add them to a passage and include one thing on the note: a reflection, a question, a prediction, etc. This was a great way to check if students had done the reading for homework, but it also forced them to engage with the text in a more meaningful way. And it prepared them for the day’s discussion. As an aside, students that didn’t do the reading couldn’t engage in the discussion and had to spend that time reading the passage and noting while we discussed in a circle. With the advent of web highlighting and annotating tools (Diigo is my preferred choice), we can get students working virtually and reading not just their own notes but the notes of other classmates and people around the world.

The Kindle comes a highlighting and note-taking feature. I wasn’t sure I’d be using it, but along with the built-in dictionary it’s become one of my favorite parts of reading on the device. For example, the first thing I downloaded to the device was a free copy of “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde from Project Gutenberg. It’s a short and hilarious play (you can read my Goodreads review of it here) and I found myself wanting to highlight certain one-liners to remember and reflect upon later. Enter the highlight feature. You can view all of your highlighted and noted bits at once with the click of a button and the notes contain links back to the location of the passage. Often times in college I would highlight a passage in a textbook, but forget where I even made the note. The fact that Kindle gathers them all in one place is a bonus and the note-taking feature, should you take advantage of it, can help you as a reader add context to the highlighting lest you forget why you highlighted it in the first place (something that happens to me all the time).

While I use the highlighter often, I wasn’t sure when I’d want to add a note until I started reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Even though I’m a vegan and already know a lot about the farming systems of the world, I’m learning a ton through this book and I’m being challenged by it. It’s in these moments that the active reader needs to take action or the moment will pass and the potential for deeper learning will be lost. I’ve highlighted quite a few passages that I’d like to revisit and plan on adding a few notes for context. Ultimately I want to blog and reflect on why I made the choice to become vegan and I think Foer’s personal reflections on his choice of vegetarianism parallel mine in many ways. The e-reader is making this a lot easier.

Oh, and I’m very easily distracted by all the Web has to offer, so the allure of the e-reader as a nearly single-use device was part of the reason I went for it. It’s also cheaper than an iPad and the screen is, for lack of better words, extremely readable.

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3 Comments on “Active reading with Kindle”

  1. 1 Jennifer Inscore said at 10:34 am on October 28th, 2010:

    Hello Mrs. Worrell,
    My name is Jennifer and I am a student at University of South Alabama in Dr. Stranges EDM310 class. I enjoyed reading your post. I have not tried using eBooks and have thought little of it, honestly. I love love love to read and enjoy reading anything I put my hands on. I do spend too much money on books and wonder if the eBook would be a route I should take. I will look into further and check on prices.
    I really like the fact you make your students use post-its and put thoughts, ideas, and questions down during their reading. I read very fast and once I get started I want to finish the book. A lot of the time I read so quickly that in a couple of months I cannot remember things about a book. This doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book because I love them I just don’t retain the information because I am getting so into reading I forget to think about what’s going on. I will start using post-its myself and I think that it will help with my retention. Thanks for the information!

  2. 2 Mary Worrell said at 11:17 am on October 29th, 2010:

    Hi Jennifer!

    I appreciate you reading and responding to this post. If you’re having trouble reining in your book spending, I would suggest taking advantage of the wonderful (free!) public library system in the U.S. I’m not sure I would have gotten an e-reader (at least not at this point in my life) had I not moved to Europe where my selection of English language texts is greatly reduced. I miss my local library so much and I still spend time in the library here because I enjoy the learning environment – and the free wi-fi. Post-It notes are also a great way to have students engage with the text without having to write in the text, which is an issue when using class sets.

    Now I’m off to check out your blog…


  3. 3 Brandi said at 12:45 pm on November 29th, 2010:

    Hi, Mary!
    I am a student at The University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am enrolled in an EDM310 class in which we, as future educators, are learning about the benefits of incorporating technology into our classrooms. I think this scenario is a perfect example of how useful technology can be! I plan on teaching at the Elementary level, and have come to find that books, especially children’s books, can become overwhelmingly expensive. I think that an ereader, such as a kindle, could be very beneficial in the classroom. Thanks for sharing this and giving me some ideas.

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