In my first year of teaching I began a book study with my Year 2 class on Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. It was such a fun unit of work. I brought in fox skulls for the students to touch. We watched videos on foxes in Australia, England and America. Students shared their stories of their own experiences with foxes. We made masks and acted out the different scenes from the book as a class.
Only one thing was lacking. Whenever I actually read the book to my students they would “switch off” and start chatting, fiddling, rolling around on the floor. My students would lose interest totally in the book.
I knew exactly why. These kids were visual learners. They needed to see and experience to be engaged. So I knew what I had to do. I scanned some pages of Fantastic Mr Fox onto my computer and displayed them each time I read on the interactive whiteboard (IWB).
This allowed the students to read along using the pictures and the words. Something amazing happened. My class was engaged. As a class we would cut out and move parts of the text around the page to look at the different language features. We took the illustrations from pages and the students moved these around the IWB to story-tell events from the book.
This experience lead me to becoming hooked on digital texts. I have since bought not one but two digital versions of Fantastic Mr Fox, along with a myriad of other junior and senior fiction.
Not a day goes by now where I don’t use these in my teaching. Which begs the question. Is it OK to be using digital texts so frequently? Does this mean print texts are dead?
Dominque Raccah talks about some of these points in her TED talk.
I particularly like the point she makes early in this talk that digital books are not a replacement of print books but they are the evolution of the book. This makes me think of bread.
“Why bread?” You might ask. Well, with gluten and grain intolerance and new nutritional knowledge the bread we are eating as humans is evolving. It is not that we no longer need or want bread but it is that there has become more variety than ever before. For some people the plain white loaf might suffice, however, for others their needs or wants have moved them to quinoa raisin loaf, or something else entirely different.
It’s similar to this with Ebooks in my teaching. They have not replaced print texts but they supplement these and give students a variety of print forms to engage with.
Many students in my classroom enjoy reading print books. The like flicking through the pages and know what the storyline might be. However, all of them possess the skills and knowledge to supplement their reading with digital books. They uses these to bookmark and annotate ideas. My students find digital texts online which allow them to understand complex ideas with more ease. The digital texts my students most enjoy use a variety of media in them such as sounds, text, hyperlinks and videos. This type of digital text is often referred to as interactive books and appears mostly in the forms of apps. Some of these hold the most amazing potential for learning. Below is the promo video for one of my students’ favourite interactive books.
Digital books also allow access which may have not been available previously. I have a class with varied needs and abilities. One of my students has very poor vision and although he still enjoys looking at the images in books he often uses his IPad to scan pages and enlarge them to view the words properly. Another student with dyslexia enjoys reading books digitally and highlighting each line as he reads. A different student in my class who has a cognitive disability loves the books that will read to and along with him.
Although there is a real and important place for print books in our society, there is just as important place for digital books. The combination of both these text forms are taking society on a wonderful journey. And what a marvelous world then that digital books are taking us to. One in which our students can engage, connect and access information like never before.