The students in Rob Mahoney’s sixth grade exploratory class at Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School have been given a unique opportunity this trimester. Thanks to a generous donation from the Victoria McLaughlin Foundation, all twenty-four students have been loaned a Barnes and Noble NOOK for the duration of the course. The NOOK is a touch screen digital device that can be pre-load with multiple books. Mr. Mahoney’s class is using the device to explore the American Revolution through a study of both historical fiction and non-fiction. Combined with research on the historical events surrounding the war, students have read both Christopher and James Lincoln Collier’s My Brother Sam is Dead and Jim Murphy’s A Young Patriot.
Only a few months into the project, the NOOK has shown many advantages over the typical paperback or hardcover book. The device supports the strategies for close reading that are essential to college and career readiness as defined by the Common Core. Students are able to create their own notes, annotations, and highlights directly on the device and save them for class discussions and assignments. The e-reader has a built in dictionary that allows students to simply ‘hover over’ words they do not know to display the word’s definition. According to Mr. Mahoney, many of the students took to the device immediately due to their familiarity with other touch screen devices.
“A recent Pew Research survey indicates that more young adults are reading e-content such as books, magazines, and articles. They self-report that they are reading more because the digital medium makes it easier to do so in their spare time,” says Library Media Specialist Wendy Arnold, who is supporting Mr. Mahoney throughout the project. “So when we think about younger children and education, two things strike me: our students could be trending toward more ‘spare time’ reading with e-devices and we as educators could be directing it to support student learning. There is a great opportunity to develop student’s active reading skills -annotating text, defining words, organizing ideas - in a medium that can be customized and then reset for the next student user.” Ms. Arnold notes that these features are not available in the loaned textbooks that are typical in a public school setting.
The device is also extremely portable and provides accessibility for students with varying needs. For example, the font size and brightness can quickly be adjusted for students with visual impairments. Above all else, the ability to load multiple books onto the device allows for differentiation.
Students in Mahoney’s class received the NOOK with novelist Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion pre-loaded onto it. The plan was to have students read excerpts of this book to supplement the other two required readings. With almost a month left in the trimester, five students had already read excerpts on their own, with one student finishing the entire book over winter break! The ability to quickly access differentiated materials allowed ambitious and interested students to move to a higher-level reading while still participating in the same activities as their peers.
Though they are continuing to collect data on the project, both Ms. Arnold and Mr.Mahoney consider the pilot a resounding success. According to Mahoney, “The NOOKs have generated an excitement to read. The students are engaged and intrigued by what the e-reader can do.” Students are expected to read and annotate one chapter per night. The preparedness and engagement of the students has led to many products including informal class discussions, the creation of student web pages, and a culminating presentation from each student that requires the use of technology and visuals.
The goal of the Victoria McLaughlin Foundation and Melrose Public Schools in this project is to enlist students and community members in a shared reading experience around United States history. Eventually, we hope to create a program that allows community members to access one shared reading and hold discussions, movie nights, and presentations around that topic. The school will continue this course next trimester with hopes of offering similar opportunities to more students in the future.
by Bryan Corrigan, Department Chair for History, Melrose Public Schools
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