A Terrific Friend

How technology can inspire a joy of reading.

by Victor Rivero

CREDIT myONIn The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says a good book is one that, when you’re done reading it, “you wish the author … was a terrific friend of yours, and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

That’s an apt description of the pleasure we get from discovering a good book. There’s nothing quite like the joy of connecting deeply with a story: Losing yourself in the plot or the characters, or feeling like you’ve been transported to a different time or place.

Reading sparks the imagination. It opens up entirely new and different worlds for students. And it’s a gateway to success not just in school, but in life as well.

Developing a personal connection to a book, an author, a character, or a series can awaken the joy of reading for a child—and technology can help make that connection for students.

Reading nourishes the spirit and calms the mind, and it’s a respite from the hectic pace that life throws at us. Technology is a key contributor to this frantic pace, but ironically, technology also makes reading more accessible to students.

A key challenge for educators is helping students find the books that inspire them, books that mark the perfect intersection of a child’s interests and abilities. Technology can help with this task. It also makes books more available to students, giving them thousands of titles to choose from with just a few taps on a computer screen—and the kinds of text supports that can open doors for struggling readers.

Consider the example of two young sisters: Malia, age 8, and Maya, age 4 (pictured, above).

Although Malia was a good student, she didn’t really enjoy reading. “I wouldn’t call her a reluctant reader, but she only read if she had to,” says her mother, Amy.

But that all changed when she began reading in a personalized literacy environment (see myON) which recommends appropriate titles for students based on their personal interests and reading level.

Malia loves sports, and through this digital reading environment, she discovered the “Girl Sports” series of books by Jake Maddox. According to Amy, these short chapter books completely captivated her—and one book in particular, Storm Surfer, inspired her to take up surfing.

“She started surfing last year, and now she is surfing for the Western Surfing Association (and is) on tour for their U10 team,” Amy says.

Finding books that she was passionate about has unlocked the joy of reading for Malia, Amy says, and “that has spiraled into her wanting to explore other series.” She is now reading everything from comic books to nonfiction books about science and engineering.

For Maya, who is just learning to read, an interactive digital platform is a perfect match for her natural curiosity.

“She loves that she is able to hear the words spoken aloud and can watch as they are highlighted,” Amy says. And this level of engagement is instilling a joy of reading in Maya at a very young age.

Maya traces the words on the screen with her finger as she listens to her favorite books, which include books about the Disney movie Frozen and anything that has to do with singing.

“She’s interacting, laughing, smiling, and enjoying it,” Amy says. “She’ll even ask if she can have her device to read when we’re at a surfing contest or a soccer event. We bought an inexpensive Android device for her, so if it breaks, that’s okay—and every night we download a few of her favorite books to the device. She knows how to access them, and we do literally read them wherever we go.”

In The Catcher in the Rye, there is more to Holden Caulfield’s quote. After describing how he feels when he has read a good book, he adds: “That doesn’t happen much, though.”

During his own school experience, Holden hasn’t been introduced to many books that have inspired him. But, because of personal literacy tools, it’s a very different story for students like Maya and Malia.

Developing a personal connection to a book, an author, a character, or a series can awaken the joy of reading for a child—and technology can help make that connection for students, starting them on a lifetime journey of discovery and reflection.

Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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