Give it up for eBooks (and Talking Books)!

Published November 25, 2011 by electricbluegaloo

So you’re verhmently against eBooks, are you? Worried they’ll rot our little kiddies minds away? I seem to remeber people saying that about non-religious books, back in the Dark Ages. But by the fact you’re reading this little ditty on the devil’s own internet, I guess I’m probably preaching to the converted (or at least the open minded).

So maybe you, like me, are looking for some fuel for your arguments, or should I say persuasive points to help those less enlightened souls see their way clear to letting children read eBooks.

1. Digital communication is the way of the present, not just the future. If we don’t let children interact with technology we are slowing the progress of progress itself. I should stress that I believe in moderation. Don’t misquote me as saying kids should be huddled indoors illuminated only by the glow of their iPods, pads etc, but they must be given the opportunity to explore the functions of these devices through meaningful contexts such as reading great stories that just happen to exist “out there” instead of on paper in your hand.

2. Allowing children to explore eBooks and other online literary avenues allows kids to interact with literature in a way that is meaningful and exciting to them. Remember the days when handwriting was more important than content – times change, people!

3. eBooks and talking books are often narrated by professional actors. I have been down at my local library every week borrowing the most amazing talking books. I know it is not the same as an ebook but for the purposes of this point it is the same. Current educational theory on Teaching English Language Learners (footnote 1) is that children need to learn the rhythm of written language, in order to duplicate it.
I was awed recently by Jennifer Byren’s interview with Alexander McCall Smith, who writes proflicically -including 3 series’ of novels and 1000+ words a day for a newspaper serial.

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH: “. . . I sit at the keyboard and I type and I go into a sort of dissociative state in which I am not necessarily consciously thinking in the same way in which I would consciously think about a problem if I were cogitating on some problem. And so it all just comes out, and it comes out from the sub-conscious mind and it comes out fully-formed so I don’t have to sit there and think what’s going to happen next? What’s he going to say to her or… “

I highly recommend you watch this interview on iview http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/s3337304.htm

No wonder children struggle with writing.  Sad to say, the majority of writing lessons I see are drill and practise, with virtually no examples of what the finished text should look like.  The teacher gives them a list of criteria and says off you go.  And reading lessons are just as painful.  A group of ememging readers struggle over every word, never coming to grasp with the overall text because they can barely make sense of the sentence.

That’s why fluent and experssive readers need to read to kids – this doesn’t stop when they begin to read for themselves.  Fortunately, my mother read to us well into primary school.  In educational lingo this is known as “modelled reading”, and is essential for children of all ages.  That’s why I write – I am fortunate enough to be familiar with the rhythm of written language, and this flows through my fingers onto the keyboard, obviously not as successfully as Sandy McCall Smith, but more successfully than the kid in the corner shooting spitballs at everyone.

For an excellent example of what I mean, listen to Monster Blood Tattoo, read by Humphrey Bower, Harry Potter by Stephen Fry, and for the adults Men Who Stare at Goats, though I can’t remember who narrated that one.  The Little Prince is also a great one to listen to.

Last week I was working with a year 5 class who were described as “interesting”, and I had them last session on a rainy day – great.  I had planned an art lesson with them, but naturally got talking about books.  I noticed a couple of them reading various Wipy Kid books and remembered I had the first one downloaded on my phone.  So I played it for them while they worked and we just had the greatest afternoon.   I can still hear Ramon de Ocampo‘s voice in my head a la` “the cheese“.

Also, the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge states that children are able to count listening to a talking book version, so long as they read along with the written text.  I would love some feedback from teachers, librarians and parents to see how listening to talking books, or ebooks with audio helped your child/ren read more books on the PRC lists. See special Notes https://products.schools.nsw.edu.au/prc/rules.html

4.  Back to my point about teaching English language learners (footnote 1).  ebooks are often available online and read in various community languages.  Search for The Little Big Book Club for a great range (link also available on my previous post).  This means that the kid who just arrived from China or Indonesia has some chance at feeling part of the literacy lesson.  Current educational theory is that students should be supported in their first language – great news for mono-linguals such as myself.  ebooks and talking books are higly effective tools in our armoury, so lets use them.

5. Just because it glitters doesn’t mean it’s gold.  Remember that the “e” in ebooks stands for electronic, not educational.  The more we use them, and the more our kids become critical of them the better value they will become.  Electronic or hardcopy, a story is a story.  Video did not actually kill the radio star, ebooks will not actually kill literature.

Footnote 1

Teaching English Language Learners Across the Curriculm (Participants Notes) NSW DET 2009  Multicultural Programs Unit

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