We know that a print rich environment is important for emerging readers. We want them surrounded by texts at all times. Many children come from homes where there are not many, and sometimes not any books. Teachers of disadvantaged students feel even more compelled to provide a wealth of reading materials at school. However, when does all of this become too much? Is there a better way for children to have access to "just right" books in the classroom?
Is there a better way?
As an alternative, what if we were to take the money that is being spent on library books and classroom books and use it to purchase a tablet for each child? Tablets have come way down in price. Decent ones for classroom use can be as low as $160. If each child were issued one in kindergarten, for use through 3rd grade (the highest year we normally see the expansive classroom libraries), the cost per year, per child would only be $40. We could equip each tablet with a digital library such as Myon Reader, for less than $10 per child per year. That means that for fifty bucks a year, we can give EVERY kid access to THOUSANDS of books that can be taken home. Think about a typical elementary school with 500 students. The total cost per year would be $25,000. Although this seems like a tremendous amount of money, if you look at a typical school budget, it is probably doable.
Are there additional advantages?
Digital libraries provide additional advantages. Myon, for example provides a quick assessment and interest inventory for each child. The system selects materials that are "just right" for the student. (Children can also select books outside of these recommendations.) It provides ongoing information for the teacher including what, how much, and how well each student is reading. The teacher can see compiled information for her entire class as well. This replaces the cumbersome (and not always accurate) reading logs that most teachers and parents and grown to know and and not love.
Don't young children need "real" books?
I still believe there is something very special about holding and reading a book with a child. I am not suggesting we are at the point that we should eliminate traditional books. However, our young children live in a world where almost all of their later reading will come from digital sources. We are doing them a disservice if we don't provide them with opportunities to engage with digital books at a young age.
Since our priority in K-3 is learning to read, we should be looking at how we provide as much assess to books as possible. Currently, more than two out of every three children will exit 3rd grade proficient in reading. They will be at risk for a host of other problems if we can't get them reading early and often. Our nostalgic attachment to traditional books should not trump our children's need to learn to read.
Can digital books help make the family connection?
Myon allows each child to download up to 10 books at a time. That means the child can go home every day with 10 books - and no need to access the Internet to read them! Another exciting feature of Myon is the availability of narration and Spanish titles. If family members have limited reading skills, they can still sit with a child and experience the book together by allowing it to be read to them. Spanish speaking families have the option of reading many titles in their native language. These two features provide an incredible way to reach the families of many of our children who come from non-reading homes or homes where English is not the first language.
It's time we embraced the technology that is not so new, not very expensive and has the potential to reduce teacher workload, increase the number of books available to children and make connections to families. Our kids deserve no less.