First, we identified a group of students who needed a unique kind of reading intervention, so we targeted our English Language Learners (ELLs). This is a perfect group to pilot this initiative, and we decided to target 20 students. As we started brainstorming the needs of this group, we realized that handing books to these kids wasn't enough. They needed help with language acquisition AND comprehension. That's when we thought about giving them a physical book paired with an audio book so that they could read AND hear the words. Research supports the use of audio books with ELL students. You can read more about the research here.
We priced Playaways, which are like MP3 players with one book downloaded on each device so that students can plug in earbuds and listen. The bottom line is that these are expensive. For example, one Divergent Playaway is $99. After pricing Playaways, we realized that they were not cost-effective. This is when I started looking at the features available on the Amazon Kindle Fire.
The Kindle Fire HD possesses the COOLEST feature called Immersion Reading. When you purchase a Kindle book AND the audio book (available on Amazon or Audible.com, which is the same company), the Kindle book and the audio book will sync, which means the student can SEE the words AND HEAR them simultaneously. But wait--it gets cooler! Not only do they sync, but the words are highlighted on the screen as they are being read! And this is not some droning voice reading the words that will make you want to stab your ears out. These audio books are "professionally narrated," so you are getting a high quality read aloud experience. Here's a quick video to show you how Immersion Reading works:
Hopefully, you can see how this could be a game-changer for a student who is an English language learner, as well as a struggling reader. Honestly, this could be a game-changer for ANY struggling reader. Just to emphasize the key points of this dynamic duo in Amazon: You have to purchase BOTH the Kindle book AND the audio book (Audio format of Divergent is $14.95), and not all Kindle books are available in audio book format. When you click on the Kindle book link, you need to look for the "Whispersync for Voice" box. If you see this, then you know that it has the Immersion Reading feature, and you can purchase the audio book to sync with the Kindle book:
We had a meeting with our principal, our district's ESL coordinator, and our school's ESL teacher at the end of April. Here is the document that I created to guide our meeting. Because of the Immersion Reading feature, we decided that Kindle Fire HDs were the way to go, but this caused some hesitation in our district because we have an abundance of iPads. We really wanted to make the iPads work since we have so many, but Immersion Reading DOES NOT work in the Kindle app, and Apple does not have anything comparable. Immersion Reading is only available on the Kindle Fire HD or Kindle Fire HDX. The tech people were concerned about bringing another device into our district's "ecosystem," which is a valid concern. However, because the Kindle Fire provides this amazing Immersion Reading feature that is not offered on any other device, we decided to go with the Kindle Fire; hence, the Kindle Project was born. With the full support of our campus principal, district ESL coordinator, and district technology department, we were determined to make this a success.
Not only was the Immersion Reading a key component of our project, but we also wanted to make this as FUN and ENGAGING for the students as possible. We wanted to ensure that the students would actually READ these books. Giving them CHOICE in the books that they would read in the summer was the answer.
Because the focus of this project is bigger than just reading, we wanted to give these students the FULL READING EXPERIENCE. That's when we had the brilliant idea of taking them to Barnes and Noble to make a "wish list" of the books that they would have downloaded on their Kindles and get a Starbucks beverage, too. (Once again, we wanted to give them the FULL READING EXPERIENCE!) I went into their ESL Reading class and did a lesson on how to pick a good book and even taught them how to order off the Starbucks menu. We organized the field trip and took them one May morning to the Barnes and Noble at Firewheel in Rowlett, Texas. Our principal, our registrar, our district's ESL coordinator, the two campus librarians, and Matt Nichols took 20 students to spend three hours in B&N.
It was magic.
Not only did they make their wish list, but they also got to choose one physical book to take with them (how could they walk out of a bookstore empty-handed?). The ESL coordinator used Title 3 funds to pay for these books. This was a great experience for all of us because we got to know the kids, and it helped us start building those relationships that will be essential to the success of this project. Plus, this outing made these students feel special and valued. The smiles say it all:
After our trip to Barnes and Noble, the real work began. Matt and I took the kids' wish lists and compiled them into a Google Spreadsheet. (For the sake of student confidentiality, I am not sharing this spreadsheet because it has student names and the books that they chose to read. Using Google Spreadsheet was an easy way to organize this information because Matt and I could both access and change it, as well as share it with our principal. Google Docs ROCKS!) We had to check to see if each book was available in Kindle and audio formats. Not all of them were available in the "Whispersync for Voice" format, so we chose a similar book that was available in Whispersync. We also priced the books and included this information on the spreadsheet. Matt ordered the twenty Kindle Fire HDs (for $139!), which were paid for by Title 3 funds that our wonderful principal approved. Once the Kindles arrived, he worked his tech magic to set up accounts so that the devices could be managed through Amazon's Whispercast.
We bought 20 Amazon gift cards with the total amount for the Kindle and audio books for each student. Because Audible is an Amazon company in which you can buy the audio format from the Amazon website, we ASSUMED that we could use Amazon gift cards to make both purchases. WE WERE WRONG. This is the MAJOR MISTAKE that we made in this project. After we had already purchased the Amazon gift cards, we realized that WE COULD NOT USE AMAZON GIFT CARDS TO BUY AUDIBLE BOOKS (even though Audible is an Amazon company!). We did not find this fine print until a call to Audible confirmed this. Our fantastic principal authorized us to purchase $700 in Visa gift cards to buy the audio books. If you are going to do this project on your campus, you need to buy Amazon girft cards for the Kindle books ONLY or just buy Visa gift cards for the entire purchase (both Kindle and audio books). What would make this REALLY EASY is if Amazon gift cards worked with Audible.com. I think Amazon is working on this, and I anticipate this will happen in the near future (We have talked to the higher-ups at both Amazon and Audible, and they are trying to make this happen.) Our principal's exact words were, "We are too far into this to quit now. Do whatever you have to do to make it work." It is such a blessing to work with such a supportive leader.
The process for loading the Kindle books and audio books was TEDIOUS. It took about 30 minutes per Kindle so a total of approximately 10 hours to just load the Kindle and audio books on the devices. I think this process will be streamlined as Amazon improves this feature for schools to use with students. Matt has made several calls to Amazon, and they are very intrigued by our little project, and they are working on a way to make this process easier.
After much frustration and problem-solving, Matt and I FINALLY had the Kindles ready for distribution to the kids. I created a Facebook page for the kids to join so that we can communicate with them over the Summer. We also had them sign up for Remind 101 so that we can text out reminders about our three summer book club discussions that we have planned. You can read more about these here.
All of the hard work was worth it when we handed the Kindles over to the students:
Now the real fun begins. We are excited to meet with these students over the summer to talk about their reading. We plan to continue this project in the fall and allow these students to keep the Kindles and add books to their personal libraries. We will keep track of their progress by studying data and watching their progress on various assessments. We anticipate GREAT SUCCESS for these kids.
So how much did all of this cost?
20 Kindle Fire HDs $3000
4 Kindle Books per student $700
4 audio Books per student $700
20 Kindle covers $240
Barnes & Noble Books $300
TOTAL COST OF PROJECT $5140.00
Creating Readers for life: PRICELESS
I'm sad to say that both Matt and my amazing principal, Christy Starrett, are moving on to other opportunities next year. But I am confident that the Kindle Project will continue under the leadership of our new principal, as well as the staff members who believe in it. I am so thankful for the opportunity to work with Matt and Christy on this special project. It was an honor to work with such amazing visionaries.