| December 7, 2010

Teachers Using E-Books: Two Stories


Last week’s introduction of the iREAD e-reader pilot rolled out in four major phases over three days in each of the six schools:

  1. The community introduction and pledge (Worldreader led)
  2. Day 1 of E-Reader distribution and instruction (Worldreader and teacher partnership)
  3. Day 2: E-Reader “deepening” (Teacher led; Worldreader absent)
  4. Day 3: E-readers integrated into class (Teacher led; Worldreader observing)

It’s a thrill to be able to stand up in front of an entire community or class and talk about how much we hope all will benefit from our work.  It’s even energizing (in a very different way) to hold student assemblies in which we acknowledge how angry and jealous the students who haven’t received e-readers must feel, and how much of a responsibility they have to their brothers and sisters.  (We’ll write more about that later.)

But to me, even better was to sit down with the students on Day 3 and observe the teachers at work, using the e-readers in the class.  That’s when we really got to see whether all our preparation was really turning into something.  After all, no matter how much we talk, if the teachers and students aren’t taking to using the e-readers, we’ve failed.

Jacqueline and Sarah – Kade Primary School

Here we have good news: the early indications are very, very promising.  Let me tell two quick stories.  The first involves Jacqueline, a primary school teacher.  She used the e-readers to lead a fourth-grade classroom reading of one of the local (Ghanaian) book we publish called At the Beach.  The class came to the word “sea,” and Jacqueline used the Kindle’s built-in dictionary to find the definition.

Now, the built-in dictionary is too advanced for many primary school kids.  Here’s the definition of sea from the Oxford New American Dictionary: “The expanse of salt water that covers most of the earth’s surface and surrounds its landmasses.”   That’s a bit much for many of these kids— most children’s their first language is Twee, and their parents don’t speak much English.

But Jacqueline rolled with it.  She asked the class to look up and say what kind of water is in the sea.  The class responded: “Salt water.”  And right then and there, I realized that even though a more child-friendly dictionary would be great, in a way, the built-in one can serve as a mini-encyclopedia, with very quick access.  No need to bring out a new book, shuffle through pages, put it away.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a great tool in a teacher’s hands.

Francis Kwaku– Adeiso JHS

The second story involves Francis Kwaku’s Junior High School Social Studies Class.  Francis is a great teacher, plain and simple.  He has great command of his subject area, he’s a very clear thinker and explainer, and he easily holds the students attention (and note: there are 70 students in his classroom… a 90-degree, very dusty, far-too-small classroom that would feel full with 30 kids in it).  Watching him work was a thrill.

Here’s how he ran the class: First thing, he asked his students to turn on their Kindles and go to a specific location.  That took about 2 minutes… it’s still a new device, and frankly, the whole “Go To…” function is a bit clunky.  Then he asked the students to turn off their e-readers, and he began a 5-minute chalk-talk lecture of “Human and Natural Resources.”  At the right time, he said, “OK, now turn on your e-readers,” asked them to start reading aloud about the topic he was covering, and continued the class from there.

See what he did?  He took care of the messy bits up front, so that students fiddling around with the device didn’t interrupt his class.  By the time it came time to turn it on, the device was simply part of the background of the class, not the subject of the day.

Have a look at Francis at work.  This is very raw video (taken with an iPhone), so the quality isn’t great.  But you get a sense of how he manages to keep a 70-student class moving forward, even as they learn about tangible vs. intangible resources, commodities, and bauxite.

Not every teacher will be as strong as Francis or Jacqueline, and we have a long road ahead of us to keep the momentum going.  (We’ll write more about some of our tools to support teachers later, including on-going workshops in which teachers train one another.)  But the early indications are that teachers– already comfortable using books in the class– can incorporate Worldreader’s e-readers quickly, and then build from there.