East Aurora teachers experiment with summer reading on Kindle Fire computer devices
By Kalyn Belsha firstname.lastname@example.org August 19, 2013 4:14PM
Jennifer Avallone (left), a seventh grade language arts teacher at East Aurora's Cowherd Middle School, coordinated a summer reading club that let students borrow Kindle Fire tablets, including Melissa Garcia.| Photos by Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 21, 2013 6:20AM
AURORA — Jennifer Avallone, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Cowherd Middle School, is obsessed with reading. She tells her students so at the beginning of every school year.
Though they could probably tell by looking at her classroom library, which contains more than 1,000 books, including a section for new and popular titles.
“A lot of kids come into my classroom and say they hate reading,” Avallone said.
Her goal is to change that by the end of year.
Avallone will have something new in her library when school starts Wednesday to further entice students to read: six Kindle Fire tablets.
Grant funds help
Avallone and Michelle Wargo, a Cowherd seventh-grade math teacher, teamed up to buy the Kindles with a $1,000 “Enrich the Summer” grant from East Aurora, then hosted a summer reading group using the devices.
“I’ve been wanting to get Kindles in my classroom for awhile,” Avallone said. “I think the kids are more excited to read when they have something electronic.”
Three of Avallone and Wargo’s students — they teach the same 90 students — borrowed the new Kindles during summer vacation.
The group picked the same title to read, the fantasy-adventure book “Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo, and then discussed it together on Goodreads, a website where readers can share their opinions.
Avallone said she had hoped more students would participate, but it was hard to get many to meet regularly during the summer.
One of the summer participants was 13-year-old Melissa Garcia, who read the most book titles in Avallone’s class last year.
Before the summer reading club, Garcia had used a Kindle only once before.
“I really like it because I’m not very good at vocabulary,” Garcia said. With the Kindle Fire she could click on words she wasn’t sure of and get a definition immediately.
Garcia also liked that the Kindle Fire allowed her to change the size and color of the font if the text started hurting her eyes.
“I could keep reading all day without my eyes getting tired,” Garcia said.
The e-readers also have financial benefits. A new title’s e-edition is often cheaper than a hardcover book, and with e-readers a teacher can purchase one book copy and share it among multiple devices. That makes a big difference for Avallone, who estimates she spent about $1,000 out of pocket buying books for her library last year.
Avallone, who earned her master’s degree as a reading specialist from Aurora University, tries to promote independent reading in her classroom by giving students time to read, stocking popular young adult titles and providing recommendations.
Last year she dedicated 25 to 35 minutes every Wednesday to self-selected reading, then upped the amount to 10 minutes a day toward the end of the year. She worried many students wouldn’t read over the summer because they didn’t have library cards or money to buy books.
Avallone is an avid young adult books reader, so she can make targeted recommendations based on her students’ interests and current trends. Right now, dystopian and fantasy books are the most popular.
She also suggests young adult books that will turn into movies — like “Divergent,” the “Percy Jackson” series and the “Hunger Games” trilogy — to generate student interest.
To keep track of her inventory, Avallone installed a free web-based program called Classroom Organizer on her computers, so students can check in and out the titles that they borrow. When they return a book, students can offer a star rating and a review, which helps other students decide if they want to read the book.
Each of Avallone’s students also signs up for a Goodreads account, so they can talk about their books together and get recommendations on the site. And when they leave her class, it’s a way for Avallone to keep in touch with her students and keep encouraging them to read.
Avallone is trying to use Goodreads over the summer to generate student interest before they set foot in her classroom. She visited her incoming seventh-graders when they were about to graduate sixth grade to help them set up accounts and asked her current seventh-graders to leave summer book recommendations on the site.
But not all students have home Internet access, Avallone said, so some don’t use the site over the break. She said about 10 of her 90 incoming students were chatting about books on Goodreads this summer.
Ideally, Avallone said, she would send all her incoming seventh-graders home with a book to read over the summer when they leave sixth grade. But she and Wargo know the district doesn’t have funds for that.
“That’s the next thing,” Avallone said. “If we could get the books in all of their hands, I think they’d read it.”