Digital books connect all students with reading opportunities--but vulnerable populations, in particular, see huge benefits

How digital books connect vulnerable students with reading

Digital books connect all students with reading opportunities--but vulnerable populations, in particular, see huge benefits

The definition of success is a “favorable or desired outcome.” At Title I schools, where students are often at a disadvantage from the start, measuring success can look different depending on the student and the circumstance. So when it comes to reading, sometimes success can look like a student simply picking up a book.

In my classroom, students generally read below grade level. However, the increasing prevalence of 1:1 device programs over the last year sparked a significant improvement in their reading habits by providing more access to ebooks and audiobooks. Using digital books has given students access to a wider variety of texts at different reading levels that they can browse with a degree of privacy, removing stigma and instilling a love of reading.

Confidential access to digital books for readers of all abilities

Privacy is paramount when it comes to image-conscious middle school students who are worried, above all, about what their peers think of them. Sometimes, students who are reading below grade level are embarrassed, leading them to check-out materials at the school library that are not appropriate for their abilities.

That’s why it’s so important that Sora, our K-12 reading app, allows my students to select and read titles that are known only to them. When increased literacy is the goal, it does not matter if a seventh-grade student is reading a book meant for fifth grade students, so long as they are improving their reading skills.

And as our students’ social-emotional welfare takes center stage this fall, it’s important that they have the freedom to choose books that reflect their own identities and circumstances, at the reading level that best suits them. This freedom helps them learn about and process the complex world around them without feeling ashamed or stigmatized.

More variety fosters greater reading enjoyment

While students will always have required titles to read for class, digital books offer greater variety for choice reading. For example, it’s easier to provide more titles in different languages, giving English language learners the option to read books in their native tongue and improve their literacy. Furthermore, digital books provide tools that allow students to instantly look up words they do not understand.

Alternate formats like audiobooks and Read-Alongs, as well as genres such as graphic novels and comics, also give my students more control over their reading experience. Students can switch between audio and text versions of a story to improve comprehension. Graphic novels and comics, in particular, tend to excite my students, who enjoy the visual element.

Plus, through the Sora app, my students have access to age-appropriate ebooks and audiobooks from the local public library’s digital collection, which provides them even more digital reading options to enjoy. To borrow digital books from the public library, all they need are their school credentials–no library card necessary. This is critical for our lower-income families, as many caregivers are working more than one job and may not have the time or the means to drive students to and from the public library.

24/7 availability increases equity of access

It has been more than two decades since the National Center for Education Statistics found that 61 percent of low-income students have limited or no access to books inside their homes, yet we are still grappling with the best way to provide consistent access to high-quality reading materials.

One silver lining to the pandemic, however, is that thanks to 1:1 device programs, students have new avenues to reading outside the school building, including at home. Even if reliable at-home internet access is a problem, students can download titles while connected to the school’s Wi-Fi network and read them offline. And if they do have internet access at home, kids can search for new titles and check out books anytime they’d like, whether it’s after school in the evenings or in the middle of summer.

Having increased access to books at home can also provide an escape for students with difficult home lives. Some of my students have experienced homelessness or unstable–even abusive–living situations. Books can’t remedy this, but they can provide an escape from reality, temporarily transporting them to new worlds and introducing them to new perspectives and ideas. But most importantly, it gives my students hope.

Even as the pandemic has exposed some of the most challenging disparities in education, it has also encouraged new emphasis on self-directed learning and digital tools. Digital books have enabled educators to evaluate what speaks to students the most and measure success based on each student’s individual needs. As a result, we’ve all become better learners.

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