Bridging the Opportunity Divide

For Kids That Struggle with Reading, Digital Literacy Programs Show Promise

December 11, 2014
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For Kids That Struggle with Reading, Digital Literacy Programs Show Promise
Tablet computers may help students become better readers. Global Partnership for Education/Flikr
Tablets and e-readers increase interest in physical books.

Can an electronic device actually improve literacy skills?

Schools with high percentages of low-income students are seeing promising gains in reading ability and enthusiasm since they’ve introduced tablet reading programs in about 30 schools in Brevard County, Fla.

Mackenzie Ryan of Florida Today writes about Christopher Jamian-Fleck, a student at Emma Jewel Charter Academy, who earned his own tablet computer last year and became an ebookworm with the help of a reading program called MyON.

While home sick, Jamian-Fleck began exploring the program’s library of 20,000 books and learned to read with the help of a program that highlights each word as it is read. (Other features that can assist kids with dyslexia or those that simply need extra help include the ability to increase font size or listen to the book read aloud.) The eight-year-old zoomed ahead from struggling with literacy to reading above grade level.

His grandmother Marcy Fleck says, “He wasn’t a reader before this, and now he’s enjoying it so much. He finds out things he never knew he was interested in. And he can go at his own pace.”

In fact, Christopher wouldn’t be able to check out books from his school without the tablet program because it doesn’t have a library. The charter school couldn’t afford to build one, so it used funding from the United Way to pay for MyON and Kindle e-readers for kids. Many of the families in the school don’t have Internet access or computers, so the e-readers make it possible for them to read e-books.

The program appears to be working even at schools with well-stocked libraries; Ryan writes that one principal noticed check outs of old-fashioned books at the school library increased once the digital program sparked the kids’ interest in reading.

Teresa Wright, who directs Brevard’s Early Childhood and Title I programs is working to secure funding to allow more low-income schools to get the program and the tablets it requires. “We’re hoping that students will have access before the holidays,” she says. “Reading is like a sport, the more you practice the better you get.”

MORE: Can Texting Help Improve Childhood Literacy?

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