Boost in elementary reading seen after iPads

Feb. 18–MCALLEN — Third-grader Alexis Rivera flipped through a book about the sun on his iPad on Friday morning with headphone buds in both ears. As he glanced at Spanish-language text at the bottom of each page, an app read aloud the English words at the top.

Rivera, an English as a Second Language student, has 20 books downloaded on the tablet device. Instructors at Bonham Elementary and other campuses in the McAllen school district see the technology as a tool to boost reading rates among younger students and say they’ve already seen a difference in the first months since the tablets were introduced.

“My Spanish-speaking students, they can hear the way it’s pronounced,” third-grade teacher Lorena Guerrero said. “They can hear it first, listen to it first, and then say it on their own.”

Students reading English-language texts can use the same tools to listen to entire texts or hear how a single word is pronounced. Those features can make a big difference in homes where students do not have a parent reading to them regularly, Guerrero said.

Educators at the campus say reading participation has shot up for both ESL and English-language readers. In October, students checked out about 2,000 books from the campus library at Bonham. That number rose in January to more than 7,000, including both hard copy books and those downloaded from the library on students’ iPads.

Jennifer Saenz, the principal at the campus, said students have been more engaged by both the convenience of the tablets — they can carry up to 20 books on the devices at once — and the ease with which they can find information about books by author and topic.

“Look at the shelves. When all they see is the spine of a book, it’s hard for them to know which book (to choose). Here, they can look under topic, they can look under authors. They see the whole cover of the book,” Saenz said. “Especially with the little ones, they need to see that to make those choices.”

The program also makes it easier for students to demonstrate their understanding of the books they’ve read. The district’s accelerated reading program includes a test for comprehension for each book students complete.

The iPad program allows them to take tests remotely on as many books as they can download from the district library.

Brenda Huston, the Bonham librarian and coordinator for district library services, said students in the past have often picked the shortest books with the tests in mind.

“Now it doesn’t matter,” she said of book length.

Huston and Saenz hope the increased participation translates to improved scores on the STAAR test this spring.

Last year, only 63 percent of students at the campus passed the reading portion of the new, tougher standardized test, compared with 74 percent for the district overall. Educators say improving reading abilities could also be the key to success in other subjects like science, social studies and writing.

Sara Garza sat next to Rivera, the ESL student, with her iPad out and a book open next to it. She said the iPad makes it easy to find fictional titles she wants to read instead of searching for the one she wants on library shelves without success.

But even with the tablet, she said she enjoys reading from the printed page.

“You can use your imagination and your own words (without special features),” she said. “Then every time you read it, you get the hang of the book.”

The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)

(c)2013 The Monitor (McAllen, Texas)

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