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Kindles break. The case for an insurance plan.

2014-02-09 13.56.20
This is what a broken Kindle looks like.

favicon It’s inevitable. Kindles are fragile, particularly in the hands of 14-year-olds. Every once in a while, a Kindle gets broken.

I used to go crazy when this happened.

My first response was to have students sign a contract to borrow a Kindle. The contract puts down on paper some key messages I want to get across. In addition to wanting students to read as much as they can, I emphasize the importance of handling the Kindles with care. If students aren’t taking things seriously, their Kindle gets taken away.

I’ve also found that distributing the Kindles student by student, rather than in a large group, is a good practice. These little Kindle conferences allow me to meet each student, get to know them a bit, and demonstrate how to care for their Kindle. Many students, for example, don’t know the best way to store their Kindle in their backpacks.

Despite those preventive efforts, a few Kindles — 1-2 per classroom per year — still get broken. I used to think this was because of negligence. Maybe part of it is. (Certainly I’ve never broken one of my Kindles before.)

But negligence or not, Kindle breakage happens. The question is what to do about it.

One option is to punish the student who broke the Kindle. This seems reasonable. If you break something, you should replace it, right? There are a couple problems, though, with this approach. First, Kindles are expensive, and I’m not going to ask for $69 from a ninth grader. Nor am I going to ask her to make amends in some other way. Second, I’m not entirely sure that 100% of the breakage is due to negligence. I’ve never been a particularly good investigator, and I don’t want to be the Kindle Police. I’d rather spend my time encouraging students to read.

Another option — which I’m trying out this year — is to ask students to participate in a Kindle insurance plan. For $5 (or $10, depending on the teacher), they get to use a Kindle for the year. This is not a deposit; the student does not get the money back. Rather, the money goes into a classroom fund to pay for any broken Kindles. At the end of the year, the balance is given back to the class as a whole, which gets to decide what to do with the money.

There is one big negative to this approach: The program is no longer free. Therefore, some students may opt out of joining the project. A recent get-out-the-Kindles meeting in San Francisco brought 30 students, but only 20 decided to sign up and pay the $5. It’s impossible to discern which of those 10 students didn’t follow through because of the fee.

I’d like to keep the Kindle Classroom Project free, but that would require raising money for broken Kindles. I’d rather raise funds for good books, more Kindles, and Kindle cases.

That’s why I’m more convinced by the advantages of the insurance plan. First, giving $5 is more of a commitment than signing a contract. It may activate their social responsibility. Second, I have peace of mind and don’t have to stress out when a Kindle is broken. If it’s true that an average of 1-2 Kindles are broken per year, the $5 per student will cover the expense. Third, students don’t have to fear that they’ll be looked down on if something goes wrong. They can spend more time reading.

There are some potential legal problems with requiring the $5. I work in public schools. You can’t charge money. So far, my rationale is that this is an optional, extracurricular activity, much like joining a football team. This is not a course requirement. Perhaps my reasoning is faulty, and maybe the best course of action is to find the funds some other way. I’d like to hear your viewpoints on this issue.

Update: Uh-oh. I just did 5 minutes of Internet research on this one, and yes, my legal standing is tenuous at best. California AB 1575 disallows the requirement of any fee of any kind for any school-related activity (yes, including football).

And yet: Until I get a better plan or a cease-and-desist letter, though, I will likely continue with my Kindle insurance plan.

The point of the Kindle Classroom Project is to maximize the joy of reading. Yes, Kindles are expensive and should be treated with care. But we don’t have to be glum in the process. Let’s read with vigor and see where the Kindle takes us.

What are your thoughts? I’d especially like to hear from folks who have donated Kindles to the project. Do you think the insurance plan is a good idea, or does it take away from the purity of the project? favicon

Please share your brilliant insights!