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The Kindle Classroom Project promotes reading. That’s great. But what if it promotes the death of the physical book?

favicon I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about whether the Kindle Classroom Project is contributing in a small way to the death of print books and thereby is sabotaging one of the program’s primary objectives: to reduce the gap between the reading haves and have-nots.

It’s best to write about these thoughts, rather than pretend they don’t exist.

The argument goes like this: Though the KCP may solve one huge problem (getting good books in students’ hands), it ultimately discourages independent reading in the long run. This is because the program focuses on Kindles, thereby discrediting and dishonoring the physical book as the primary means of reading over the past 500 years.

So if the program urges students to read on Kindles and does not offer physical books as an alternative, what happens when the Kindles get returned or stop working? What then?

Over the past week or two, whenever I feel like I have an answer, I quickly sidestep and consider an opposing view.

Like this morning, when I learned about Out of Print, a documentary by Vivienne Roumani. Please check out the trailer.

I can’t wait to see this film — and am secretly hoping it’ll come to San Francisco and play at a film festival, or maybe at the Roxie.

My big thought is, I know that Kindles work. Over the past three years, I’ve seen it again and again. Many students reclaim their love of reading with a Kindle. Other students love the Kindle because it’s like having a library in their backpack, with no worries of overdue fines or waiting for books to become available. Still others love to change the font size or look up words using the built-in dictionary. It’s pretty clear that Kindles do offer affordances that the physical book cannot.

But I also think that there has to be a place for physical books in the Kindle Classroom Project. After all, the KCP is a reading program, not a technology program. The point is not to disrupt an antiquated technology system. Instead, it’s mean to disrupt an unjust social system.

Besides, physical books do a couple things better than e-readers and e-books. Namely, they’re good at building reading relationships between a teacher and a student — a crucial step in bringing students back to reading. Also, print books are way better for discovery — to help students find what they’ll read next.

So I’m trying to figure out the best way to incorporate physical books into the Kindle Classroom Project without diluting the major thrust of the program. No decisions yet, but I think I’m getting close. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! favicon

2 comments

  1. Sarah from Logan

    There are so many wonderful directions that this program could go. What if students who reached a certain benchmark were given a Kindle as a gift? Do you think that donors would be willing to donate for something like this? Does it not work if the students no longer have access to the 500+ volume library that you have established?

    I don’t think that physical books are in any danger especially since I am not able to buy my mom a Kindle version of a book for her Kindle (She is getting “The Greenhouse” for Christmas but don’t tell her.) I have to give her the actual book. It may be, however, that your Kindle students turn into exclusively Kindle readers. Don’t you already have physical copies of most of your Kindle books? Should there be a classroom set of physical books that match the Kindle books in each of your classrooms? Maybe there are some books that always have a wait list and students would have the option of starting a physical book or waiting for the e-book? (No, I wouldn’t want students to have to wait for a book either.) You obviously have an idea in mind and I am eager to hear it. Your ideas are always better than mine.

    I love your quote that the Kindle Project is meant to “disrupt an unjust social system.” It works, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am speaking out of turn here but it seems that the project doesn’t try to level the playing field. Instead, it seeks to change the way that the game is played or maybe change the whole game. In that sense, physical books, e-books, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the young people are gaining literacy skills.

  2. Mark Isero

    Sarah, thank you for your insight (and your dedication to the KCP). Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mom that she’s getting *The Greenhouse.*

    You have a ton of great ideas, as usual. Down the road, I do want to offer Kindles to students to keep. Next year, I’m piloting a summer reading program (letting students keep their Kindles over the summer and seeing if that decreases summer learning loss). If that works out, it makes sense that the next step would be to let students keep their Kindles when they graduate from high school. After all, the long-term point of the KCP is to build avid, joyous, independent readers.

    Currently, I do not have physical copies of most of the Kindle e-books. It’s a big expense, so I’m thinking carefully about whether to incorporate a physical library into the program. Best practice, I think, would be to highlight certain books in each classroom on a rotating basis — like how bookstores and libraries have featured tables or sections. This could help with book discovery. But I’m just not certain it’s the way to go. That money could be used for more e-books, right? Then again, there are tons of people who want to donate physical books, too, and they don’t like that I’m emphasizing e-books lately. What do you think?

    Your last paragraph is totally spot on. The point is that the KCP helps high school students to read again. And I think it also may change our society’s expectations about who is a reader, who gets to be a reader.

Please share your brilliant insights!