A team of researchers at Southern Methodist University loaned Kindles to 199 6th, 7th, and 8th graders last spring, and not nearly as many walked off as they would have at my school.
The classrooms of 2 teachers were equipped with 30 Kindles each, and the students were encouraged to read on the Kindles during their free and silent reading periods. A subset of the students were polled and interviewed both before and after the study, which stretched from March to May 2011. The study set out to answer 3 research questions:
- Do “reading improvement” middle school students’ attitudes towards reading change positively after two months of reading with an electronic reader?
- Do “reading improvement” middle school students’ reading scores on state tests (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, i.e. TAKS) change positively after a described duration of time reading with an electronic reader?
- What kinds of “response to text” notes are made by “reading improvement” middle school students who read on the electronic reader?
The third question was never tested due to the way that the teachers used the Kindles, but the other 2 were. In the second question, the students who used Kindles were compared to a control group. There was no noticeable difference in how much the test scores of one group improved as opposed to the other.
But the first research question came up with a couple sorts of interesting data points. This question was answered by data from the before and after surveys, as well as classroom observations and teacher feedback. The most noticeable difference was that the girls (n=14 students) valued reading less after the study was over than they did before, while the boys valued it more.
It's a fascinating paper, and I'd love to put more weight in the results. Unfortunately, I think the sample size is too small. Only 26 students were surveyed out of the 199 participating in the study. That's just not enough, IMO, to conclude that ereaders had a negative effect on whether middle school girls like to read. That is far too sweeping of a statement to make based on such a small sample. I'm also not sold on the study being based on classroom sets of Kindles. it would seem to me that having to share bookmarks and notes with students in other classes would be frustrating and possibly affect the results.
But there are a couple other useful bits of info. For example, the 2 teachers whose students participated in the study were interviewed after it was over, They noted a number of issues, including not enough content having been loaded on to the Kindles, hassles with collecting and charging the ereaders, and the added responsibility of policing the students so they don't use the Kindles browser to go online.
All in all, it's an interesting read.