Take a look in my office, my kitchen, and my living room and you'll notice bookshelves lining the walls, aged paper-texts stacked tightly filling the shelves.
So, when it came time to take a look at online reading, I stood last in line and let others cut ahead. Then I saw my students read from the smartphone, Kindle, Nook, and laptop, and began to notice the incredible benefit online reading has to struggling learners.
Ditch the nostalgia of a good paperback and the feel of soft edges for a thin piece of plastic and you may be amazed at what you'll find. Take what Brad found, for instance.
As a senior in high school, Brad still clung to Goosebumps as his go-to independent reading book. When 1984 or "The Wasteland" came across his desk, his eyes glazed over and Sparknotes became the go-to. Then, I saw him read 1984 on his smart device. Instead of growing confused with the new Orwellian lexicon, Brad grew used to highlighting a word to find its meaning, listening to how the word sounded, and even surfing the web to learn more about the contextual analogies Orwell makes to tyrannic government control.
When it came time for Socratic discussion, Brad had more enthusiasm and context than some of the stronger readers who clung to the paperback.
So, for anyone struggling with a dense paperback who wants to grow as a reader, here are a few reasons to make the shift to online reading.
3 Reasons Online Reading Trumps The Paperback
1. Real-time Vocabulary
In the words of Hamlet, "Words, Words Words." And for a man who spoke far too many, Hamlet knows the value of a growing vocabulary (click to tweet).
It's downright silly to expect young readers to quickly learn the vocabulary of texts that use words way different than the lingo of the reader. So, for things like Shakespeare, real-time vocabulary really helps the struggling reader gain a clue at whatever Shakespeare was talking about. Quite funny when you think that one reason we love discussing his work is becuase we don't really know what he was talking about half the time.
Even if the text uses more current wordage, dense texts that challenge readers to grow cognitively use words that are like Greek to English readers. A quick highlight, click, then definition, helps keep struggling readers following along. If readers get caught up in the language by not knowing what a word means, they lose the ability to engage in a great book's more important aspects like challenging themes that provoke the mind to go, "huh…mmmm…interesting". This is how we get the gears rolling.
2. When in Doubt, Google it
Forget the tight-fist of Big Brother, if students want to know information they can just google it. For instance, many great authors use deep cultural analogies that may fall out of common cultural knowledge with each passing generation. When this happens, online readers can quickly Google images to show the slave shackles on Amistad or check Wikipedia to learn about Malleus Maleficarum if they picked up Aleph by Paulo Coelho
3. Online Active Discussion
Okay, so I don't yet know of a program that will do this, but I envision online reading software that will allow students to discuss a text together through Cornell-style notes (a.k.a. double-entry journal). Kind of like when students can comment on a Google document, students will one-day be able to deconstruct a literary piece like 1984 without needing a separate notebook.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. Nothing beats reading Dracula in paperback by candlelight, but if readers don't get my Big Brother references, please quickly google Big Brother ( or just click on the hyperlink).