Tag Archives: eReader

Critical Reading with an iPad: Good, Not so Good or just Different

13 Nov

This was an interesting email sent to me by one of our AP English teachers.  The email describes his class’s experience using the iPad to read critically.  

About a week and a half ago the students finished reading their first full-length novel in iBooks, The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I asked the class for their feedback on the process of reading a full-length novel on the iPad, since this was the first time we had done it. Up to this point all of our readings had been shorter works such as essays and poems – things I would’ve handed out as Xerox copies in previous years.


There were several interesting comments they made about the experience of reading on the iPad, several of which I thought I would share with you and you are welcome to share them for the larger record in the iPad pilot. I had 20 students in class on the day I did this in informal survey. All of the comments below were agreed to by at least two or three students.


Students said that the iPad fundamentally improved their notetaking process, but in an unexpected way. They said at the beginning they found it very frustrating that they couldn’t simply take out a pen and write quick handwritten notes in the margin or underline quickly. Then as they continued reading, they realized that the extra effort of highlighting and opening up a note was actually beneficial to them. They said that it made them very conscientious of when they wanted to take a note. The girl who spoke in the most detail said that she normally would highlight huge sections of the book and never be sure why. She just had a gut instinct that they were important paragraphs or something like that. But with the iPad and the extra effort it took to actually get a note in the margin, she found herself being much more thoughtful about the way she annotated a text. She felt like she needed to know what important ideas she had to add in order to go to the extra trouble of making that note. To me as an English teacher, this is an immensely important change for students like this girl. Annotating become something that they are much more thoughtful about then simply making a star or a highlight. I did not anticipate the specific reaction, but I’m thrilled to see it happening.


Several students expressed some frustration with the inability to quickly see the notes in the margin while they were reading, since in iBooks all you see is a small colored square indicating that a note is embedded at that location. But as soon as that comment came out a large number of students suggested that they were really pleased to be able to see the larger pattern of notetaking and highlighting in a text by looking at the screen that shows all of their notes together on one page. They liked the idea of being able to review and even email their collective notes on a text. This was an improvement I anticipated, and I was pleased to see it raised by the students without my input.


Some students found the variety of colors irritating or overwhelming, but other students found the variety of highlighting colors helpful. A couple of the mentioned that they would never have that many highlighting tools on their person with a paper text, but they like the idea of being able to develop their own color-coded system in a digital text.


Several students said that they liked reading on an illuminated screen for a number of reasons. The funniest reason that two students mentioned was that the bright light shining in their eyes helps to keep them awake if they were doing homework at a late hour. Not sure if we want to enter that into the record, but I was amused that several students agreed with this.


Finally, I surveyed the 20 students in the room after we had gone over assorted likes and dislikes of reading a novel in iBooks. I asked them to choose one of three options: (1) reading a novel in iBooks was a net minus with more irritations that benefits compared to a paper text; (2) reading a novel in iBooks was a net plus with more benefits than irritations compared to a paper text; or (3) reading a novel in iBooks was equivalent to reading a paper text, with different sets of positive and negative qualities that balanced out about the same as reading a book on paper. The results were: net minus = 0 students; net plus = 10 students; about the same = 10 students.

This was a very surprising result for me, as I anticipated that there would be at least a handful of students who found the reading less appealing on the iPad. Now granted I have five students absent that day (there were several field trips) but on the whole this was a very positive development.


I wanted to make sure I put it down for the record, so that you could share it in whatever way makes sense. Feel free to get back to me with any other questions you might have about this, and I’ll keep you in the loop on things. I’m having a very hard time getting to Technology Planning Committee meetings this year, because they fall I have day where I have some family obligations in the afternoon. I will not be able to attend this week’s meeting either.