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Kindling the Flame

The night before the school librarian was to give a book talk to my class she brought the books home.  The next day, she was out sick.  Five years ago this would have meant a total change in lesson plans.  Not anymore.  Instead of a back-up activity, my class participated in a typical 21st century task, they Googled the titles and read the reviews.  I watched as my students browsed sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and viewed blogs and author pages in order to make decisions about what to read.  I listened as they shared a book’s “rating” with each other; making the connection to skills they had learned writing their own reviews.  They were engaged, enthusiastic, and totally on task.  We talked about how to reserve books using the public library’s website and their library card.  Then came the big question, “If I have a Kindle, can I use that?”

Recently e-readers have become widely popular, especially with the event of the iPad. This popularity, along with the Millennial Generation’s affinity for all things technical, has brought about a shift in the market, with adolescents representing a large number of eReader sales, and resulting in a surge in YA downloads.  As a teacher, I want to promote access to tools like this that encourage reading and help students develop critical literacy skills.  But policies designed to protect students, often restrict this.  While there is a movement to lift restrictions and provide students with access to personal devices in school, fear of negative backlash is holding many school districts back.  What does this mean with regard to the digital divide?  Recent studies by the PEW Research Center have found that when it came to broadband access at home, Whites far outranked their minority counterparts, however, Latino’s are more likely to access the internet on a cell phone “in lieu of a home internet connection” (2011).  Providing access to such devices and teaching students to use them as an educational tool could level the playing field in a country where minorities are more often connected to the Internet through their cellphones than on a home computer.

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