Monday, December 1, 2014

Using a Kindle Fire with my Struggling Readers

Today, there are going to be a number of bloggers writing up some stories about what they love about using tablets -- especially Kindle Fires -- in their homeschooling.  I'm sure those will be wonderful, showcasing some fantastic apps, or highlighting how you can use it for listening to audio (Bible Memory verse CDs come to mind), or about all the amazing ebooks out there.

I agree with those reasons.
Kindle ebook

But I want to tell you why my family owns multiple Kindle Fires (four of them) and how one changed the life of my 16-year-old.

Two years ago, we pooled together gift money in order to purchase a Kindle Fire for William for his 14th birthday.  It seemed a rather extravagant gift at the time.  What pushed me to make this purchase was the brand-new Immersion ability of the Kindle Fire.

You may have heard of the Whisper-Sync ability with the Kindle Fires.  Switch back and forth from ebook to audiobook.  Neat feature, but not something I need.  And my old Kindle Fire (that would be the #1 Fire) could do that.

The very, very cool aspect, though, is that that same technology lets you listen to the audiobook while reading the ebook.  And the words in the ebook are highlighted as the professional narrator reads the audiobook.

That's magic. Let me show you:

I have a couple of kids who really struggle with reading.  One was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.  He loves great literature -- especially when I read it aloud, or we get an audiobook.  But he struggles so much to read the material himself.  Two years ago, when we bought the new and improved Kindle Fire, he was turning 14, and reading fairly comfortably at about a 4th grade level.  He could struggle through material -- v-e-r-y---s-l-o-w-l-y -- for middle school.  And his comprehension was good, because he really is a smart kid.

We got the Kindle Fire (that would be #2), and I loaded it up with the cheap books.  Books where you could get the ebook free, and then get the Audible book for $1 or even free.  Tale of Two Cities was the first one he chose to read/listen.

He. Loved. It.

He read through that book three or four times in four months, plus read some other materials too.  We had tried this on our own, with an audiobook and a physical book.  Good, but not great.  With Immersion, he can daydream for a couple of minutes, or be distracted, or whatever... and glance back down, and the words are highlighted so he knows where he is.  He doesn't have to scan pages of text to figure out where he is.

That means he is truly reading for at least a pretty big chunk of the book.

The moment I knew that this Kindle Fire was worth every. single. penny?  We were driving down the road about five months after his 14th birthday.  One thing that used to worry me, when I'd get to thinking about it, was how in the world he was ever going to drive.  Not the driving part... the reading signs as they fly by on the road.  I really did not think I could possibly get him to a point where he could do that.

On that early spring day, he started reading signs to me as we passed them.

I had to struggle to not break down sobbing.  I did, later, when he wasn't around (and when I wasn't driving!)  The only thing we had done differently during those few months was using the Immersion feature on the Kindle Fire.

It's been two years, almost to the day, since he got that Kindle.  He's in high school, and he's reading things like Aeschylus' Oresteia and Sophocles' Oedipus.  Last quarter, he went through all of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey using immersion.  But this quarter, I couldn't find audio versions.  So he is reading them himself.

To recap:  two years ago, he couldn't read road signs while we were driving, and he was reading around a 4th grade level.  Now, he's reading Sophocles independently.  Sophocles, by the way, pops up as "college level" for reading levels, when I went searching.  

Needless to say, last November, another struggling reader son received a Kindle Fire (#3) for his 13th birthday, primarily so he could do the "Immersion thing" too.  His reading has improved dramatically over the last year as well.

And to round it out with #4, since my Fire couldn't do the immersion thing, at one point last spring, they had a deal of the day going on refurbished Fires.  So I bought myself a new one, which is what is in the video above.

Kindle Fires are far less expensive now than they used to be. And as I edit this post two years later, they have dropped even more.  Enough that this is my #1 recommendation for kids who struggle to read.


Unknown said...

What a blessing to read how much the Kindles have helped. :-) This was a great post that I will be telling others about for sure!

DeliveringGrace said...

Wow, that is impressive. I have a bright, struggling reader. It can be so sad at times when she would love to read something but can't. I had been toying with the idea of a Kindle Fire but this makes me think that this would be an ideal route. The highlighted word feature seems especially useful: it seems particularly difficult for these readers to refind a place.