This year, I decided to introduce the possibility of reading on a computer at silent reading time much earlier in the school year than last year with my third grade reading group. I started by encouraging the reading of student blogs.
This was pretty exciting to everybody at first, even though they had barely been exposed to what blogs actually were. Eventually, interest kind of leveled off, with some kids going back to books when they couldn't find anything written by kids that interested them.
Then a couple of weeks ago somebody asked if they could read news, from CBBC. Of course, I said. I had set up an rss feed to it on our school's web site, so it was real easy for the kids to get there.
There were pictures, both a blessing and a curse online. And of course there were links to plenty of other stuff, like online quizzes, flash animations of this and that - and games! "But I got here from the news site" was a popular explanation for straying off course from "silent reading".
So I was forced to lay out some expectations real clearly, based on what I felt was reading that would stretch and yet reward their reading chops. For instance, reading captions on a series of pictures was not OK. Were they reading? They all claimed to be, but I watched as kids went back and forth from one picture to another... So eventually I said no, they at least had to be looking at a screen with more space devoted to words than pictures. This was uncomfortable for me at times, as I'd much rather have the kids decide, reason and discuss it out - but my third graders are 8 and 9 year olds. Sometimes it's more important to be clear than permissive.
It has been a challenge, but in the last couple of days we have reached a good place. Kids are reading news articles - for understanding. The pictures hook them in, but they do read. I've added a little debriefing/sharing time right after silent reading for the kids to tell us all a little about what they were reading. Most can't wait to tell something incredible they just learned. Topping the list are often stories like the cat with two heads... but there are also mentions of a football stadium collapse in Brazil, with a discussion of the fact that "football" in Brazil, and most of the world outside of the US, means soccer. Some popular articles today:
I imagine their tastes and interests will change. I bet they will discover and be attracted to new sources of information (that will be good places for them to stretch their reading comprehension and decoding skills). They will also quite likely be drawn to sites that will be the equivalent of comic book "reading" - which I will quite likely say no to.
In the meantime, they are becoming better readers, because they are motivated. And their world is shrinking, their global understanding is expanding, and they are making deliberate choices about what type of reading really appeals to them.