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PTA and Kindle Form Partnership

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Photo: PTA Family Reading Experience event, Albuquerque, N.M.
(National PTA/Photographed by and used with permission of Lifetouch School Photography.)

When the National PTA announced its new Family Reading Experience campaign last week, it also announced that Amazon would be its main partner in the effort. According to a PTA news release, the program comprises a "curriculum" of vocabulary- and other literacy-skill-building activities hosted on Kindle e-readers donated by Amazon. The skill-building apps are designed to involve the whole family in reading instruction. Pilot programs have already been implemented in select schools in Baltimore and Albuquerque, N.M. As Fast Company reports, the Kindle platform allows readers at all levels to look up words as they read and have ready, mobile access to their libraries.

The PTA announcement cites a Scholastic-sponsored study of family reading habits, published in January. While that report was front-loaded with findings comparing print and e-book preferences among young readers, another look at the results and questionnaire suggest that the "Family" in Family Reading Report is what resonated most with PTA organizers.

In fact, the print and e-book preferences of young readers have a great deal to do with who they read with and around. Scholastic found that children value the privacy and portability of e-books, but prefer print in social reading situations. In response to a question about their e-book or print book preferences in different situations, children responded as follows:

QK29: For each of the situations you see here, do you think e-books or print books are better? Print Books EBooks
When I don't want my friends to know what I am reading 24% 54%
When I am out and about, traveling from one place to another 31% 43%
When I read at bedtime 53% 21%
When I want to share a book with my friends 65% 17%

Kids' preference for print in group reading, book-swapping, and family reading situations echoes their tendency to choose print when reading comics and other genres that lend themselves to collecting and trading. Reading together, or creating an environment in which reading is accepted, is apparently one of the strong influences upon children's reading habits and format preferences. By partnering with the PTA, Amazon appears to be targeting social, or family reading, an area in which children may currently be seen to prefer print.

In his introduction to the report, Scholastic Chairman Richard Robinson places the responsibility for improving literacy squarely on parents:

The formula for every child to become a successful reader is simple: have books available at home at all times and be a reading role model; allow children to read the books they choose to read; and set aside time—20 minutes or more each day—to read books for fun. With these practices, any child will not only become a fluent, skilled reader, but will also develop a love of books and reading that will last a lifetime.

While the idea of a "formula" for creating readers may hit an off note for some, Robinson's advice may strike others as refreshingly simple. It sidesteps a growing and occasionally disputed body of reading research, creative ways to transform language-arts instruction, as well as the kind of incentivized reading programs that many find distasteful. The Scholastic study authors conclude that access to books, reading role models, reading time, and reading choice are the baseline level of support necessary to create successful readers and also an accessible solution for most parents and guardians regardless of economic or other circumstance.

So ... is it really as easy as Robinson says? Could a relatively hands-off approach—modeling frequent reader behavior, allowing children latitude in their choice of reading material and format, and simply making time and space to read—be all it takes to create lifelong readers? The new PTA program aims to go beyond the baseline level of parental involvement in reading, and positions the Kindle as the vehicle through which to do so.

One useful takeaway from the Scholastic report is that it reinforces incremental change as an effective way to form habits. Twenty minutes a day isn't much, but it adds up. Plenty of so-called leadership literature, including books on student leadership and civic education, promotes positive and constructive habit-forming as the basis for successful students and citizens. In the PTA's program, not only would the Kindle fill the gap between how much parents want to be involved and how much they actually have time to do, but the campaign also places the Kindle at the center of a new kind of family time. Family Reading Experience proposes a new collective habit, and Amazon's involvement builds the Kindle right into that habit.

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