It’s no secret that the educational applications of the e-reader, and the tablet computers, for that matter, are limitless. There isn’t an achievement level out there that cannot somehow benefit from the use of paperless books in a typical classroom setting.
The ESL (English as a Second Language) and ELL (English Language Learners) programs, as well as the low-ability reader programs, can benefit greatly from the read-aloud and font-size dynamics of the devices, the instant download capability can be an asset to any classroom of readers, and the ability to have all of the titles at the touch of a button means instant access to the entire curriculum. Higher achieving and gifted students can have access to materials that the rest of the class may not be ready for, alleviating classroom boredom and increasing self-study skills and achievement.
But it always comes back to money.
One of the greatest things about the advent of e-readers as a whole is the removal of a large portion of the financial strain teachers and school systems face. When deciding to purchase classroom copies of a required text, one title alone can cost between $300 and $600 dollars, which translates into purchasing one set of books per school year, at best. With the incorporation of e-readers into the classroom, the cost of an individual student copy of a title can be minimized to pennies on the dollar, not even taking into account the free public domain titles. And with some brands of e-readers allowing a title to be placed on up to six e-readers at a time, the costs become much more manageable.
But not every book comes free. There are several creative ways to fund the use of academic e-readers, but the first step is to eliminate the core problem of using state and federal funds. Many school systems are still not set up for using system funds for “invisible” objects such as e-reader titles and software downloads. Basically, if the school cannot slap a “Property of…” sticker on it, it cannot be purchased with school funds. As the increase of downloaded information makes its way to the classroom, this problem will be addressed. But how does a teacher purchase e-readers and their titles today?
First, for years parents have been responsible for footing the bill when it comes to extras in school, such as science lab fees and student subscriptions to educational magazines for use in the curriculum. Requesting an optional e-reader title fee would allow the classroom teacher to purchase additional titles while permitting parents the option to donate or not as their needs dictate. But rather than pile another fee for public education onto the families, grants become the classroom teacher’s best friend.
There is a wealth of grants available for classrooms, especially for literacy education, low socioeconomic school populations, and English language learners. These grants can cover not only the cost of e-readers, but the titles as well. The recipient will need to be able to prove the population to be served and generally provide a brief impact report at the end of the grant year, which for reading education would typically mean having a way to test readers’ grade-level equivalent scores at the beginning of the year (or use the previous year’s standardized test scores) and then provide the end of the year score as a basis to suggest the overall effectiveness.
Since most grants are provided in the form of a total dollar amount check from the organization, classroom teachers would need to have a mechanism in place to use those funds and track the invoices for each title purchased. If the school or school system does not maintain a credit card or account with an existing purchasing provider, the check from the organization can be used to purchase a gift card or gift certificate, such as an Amazon.com gift card for Kindle titles, a Barnes and Noble gift card for Nook, or an iStore certificate for schools that utilize iPads in the classroom.
Grant writing used to be a daunting undertaking, but with the inception of so many mini-grants, online applications are taking the place of lengthy treatises. A lot of thought must still go into the grant application process, but it’s not necessarily the chore it used to be. Also remember that each classroom will have parents who are willing partners in their children’s educations but who are unable to come to the school during the workday; these parents might be overjoyed to apply for grants for e-readers and e-books, because it’s a way to contribute some much-appreciated volunteer time when it better fits their schedules.
An additional consideration when writing your grant for e-readers and titles would be to demonstrate that this grant will be a long-term benefit. Not only will this school year’s students use these funds for reading education, but once the e-readers are purchased and the titles are downloaded, they can become a permanent fixture in the school curriculum. Therefore, the population served will not only include the several hundred students of the current school year, but will also include the projected school population. Five years is a very reasonable expectation for the e-readers to be used in their original condition.
Also remember to include mention of the application that many e-readers are now offering, which is the book-to-PC option. Once the e-books are purchased with the grant funding, they can be read by the students on a home computer as part of a home-based learning design. This becomes an especially important consideration to point out in the grant application when you are promoting an ESL curriculum, because the ESL students are returning home at the end of the school day to a household that may not have English language proficiency. By incorporating a read-aloud feature, the students can bring spoken English with them to the home, a factor which is important for any student learning a foreign language, but especially elementary school-aged students.
When looking for grant sources, the internet becomes a teacher’s best friend. Basic searches for “literacy grant,” “ESL instructional grants,” and more, can lead to more applications than a teacher can fill out in a school year. Deadlines are currently approaching as the school year draws to a close, as many organizations serving public and private K through 12th schools will make their determinations over the summer and award the grants in August or September.
Until the accountants catch up with the classrooms, grant funding will continue to be an invaluable means of purchasing e-readers and their downloads. And until the day comes that schools can provide for every classroom teacher’s technological dreams, those grants will have to be sought out and earned by the classroom teacher.