10 September 2006


They are way too expensive, and the available title is obviously geared to the "senior-citizen-fading-vision" crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that), but the idea proves that the age of Universal Design for "the medium formerly known as print" has arrived.

Playaway is a pre-loaded minimal iPod type thing that plays books, and is powered by a replaceable AA-battery. Right now there are only 121 titles, available on-line and from some Barnes&Noble, Borders, and OfficeMax stores and the cost starts at $35, but have no fear, this is technology that will catch on fast, and the prices are likely to fall to "Trade Paperback" levels ($14-$17 US) very soon.

Playaway allows you to set bookmarks, it allows you to control the speed, it can be plugged in to any external speaker unit (for example, your car stereo or home stereo) for family listening. It comes with earbuds but you can plug your favorite headset into it. They promise that the sound quality is "as good as any other audio book," which seems fine.

Every day we learn why we should stop beating up kids who struggle with reading - if it is not working for them, we should be teaching them how to access content in ways that do work. Playaway is one more example of why "print at all costs" school administrators are living in the last century, and need to start giving kids what they need for the future.

- Ira Socol


Anonymous said...

"Every day we learn why we should stop beating up kids who struggle with reading - if it is not working for them, we should be teaching them how to access content in ways that do work."

How utterly ridiculous! If a student can't read, then listening to audio books won't help them to learn how to read. What will help them to learn to read is....ready for it? Reading!


Unknown said...

Of course college profs are not trained teachers, and, of course, they rarely - if ever - get to work with students with severe reading issues because those students never reach college.

It is a shame that this commenter has such a small view of "reading." According to him/her the blind never learn to read, and I have never read hundreds of books that I have read.

He/she also confuses "decoding" with "reading." The vital part for our students is the "reading" - the comprehension and the cognitive processing.

"Reading" is accessing recorded information - and processing it. This can be done (and must be taught) whether the student is decoding via print, via audiobook, via computer reader, via Braille, via whatever...

Denying a student access to an education while they struggle perhaps permanently with a decoding system that does not work for them is absurd, and cruel. Would "Asst Prof" also tell a student who could not walk that the best way to learn to walk was to walk? - Oh wait, I know the view of "disability" held by way too many College Professors, "Asst Prof" would probably say that "wheelchairs are cheating."

Anonymous said...

"Of course college profs are not trained teachers"

No, most of us are. We also know the difference between "knowing how to teach" and "spewing educrat gobbledygook".

"According to him/her the blind never learn to read.....via Braille..."

And the educrat contradicts himself again! All too easy...

"Denying a student access to an education"

No one's talking about denying anyone an education. Quite the contrary, I want more people to be able to read, not less.

"'Asst Prof' would probably say that "wheelchairs are cheating."

Nope. Stop guessing, educrat.

Unknown said...

"Educrat" - I like that. Of course I am not that at all, I'm a dyslexic grad student hunting real solutions. I'm a VocRehab worker dealing with the wreckage of the education system. What I believe is that you are defining reading far too narrowly - you want people to read like you do, at all costs. I know the college that you work at has little or no support for students with these special educational/lifespan needs.

We work in a nation where fewer than 30% of people read "proficiently." Perhaps you need to be more aggressive at looking for new solutions.

Anonymous said...

It's really an argument of definition here. Whether 'reading' means listening to an audiobook or not.

It seems to me that those with a disability against reading should at least learn the mechanics of reading. It's pretty important. But if I have such a disability, and also have a prerequisite English class, and I have to read Moby Dick, then should I be disqualified if I don't actually, physically, *read* it? If I watch the movie or listen to the audiobook, have I 'read' Moby Dick?

If I take a test on Moby Dick in my English class, and get an A, having listened to it instead of reading it, how can someone argue that I don't understand the story?

If the story of Captain Ahab is important to our culture, then knowing the story is important to the student. If reading the story out of a book is more important than understanding the story itself, then what happened to the value of the story?


Unknown said...

This brings up the next question and perhaps my next post. What does "mechanics of reading" really mean? I would suggest that the true mechanics of reading are the comprehension skills. How does one understand how words build sentences and sentences build meaning. The "mechanics of decoding" are different and variable. Decoding is not the same in Chinese and in Roman Language alphabets. It is not the same in ASL. Or in Braille. But none of those people should be left out of the wonder of reading.

For the past few years reading teachers have been consumed with "fluency." The result is all the students that I meet who, at 18, can "decode" perfectly but have no idea what they've read.

I sure wish the instructional time had been spent on actual reading instruction using audiobooks or computer readers. Those students would have a much better chance at success.

Anonymous said...

By 'mechanics of reading,' I mean more along the lines of minimal literacy without assistive tech. I think that letting students who are capable of minimal literacy out of school without at least some skills would be a real missed opportunity. My point, I suppose, is that you teach to capability.

I could be stating the obvious, or maybe full of crap. :-)


Unknown said...

I don't disagree. The thing I like best about computer readers is that students "see and hear" - they thus often (if they are capable) strongly improve their sight-word recognition. I have yet to see the student who began to enjoy reading through audiobooks or computer readers and didn't want to build at least some "traditional" reading skills - I've even heard, "I wish I could read my girlfriend's notes." So whatever is the motivator.

The problem is the students who are denied educations because they struggle with decoding. They move all the way through elementary school without getting content at all. They are bored and miserable. And a significant number will simply never be able to decode the alphabet. Not giving them audio is just cruel.

Anonymous said...

"'Educrat' - I like that. Of course I am not that at all"

You certainly seem to be. You strike me as someone who has never taught anything at all--at least, not any course with a significant amount of content (i.e. so-called "education" courses). However, that doesn't stop you from pretending that you know everything that there is to know about teaching and, by golly, you're not afraid to stick your nose in other people's pedagogy.

"you want people to read like you do, at all costs"

The above quote was brought to you by the department of redundancy department.

Of *course* I want people to read how I do: by looking at the words, recognizing what they mean (or looking them up if one doesn't), and recognizing how the words fit together. You may as well be complaining that I want all people to breathe the way I breathe (i.e. with an intake of air into the respiratory system, where the oxygen is transferred to the blood stream via the alveoli, etc).

Utterly laughable!

"I know the college that you work at has little or no support for students with these special educational/lifespan needs."

Oh really? What makes you think that you know anything about the university at which I work?

"We work in a nation where fewer than 30% of people read 'proficiently.'"

Citation, please? I had heard that illiteracy has been on the rise recently, but I'm skeptical that it's that rampant.

Anonymous said...

Aack! My first "i.e." in my previous post should've been an "e.g".

That's what I get for typing before my morning coffee kicks in...

Unknown said...

Well, I have taught a great many "content-rich" courses, at Pratt Institute, at Grand Valley State University, and at Michigan State, along with leading dozens of seminars and short term courses, so, maybe I know "just a little."

Of course I looked up where you are "hitting the site" from, and, of course, I did quick research on that. I may not be 100% accurate but if there is strong high-tech LD support on your campus no one is discussing it - which surely means - at least - that it is not being made commonly available.

But importantly, you revealed it all, "Of *course* I want people to read how I do: by looking at the words, recognizing what they mean (or looking them up if one doesn't), and recognizing how the words fit together." And part of this is ok, but "looking at words" (that is, alphabetic decoding) does not work for a significant percentage of people. This is especially true in "non-phonetic" languages like English and French. So what to do? Because yes, the world would be easier, I suppose, if we could all walk, all read print on paper, could all hear (perhaps) - and do we extend that? - were all white, Protestant, and spoke American English - but you know, the world is not that way. And while you are "privileging methods" I am seeking the possibilities of Universal Design for Learning.

I don't think that I am out of the research mainstream here. I think my work is pretty well grounded in some of the best educational work of the past half century - from Neil Postman to David Rose.

OK - one more thing - In the past 30 years no more than 34% of those in high school have ever read "proficiently" on the NAEP. That is - those IN high school. Of course drop outs are not figured in those percentages - and I am, perhaps unfairly, guessing that, as a group, drop outs would score LESS WELL than those in school. I realize that you see college students, thus the top 25%-30% of students nationwide, but that hardly represents the full story of education in the United States.

Anyway, pass along who you are, and we can truly debate this - over good coffee...

-Ira Socol

Anonymous said...

"Anyway, pass along who you are"

Sorry, but I don't want to do that. You seem to already know too much (specifically, where I work).

I will say that you do seem to have good intentions. But consider the fact that kids nowadays are blasted from all sides with glittering graphics, audio tracks, and multimedia presentations...will more of the same really be effective?

Unknown said...

Email me if you'd like. I can be quite discreet despite my own willingness to be "out there" on controversial issues.

But no one has ever shown via research that listening to books or using multi-sensory computer readers (try Microsoft Reader in combination with the University of Virginia's e-text library if you want to fully check this out for free) hurts any form of literacy. In fact, in the vast majority of cases it sure seems to improve it. James Gee (U Wisconsin) and others especially note that it can offer the kind of "expert vocabulary" that many "disadvantaged" children do not get at home. And because of the powerful correlation between that kind of speech/vocabulary and future reading competencies, it seems remarkably important.

And here's the thing. We are not going to reverse history. Kids will be blasted by all those things. And just as those ancient Greeks opposed literacy and written language because it would "destroy memory and learning," I understand the threat to the world "as we have known it." But I think we better find ways to make peace with the present and the future, and to leverage ubiquitous technology to our advantage.