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Immersion Reading for Reluctant or Challenged Readers – Canadian Version

I want to share an approach with parents who have an older reluctant/challenged reader. Our son (ds) is almost ten and loves having long novels read aloud to him, and listening to audiobooks. He has dyslexia and reads at a grade 3.5 level approximately. Immersion Reading was recommended for ds by the Eide Neurolearning Clinic. Dr. Brock Eide, a world expert on dyslexia, thought that it would help ds with reading, by passively increasing his reading vocabulary and helping with his visual tracking challenges.

Immersion Reading is a process whereby you read a text on an e-reader while you listen to the text narrated. The words are highlighted as they’re spoken. You can adjust the speed of the narration. This is what it looks like:

Currently, Immersion Reading is available only on the following devices, as far as I know:
• Kindle Fire (Latest Generation)
• Kindle Fire HD
• Kindle Fire HD 8.9
• Kindle Fire HD 8.9 4G LTE

We bought the Kindle Fire HD with  7″ display (currently CAN$214), along with the charger (not included, currently CAN$9.99). I’ll probably be buying a protective waterproof cover for it as well (so that I can use it outdoors with my work).

Our experience has been that it’s a pleasure to read on the Kindle – the display is excellent and the 7″ version is very friendly to adult and children hands. The sound quality is also excellent.

After about an hour, ds became very comfortable with Immersion Reading. Initially, it’s a bit odd to have the visual and audio input at the same time, but I see benefits to that. Ds does Immersion Reading some days, and regular reading from a hardcopy book other days. I think that Immersion Reading really positive for ds because, although the process is a bit more passive than reading unassisted, it’s bridging the gap between completely passive absorption of an audiobook vs. reading books that he is interested in (that aren’t necessarily ideal for his level of fluency).

Recently, we found out that the library did not stock the next book in the audiobook series that ds was listening to. As a rare treat, I decided to buy the audiobook for ds so that he could continue the series. I found out, however, that it was actually cheaper to buy the Kindle book with narration than it was to buy the stand-alone audiobook! So I bought the Kindle book with narration but told ds that he could use it as an audiobook and didn’t have to read it. What I have found is that ds is often doing Immersion Reading with that book even though he doesn’t have to! Ds has never read for pleasure before, so it’s a big milestone for him :) .

Kindle books are not cheap and cost is a major issue. I would not make this available for my child unless I was convinced that it could help him improve his reading skills and experience. Having said that, adding narration is not too expensive once you have paid for the Kindle book. If we look at a 39 Clues book for example, the Kindle book costs US$7.05 and the narration is an additional US$3.49 – that’s for 5 hours and 10 minutes of reading at the regular speed. My son reads at 0.5 X speed, so that’s 10 hours and 20 minutes of Immersion Reading for him. I can justify the cost of about $1/hour in our case. My library is not offering Immersion Reading-friendly books for loan at this time.

As far I know, Immersion Reading can only be easily done with Whispersync for Voice-Ready books via amazon.com (not amazon.ca). Although I am in Canada, I had to change my account to be based with amazon.com, not amazon.ca, in order to easily download books to my Kindle. I assume that Whispersync for Voice-Ready books will become available via amazon.ca eventually. If you look at a book that can be used for Immersion Reading (for example this book), the description includes “Whispersync for Voice: Ready”.

Before buying a Kindle device in order to do Immersion Reading, satisfy yourself that the selection of titles is acceptable to you. An annoyance is that it’s very hard to browse through books that are in the Whispersync for Voice-Ready category – once you click on the Children’s eBooks sub-category there is no option to browse deeper or search! [edited to add - One actually can search within Kindle Store › Whispersync for Voice - See All › Children's eBooks ›]. You can browse within Children’s eBooks within the regular Kindle section, but then you have to check individual books to see whether they are Immersion Reading-friendly. There are obviously some kinks for amazon to work out in their new product category.

One might ask, “why not just read out loud to one’s child and have them read along”? That is a good point, and it may work very well for some families. In our case, there are quite a few benefits to Immersion Reading on the Kindle Fire as opposed to following along as a parent reads:

  1. I read aloud to my children on a daily basis. I like that my ds can work independently on his personal reading however. That frees me up to focus on educational activities where the children really do need adult input.
  2. With the Kindle Fire, ds can control the size/style/colour of the font, the background colour, and the speed and volume of the narration. With his visual and auditory processing challenges, that control seems to help the reading process quite a bit.
  3. According to an educator from the dyslexia@bayTM System, running one’s finger under words is not helpful for dyslexic readers. He mentions it in this YouTube video. I do not have independent verification of that, but I can understand his logic. Certainly, the highlighting that happens with Immersion Reading using the Kindle Fire seems ideal in terms of helping with word tracking.

It should be mentioned that the Kindle Fire is far more than an e-reader. It seems to have most of the functionality that other tablets offer. The major limitation is that app availability is limited to amazon’s apps for Android unless you know some techie tricks. There are some children’s educational apps that look interesting, but I haven’t explored them in depth.

I hope that this helpful for parents who are looking for a different approach to helping their older children who have reading challenges.

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Q & A with my nine-year-old dyslexic son:

me: What was it like starting Immersion Reading?

son: It was hard at first, then it was fun. It’s a really cool system.

me: How is it different reading an Immersion Reading book versus a regular book?

son: Immersion reading is a bit more fun, because if you can’t figure out a word, it will help you, then next time you’ll know.

me: What do you think about reading a Kindle book versus a regular book?

son: I like how you can customize the text, how big it is, the background, the colour of the writing.

me: Is there anything you would change about reading on the Kindle?

son: I find the pages turn too easily. I always accidentally turn the pages and then I have to wait for it [the narration] to get back to the page. It would be better to have a button to turn the page.

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Overall, I think that the Kindle Fire is a great device for dyslexic readers, because of the quality of the display and sound, the book selection, and the customizability. My son enjoys reading both Immersion Reading and regular reading on the Kindle.

Some suggestions for Amazon and Audible to make the Kindle Fire an even better device for dyslexic readers:

  1. make Whispersync titles available on amazon.ca
  2. add more Whispersync titles, especially within the category of novels appropriate for older children
  3. consider making an “Immersion Reading Store” within the Kindle Store to make it easy to find, search for, and browse within Whispersync titles
  4. make it possible to browse within the Children’s subcategory of Whispersync titles – include age and subject categories
  5. for Whispersync titles, show the total cost of Kindle book + added narration in title list when searching or browsing
  6. for Whispersync titles, display the time length of the narration, if added

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This post was updated Sep. 9, 2013.

 

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