Using Free Ebooks Efficiently-Part 1

Can all of your students read the history textbook which you are about to hand out?

When I taught in the Cleveland Public Schools fifty years or so ago, this was a major problem. The only advice I received about students and reading was “Don’t call on anyone to read out loud. You don’t want to embarrass anyone.” I totally agree with this strategy, but the question of how to encourage readers who can’t handle the textbook remains a challenge today.

Cleveland has not solved its problems with reading, I am sorry to say. Results there have been so bad that the state took control of Cleveland’s schools in 1995. State control did not lead to improvements. As a writeup of the Cleveland Public Schools states, “Shortcomings of Cleveland’s public schools are the result of confused and conflicted priorities; poverty and racial or social segregation; short-lived dysfunctional educational campaigns; mass education that ignores developmental needs for individualized learning of students with different abilities….”

Yes, yes, yes. Students have different reading abilities. Many, many students in low-income communities are reading below grade-level. Some far below grade level.

So what is to be done if the World History book is written at a 9th grade reading level and many of your students are reading at a 6th grade level? You know that they won’t read the textbook no matter how many homework assignments you provide. Instead, they will listen intently to class discussions and use their notes to pass tests on content.

I recommend putting the textbook aside and finding an easy to read ebook. If you are new to teaching, these easy to read titles are know as hi-low texts, for hi-interest, low vocabulary or low readability level. See some explanations here and here .

Military history offers many examples of hi-low texts which are free ebooks. I love Serenade to the Big Bird about US pilots fighting in Germany in World War II. It is written at a sixth grade reading level and could be part of a series on The United States at War or a similar title in a World History course or an American History course. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “A book of terrific impact. Perhaps the best to come out of World War II.” There are several other military history ebooks on this site about World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. All are more exiting than textbooks and several are at easier reading levels.

Free ebooks about Black History and Latino history is also available on this site and they could become part of alternatives to difficult to read history textbooks. The Mary McLeod Bethune ebook is an excellent example. See other Black History titles here.

Other free ebook sites such as Project Gutenberg may offer similar titles. Vendors such as Overdrive may also have a rich catalog of hi-low texts if your school is an Overdrive subscriber.

Next: Where can students read these free ebooks? Can students read ebooks on desktop computers or are tablets or convertible Chromebooks needed?

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