Every year in Shaun Banks’ class, her 4th graders write a biography on a benefactor who has benefitted their town.
Banks, a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, requires her pupils to use both print and online materials, including books on the individual they are researching as well as web searches and online articles. In addition, she observes major disparities in how her fourth-grade students engage the two styles.
A book is more “restricted and confined,” according to Banks. “If they are reading a book, that book will be all about them. It’s simpler for them to discover the information they need, to home in.”
Google searches can yield a far greater variety of results. “You have to help them to discover the needle in the haystack” while pupils are skimming online content, she explained.
Banks stated, “There is so much available to them, but they rarely see it.”
According to a poll conducted by Education Week, the great majority of U.S. instructors utilize a combination of digital and print materials in their courses, much like Banks. And evidence implies that other instructors would concur with Banks’ assessment of her kids’ understanding disparities.
The utilization of online curricula and digital reading materials precedes the epidemic by a significant amount of time. Nonetheless, the years of remote and hybrid learning during school closures solidified the position of digital devices and resources in schools.
Research indicate that children tend to score lower on comprehension tests after reading digital text compared to printed literature.
But, according to academics, the data is insufficient to conclude that reading physical books is preferable. In certain circumstances, digital books perform better than their print equivalents among young, developing readers, according to new study.
Virginia Clinton-Lisell, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of North Dakota, stated that elementary school teachers should not feel compelled to choose between print and digital formats for supporting students’ comprehension. Rather, they should focus on determining the most effective ways to support students’ comprehension in both formats.
“I see place for both in the future of the literary world,” she remarked.
Print improves focus, according to research.
The past several years have witnessed a significant surge of technology in schools—a development that many educators think will be permanent.
Before the start of the 2022-23 school year, the EdWeek Research Center surveyed teachers, administrators, and district officials to determine the extent to which technology played a role in their classrooms or schools in comparison to before the epidemic. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated that it played a larger or much larger part.
In a second poll conducted in the beginning of 2023, slightly more than half of the teachers said that their kids complete at least a quarter of their reading on screens.
According to Naomi Baron, emeritus professor of world languages and cultures at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of How We Read Now: Strategic Choices for Print, Screen, and Audio, there is less research on digital reading among elementary school children than among older children and college students.
Yet, she stated that the available data are largely similar across age groups. In general, students comprehend printed material better than digital.
“You tend to get more out of a print book if you read it in a focused manner,” she remarked.
Clinton-Lisell discovered in a 2019 meta-analysis that reading on screens had a detrimental impact on comprehension compared to reading printed material. Those who read print books also had a more accurate judgment of their own comprehension, whereas those who read online misjudged their level of comprehension.
Yet, Baron’s book describes specific research that provides nuance (available in both print and digital formats).
For instance, readers may recognize distinct, tangible characteristics in digitally-read paragraphs more easily than in print. But, they are better able to grasp the text’s broader, more abstract ideas when it is printed. These identical results have been reported in both undergraduate students and preschool-age youngsters.
The social setting is also important.
Clinton-Lisell explored “thought wandering” among college students while they were reading in a 2022 research. She began her study before the outbreak of the pandemic and continued it during a time when institutions, especially college campuses, depended on remote learning.
“After COVID, my subjects reported significantly greater mind wandering, but exclusively from screens,” she added.
Clinton-Lisell stated that around this time, kids were studying on screens, but also utilizing them for a variety of other purposes, such as chatting with friends and attending telehealth visits. “My impression is that kids, in general, reported screen weariness, or techno-stress, where they were simply fatigued from being on screens,” she stated.
Why are young children unique?
For extremely young children, studies have contradictory findings.
In a meta-analysis conducted in 2021, May Irene Furenes, Natalia Kucirkova, and Adriana G. Bus analyzed 39 papers comparing print and digital reading in children aged 1 to 8.
In several of the 39 studies, the paper and digital versions of the book were nearly identical. There may be some audio commentary or some areas of the text may be highlighted in the digital edition, but these are the only alterations. In these experiments, youngsters understood paper books better than their digital counterparts. The researchers concluded that the new chore of navigating the digital book—the clicking and swiping involved—could “draw the interest of young children at the detriment of their focus on the plot.”
When parents and young children read print books together, they had more conversations about the tale, such as speculating on what may happen next, pointing out characters, and linking the story to the children’s life. As they read digital novels, they talked more about the technology. Parents were more likely to remark on format and procedure, such as instructing their children on how to turn the page or reminding them not to modify the audio settings.
In several instances, though, design elements enhanced digital books to the extent that they exceeded their print equivalents. These kind of elements were intended to enrich the story’s substance, such as the ability to click on characters to obtain further background information on them.
When adults conversed with children about narrative material and utilized these add-ons as discussion starters, children’s reading comprehension was greater than when adults conversed with children while reading print books.
Kucirkova emphasized, however, that not all digital bells and whistles are equal. “Unhelpful enhancements remove the youngster from the story with minigames, distracting graphics, or distracting sounds,” she wrote in an email. There are effects such as clicking on an image of an animal to hear its voice.
How research may be implemented in the classroom
Instructors’ opinions of pupils’ digital reading skills differ.
In a poll conducted by the EdWeek Research Center in 2023, 46 percent of respondents indicated that their kids read somewhat or significantly worse on screens than in paper. Forty-three percent said it was about the same.
Yet, instructors’ top recommendation for improving digital resources does not involve text characteristics. Forty-three percent indicated they would like to be able to ban pupils from accessing the internet while using their gadgets to read.
Yet, “digital is increasingly part of the new normal,” Baron argues in her book. “Even in circumstances that appear more suited for print reading, we and our students are occasionally compelled to read digitally. Consequently, determining ways to level the playing field between print and digital is a crucial task.”
She suggests that instructors “take stock” of the digital reading environment. How can instructors and students minimize disruptions? Is it possible to reduce particular windows, or perhaps block the internet altogether? May pupils place their mobile devices in a different area while reading?
It has been demonstrated that metacognition—thinking about and monitoring one’s own comprehension—improves reading comprehension in general. That may be more crucial when pupils are reading on screens, Baron added.
She proposes that professors educate students to slow down and develop goals for what they intend to take out from the reading. Instructors might remind pupils that small text blocks are not always simple to read.
She stated that the majority of screen-based reading performed by pupils required just “shallow” concentration, such as reading a tweet, Instagram remark, or restaurant review. Baron argued that it may be more difficult to understand complicated information on a computer since readers pay less attention to everything they read digitally, even if it demands more concentration.
“There’s lots more text coming our way than ever before,” Baron added. “If what you’re reading is predominantly digital, where you place your eyes has the greatest impact on how you read it. And the same is true for children.”
Baron said that this is where teachers can assist kids develop goals. Are they skimming anything for the major ideas, or will they need to pause to ponder and examine arguments as they go? The aim should dictate the strategy.