As a reading specialist, I am often asked by parents, “Is it okay that my child is reading digitally? Does it affect their reading ability?” Kindles, e-readers and other devices certainly engage young readers and adults alike and so it is a fair concern. Virtual learning has brought about even more opportunities for children to read digitally. What should we do? Or, do we even need to worry?
To put it simply, we just don’t know. What we do know is that asking if it is okay to read digitally or not is not the question we should be asking. Instead, we should ask, what do readers gain and lose from reading digitally or on paper?
Pros and Cons of Reading on Paper
- Reading stamina is improved.
- Spatial memory for the location of a passage or a chart on a physical paper page can help a student recall information.
- Greater effort is requred and therefore comprehension is improved.
- Simple to mark-up a text for critical study
- Easy to identify high quality reading materials due to award labels and reliable publishers.
- Book covers can be highly engaging.
- Areas of the brain that support critical thinking are activated while reading on paper.
- Visually understanding where you are in a text assists in critical thinking about a text.
- Books are more costly.
- Can be less engaging to a techno savvy audience.
- Access to new reading materials can be slow.
- Not as visually engaging (With exception of graphic novels or illustrated texts).
Pros and Cons of Reading Digitally
- Access to reading material is fast.
- E-books are many times less expensive or free.
- Highly engaging to a young, techno sasvy audience.
- Reading digitally does not waste paper.
- Convenient- reading digitally can take place anywhere on a single device.
- Can be read in the dark.
- Attitude towards e-readers are high among young readers.
- E-reading specifically on an e-reader uses ambient light that can be easy on the eyes.
- Scrolling can be beneficial when reading web based comics, entertainment articles and the news.
- Researchers found that we often skim when reading digitally ultimately affecting comprehension.
- Quality of reading materials is not always consistent or easily identifiable.
- The implicit feel of where you are in a book is missing which can impact self-monitoring and critical thinking.
- Navigating a screen impairs comprehension.
- Utilizing screen editors for marking the text can be too complex or time consuming to use.
- Reading digitally is often disrupted by digital distractions. e.g. apps, email, web browsing.
- Screen reading can be more physically and mentally taxing.
- E-reading on devices like computers, ipads and smartphones, shine light into readers’ faces and cause eye strain.
What does this all mean?
So what does this mean for us? For parents of young readers? There are clearly benefits to both reading on paper and digitally. Many children born after 2010 have been exposed to devices everyday and may find reading digitally to be engaging. Having access to new reading materials quickly is also a plus to e-readers and digital texts. Research does show that comprehension is improved when reading on paper but it is because we read much slower when reading on paper. Reading faster digitally utilizes a different skill of skimming which can benefit readers in a hurry who are attempting to simply gain an overall understanding of a topic. I believe the answer is a balanced approach; we should read both! Reading digitally will not go away. Rather than choosing one over the other, we should choose what we read and in what format carefully. By reading both digitally and on paper everyday, we are activating different areas of our brains consistently and growing in skills specific to each.
What does this mean to our virtual learners?
We have to face it. We are living in a pandemic and we don’t know what will come of this for our children and their education. But, what we do know is that they are learning in a way that we did not. Our children are becoming more technologically savvy than we ever could have imagined. We do know that reading digitally activates different areas of their brains and allows them access to so many different reading materials almost instantly. But, we also know that areas of critical thinking and long term memory are specifically activated when reading on paper. Overall, we know that children who read regularly do better in school. We know that children who choose reading as a leisure activity have a larger vocabulary than children who do not read for pleasure. Reading is the goal. As parents, we should give our children access to both digital and paper based books and other reading materials. If they’re spending their days online, reading in school, encourage them to read a paper based book for at least 20 minutes a night and then talk about it.
All reading is good reading and they should be reading it ALL!
Barshay, J. (2020, March 30). Evidence increases for reading on paper instead of screens. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://hechingerreport.org/evidence-increases-for-reading-on-paper-instead-of-screens/
Jabr, F. (2013, April 11). The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens. Retrieved January 24, 2021, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/