Students Reading E-Books Are Losing Out, Study Suggests

The New York Times Motherlode Blog

Could e-books actually get in the way of reading?

That was the question explored in research presented last week by Heather Ruetschlin Schugar, an associate professor at West Chester University, and her spouse, Jordan T. Schugar, an instructor at the same institution. Speaking at the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association in Philadelphia, the Schugars reported the results of a study in which they asked middle school students to read either traditional printed books or e-books on iPads. The students’ reading comprehension, the researchers found, was higher when they read conventional books.

In a second study looking at students’ use of e-books created with Apple’s iBooks Author software, the Schugars discovered that the young readers often skipped over the text altogether, engaging instead with the books’ interactive visual features.

While their findings are suggestive, they are preliminary and based on small samples of students. More substance can be found in the Schugars’ previous work: for example, a paper they published last year with their colleague Carol A. Smith in the journal The Reading Teacher. In this study, the authors observed teachers and teachers-in-training as they used interactive e-books with children in kindergarten through sixth grade. (The e-books were mobile apps, downloadable from online stores like iTunes.)

While young readers find these digital products very appealing, their multitude of features may diffuse children’s attention, interfering with their comprehension of the text, Ms. Smith and the Schugars found. It seems that the very “richness” of the multimedia environment that e-books provide — heralded as their advantage over printed books — may overwhelm children’s limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.

This is especially true of what the authors call some e-books’ “gimmicks and distractions.” In the book “Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure,” for example, children can touch “wiggly woos” to make the creatures emit noise and move around the screen. In another e-book, “Rocket Learns to Read,” a bird flutters and sounds play in the background.

Such flourishes can interrupt the fluency of children’s reading and cause their comprehension to fragment, the authors found. They can also lead children to spend less time reading over all: One study cited by Ms. Smith and the Schugars reported that children spent 43 percent of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded in the e-books rather than reading the text.

By contrast, the authors observed, some e-books offer multimedia features that enhance comprehension. In “Miss Spider’s Tea Party,” for example, children hear the sound of Miss Spider drinking as they read the words “Miss Spider sipped her tea.” In another e-book, “Wild About Books,” sounds of laughter ring out as the reader encounters the line “Hyenas shared jokes with the red-bellied snakes.”

The quality of e-books for children varies wildly, the authors said: “Because the app market allows for the distribution of materials without the rigorous review process that is typical of traditional children’s book publishing, more caution is necessary for choosing high-quality texts.”

They advise parents and teachers to look for e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the text, rather than those that offer only distractions; that promote interactions that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming; that provide supports for making text-based inferences or understanding difficult vocabulary; and that locate interactions on the same page as the text display, rather than on a separate screen. (E-books recommended by the authors are listed below.)

Once the e-books are selected, parents and teachers must also help children use them effectively, Ms. Smith and the Schugars said. This can include familiarizing children with the basics of the device. Although adults may assume that their little “digital natives” will figure out the gadgets themselves, the researchers have found that children often need adult guidance in operating e-readers.

Parents and teachers should also help children in transferring what they know about print reading to e-reading. Children may not automatically apply reading skills they have learned on traditional books to e-books, and these skills, such as identifying the main idea and setting aside unimportant details, are especially crucial when reading e-books because of the profusion of distractions they provide.

Lastly, adults should ensure that children are not overusing e-book features like the electronic dictionary or the “read-to-me” option. Young readers can often benefit from looking up the definition of a word with a click, but doing it too often will disrupt reading fluidity and comprehension. Even without connecting to the dictionary, children are able to glean the meaning of many words from context. Likewise, the read-to-me feature can be useful in decoding a difficult word, but when used too often it discourages children from sounding out words on their own.

Research shows that children often read e-books “with minimal adult involvement,” Ms. Smith and the Schugars said. While we may assume that interactive e-books can entertain children all by themselves, such products require more input from us than books on paper do.

Recommended E-Books

For beginning readers

“Blue Hat, Green Hat” by Sandra Boynton

“Go, Clifford, Go!” by Norman Bridwell

“Meet Biscuit” by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

“Nickelby Swift, Kitten Catastrophe” by Ben Hecht

“Miss Spider’s Tea Party” by David Kirk

“A Fine Musician” by Lucy Thomson

For fluent readers

“Slice of Bread Goes to the Beach” by Glenn Melenhorst

“Who Would Win? Killer Whale Vs. Great White Shark”by Jerry Pallotta

“Wild About Books” by Judy Sierra

“The Artifacts” by Lynley Stace and Dan Hare

Read more of the latest research on how children learn, like “How to Build Children’s ‘Print Knowledge’ While You Read Together,” and “Get Your Kids Using Their Devices to Learn — With an App Purge,” on Annie Murphy Paul’s Brilliant Blog. Ms. Paul is the author of “Origins,” a book about the science of prenatal influences, and “Brilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter,” to be published by Crown in 2015.

10 Ways To Help Boost Your Child’s Intelligence

Access this link for details on the following 10 things that you can do to help boost your child’s intelligence:

1. Play Brain Games

2. Make Music

3. Breast Feed

4. Foster Fitness

5. Play Video Games

6. Junk the Junk Food

7. Nurture Curiosity

8. Read

9. Teach Confidence

10. Breakfast Breeds Champions

Should Your Child Be Using an E-Reader?

Should Your Child Be Using an E-reader?

Should Your Child Be Using an E-reader? -- Mom's Homeroom -- © OJO Images/Justin Pumfrey/Workbook Stock/Getty Images

By Linda Johns

Last month I asked a book group of 7- and 8-year-old girls if they would help add titles to my “must read” list. Their enthusiastic recommendations came quickly and I hastily jotted down titles, not wanting to miss a single one. Somewhere between Goddess Girls and Cinderella Smith I heard something I hadn’t expected: One girl mentioned a digital reader.

“I read that one on my e-reader,” she said. Another girl chimed in with a book she’d read on her mom’s tablet when they were on vacation, which reminded her of another book she didn’t want me to miss, which reminded another girl of yet another book. The conversation continued, with young readers talking about books without getting hung up on the format of the book.

This group of girls gave me a valuable look at how our children view reading: They care more about the story and the experience than the format. Each of these girls had been to a public library in the past week and they were all regular customers at the independent bookstore where they meet each month. Books bought from bookstores, books checked out of the library and books downloaded to a device are all a part of their regular mix. If this is the future of reading, I’ll take it.

You’ve undoubtedly seen or read stories about toddlers and preschoolers using apps on their parents’ tablets, but there’s been very little information about elementary age students and e-readers. Studies about adults and digital books tend to look at consumer habits, but since readers are consuming books (always a good thing, right?) we can see some general trends about how people interact with downloadable books.

Adults who read e-books tend to read more books (an average of 24 per year, compared with 15 per year for print-only readers), according to results released in April 2012 from a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Anecdotally, adult readers say that they are more likely (or at least think they will be more likely) to pick up something to read if it’s conveniently loaded onto a device they can slip into a purse or work bag. Many of the adults I talk with at my library first take the digital plunge because of travel, particularly if there is a multi-week trip in their future. Carrying six or seven books may not be feasible, and the ease of taking many books on your e-reader lightens the load and also assures that there’s a backup book if you don’t like the one you have.

Vacations often provide children’s first initiation into e-readers, too. Jenny Blackburn and her husband gave their son a tablet for his ninth birthday, which was shortly before a family vacation. “I loaded it with books before we left, so his first experience with reading it was on the airplane,” Blackburn says. “I could tell that he felt very grown-up. He read for hours and seemed to like it.”

Darcy Brixey downloaded a variety of free books to her own e-reader to see what might grab the interest of her 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter during a long flight. “The kids would sit together and read on the plane,” says Brixey, a librarian and chair of Children’s and Young Adult Services at the Washington Library Association. (Books from the All About Pets series were winners on that flight.) “Now if my son sees me reading on my e-reader, he wants it,” she says.

The novelty of a new device can be intriguing to young readers, and a survey of 1,000 students by Bowker Market Research found that younger siblings are taking to e-readers even more than their big brothers and sisters. Readers under 12 were more likely to think of e-books as “fun and cool,” while older teenagers leaned toward print preferences. The number of hours a teen spends each day with a laptop and phone could easily lessen the novelty of another digital device. In fact, the print book may seem like a prized diversion for teens.

For many of us, we’re constantly looking for ways to encourage our children to read for pleasure. Turns out nearly half the parents in one recent study think that e-readers and tablets might be the golden ticket, especially for reluctant or struggling readers. Close to 50 percent of parents said they think electronic devices will encourage their children to read, according to a study by the Reading Agency, a literacy organization in the U.K.

“My daughter definitely likes the fact that it’s a gadget,” said a Seattle mother who was comparison-shopping devices for her 11-year-old. “She’s easily distracted, so I want to get one that is just about books and reading. It’s way too easy to click on something else and soon be playing games or going online.”

Reading apps on tablets have big appeal — and possibilities — for toddlers and preschoolers as well.

Being able to change the size of the font is a feature that was first touted mostly for older people (especially if their reading glasses have a habit of being easily misplaced). That same feature has a lot of advantages for beginning readers, newly independent readers and reluctant readers. Also, the size can easily be adjusted, so an older child who benefits from reading larger type can quickly scale it down if he feels self-conscious when others are around.

One of the biggest advantages Blackburn has seen for her son is that he can use the adjustable font size for finding the spot where he left off. “He frequently loses his place in chapter books, and this causes him to get frustrated and stop reading. With the tablet, we adjust the font to be larger so that there are less words on the page. This helps a lot.”

Other built-in features help readers interact with the text. “Some books have a read-aloud function, and when there’s that option my kids love to click on it,” says Brixey. Sometimes there are also recording features, which can be a fun way for a child to practice reading aloud. A family member can record the story so that the child will hear a familiar voice reading.

One friend of mine likes the convenience of sharing e-readers, which enable more than one person to read a book at a time. Members of her family share an account for downloading the books that they buy. She and her 9-year-old daughter, who is a voracious reader, can read the same books at the same time — and then talk about them.

Free downloadable books from the library can also be shared among family members. What? You didn’t know that libraries have digital books? Many libraries offer digital books for all ages in a variety of formats that work with major brands of e-readers and tablets. See what your library has — you may be surprised at the options and the flexibility.

I keep thinking back to that book group of young readers I visited with last month. While some adults I know seem to think that reading formats represent an either/or scenario — either print or digital — those girls are growing up in a world where there are choices for print and digital.

Adults with e-readers and tablets continue to report that they’re reading more, a trend that we can hope trickles down to younger readers. After all, we should always be happy seeing children reading, no matter the format.

Linda Johns is a children’s author and a librarian at the Seattle Public Library.

Original article