Monday, November 11, 2013

Does Size Matter? e-Books and Comprehension

We know kids, teens, and young adults are motivated by their new techy devices. Everyone seems to be discussing the revolution of the e-book and how it is going to take over schools. Currently, e-books are up 43% in sales. Schools are quickly jumping on the e-book bandwagon in efforts to motivate their students to read and to be cost effective.

The big question, regarding reading, is always "did you comprehend what you read?" Who wants to read something and not remember it? What's the point in that? Even if you solely read for enjoyment, don't you want think about it later?

One of my students, Callie Imel, shared some insight from an article she read for my course last week:

 The article,  Effects of Ebook Readers and Tablet Computers on Reading Comprehension discusses whether text presentation format affects participant reading comprehension or not. I chose this article because I am interested in the effects of different technology tools on reading comprehension. It seems that iPads are being used in classrooms more often now, and I was wondering if they actually had an effect on students’ comprehension, or if it was just a fun way for students to read. In the research, the text presentations used were e-book readers and iPads. The researchers had participants either read using paper text, an e-book, or an iPad. After reading the article, participants were to answer a set of questions testing their comprehension. The results showed that the technology had no effect on reading comprehension. However, participants showed interest in using the iPad when reading because it was easy and accessible. 

When choosing when to use technology, such as iPad, in the classroom, teachers must consider the significant difference it makes in the students’ learning. Teachers may see that there is an interest is using iPad, so students may be more engaged in their reading when they are allowed to use the technology; however, it has no effect on their actual comprehension. One positive point from this article is that it proves that students are interested in using iPad, so they may be more engaged in the activity. By reading stories on the iPad, students are able to highlight certain sections of the text and navigate through the story easily. The iPad also provides games that the students may use to help them with the lesson, although it may not directly have an effect on comprehension; students are still focusing on the text more than with paper text. 

I read a recent study yesterday which showed the e-book format did not significantly increase comprehension, enjoyment, or engagement among a group of third graders.  The data clearly indicated that children prefer to have a choice of reading material and that the format was not as central to reading engagement as a connection with the story’s characters and setting. A second outcome of this same study suggested offering a wide variety of reading choices and the opportunity to select books did impact reading engagement. We know that increasing reading engagement can ultimately increase comprehension. So, would this mean that in the end e-books can increase comprehension, simply because they can offer more choices for readers?

Not so fast, there are actually more studies coming out which confirm that reading text digitally can possibly inhibit reading comprehension.  Here are some of the reasons researchers are concerned about digital reading:

  1. Size of screen: the bigger the screen the more they can remember.
  2. Distraction on the device: we all have been victim of being distracted by our digital devices
  3. Remembering vs knowing: it's been found that readers express more knowledge when reading printed text.
  4. Eye concerns: glare, pixilation and flickers can tire eyes (20/20/20 rule)
  5. Ergonomics: the science of fitting the work environment to the worker in efforts to reduce physical strain and increase productivity
Despite concerns, the 21st century learners are demanding and expecting technology enhanced lessons. Let me share some thoughts from another graduate student in my course. He makes some great points about how we do need to stay current with the research and using technology. Andy Boland writes:  

As a future high school English teacher, it is my job to figure out what my students are reading, and if it is contributing to their growth. As technology continues to develop, it is my job as a teacher to continue to grow with it. Printed books are beginning to be move removed from the classroom and removed for more electronic devices. Some of these devices include, Nooks, Kindles, and iPad. These devices are much more cost efficient, and allow the student to have many pieces of literature and informational text at their fingertips.  Students crave for the chance to use technology in the classroom, and in a content area where there are not as many opportunities I see using e-readers as a great opportunity. There are so many tools and functions to these devices that they can help those who struggle with reading are who reluctant readers. One of theses applications that can help would be the iPad application, Fastr Pro. This application helps improve students reading by flashing the text at varying speed to help improve students’ reading skills. The student can set the text to go at their speed and they can increase once they feel more comfortable I feel like this only one of many tools, that these electronic devices can offer. When I was testing out the application, I was surprised to see how much faster I was reading, and how much more I comprehended. The text did not seem overwhelming when it was just flashing one word at a time. 

 I think that English teachers may be resistant to this technology because their passion for printed books. This kind of application is something that I will use in my classroom, and encourage other teachers in my building to use as well. I think that English teachers should see the strides that e-books and tablets are having on children and their reading. They need to recognize that students are moving away from reading print, and one way to make literature connect more to them is to have it presented to them on a mode they are more comfortable and enthusiastic about using. 

Bottom line:  the way our kids are learning and reading is changing. Does that mean we change the way we teach reading? Perhaps size does matter, we won't know unless we keep measuring how our learners are growing.

Special thanks to my RU graduate students: CALLIE IMEL and ANDY BOLAND for sharing their thoughts!


  1. Good insight as we've been debating this topic in our household. Thanks for the information!