New analysis thickens plot about promoting understanding

The pandemic has increased the amount of reading young children do in digital formats, and new research analysis suggests that the behavior of parents and teachers may make the difference whether e-books help or hinder reading skills in the future. long term.

All things being equal, children 8 and under understand storybooks better when they are in print rather than digitally, according to an analysis of 39 experimental studies published in the Review of Educational Research.

But printing was not an end in itself, they discovered. Researchers also found that most commercially published e-books explored in studies did not improve text in a way that grabbed children’s attention the way adults naturally would when reading a story to a child. , for example by emphasizing the main points of the story, asking questions, and focusing children’s attention on the chain of events in a story. E-books that used these elements tended to outperform printed books in children’s comprehension.

“We need to have more nuanced language about when digital or print reading is beneficial and when it is not,” said Natalia Kucirkova, corresponding author and professor of reading and early childhood development at the ‘University of Stavanger in Norway and the Open University of The United Kingdom.

Co-author Adriana Bus, a language and literacy professor at Leiden University in Amsterdam, agrees. “Digital devices can always be distracting, predicting the harmful effects of digital reading. However, our study also shows that books with digital enhancements can benefit and lead to better understanding than paper books if the improvements support understanding, ”she said.

More reading time during the pandemic

Children read more during the pandemic, including electronically, according to Common’s latest census Smedia sign, a non-profit organization that studies children and the media. The group found that in 2020, children 8 and under spent an average of 32 minutes per day reading or being read, compared to 29 minutes per day in 2017.

Both print and electronic reading have increased overall, but electronic reading has increased especially for certain groups of students. Black students in this age group, for example, have gone from 28 minutes of reading per day, including 8 minutes of electronic reading and 20 minutes of print in 2017, to 48 minutes per day in 2020, of which 33 minutes of print. ‘printed and 15 electronic reading. Likewise, students in families earning less than $ 30,000 per year doubled their electronic reading from 5 minutes per day to 10 minutes during this period.

Kucirkova said she expects a great deal of variation in the way children respond to electronic reading during the pandemic, “due to the uneven quality of home schooling. I am particularly concerned about children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds with little reading history and who do not have a supportive adult at home, who would interpret and sometimes supplement the instruction of teachers, ”he said. she declared. “The crucial influencing factor for these children will be the quality of the reading material they have accessed. “

Analysis of the research suggested that children’s comprehension improved when adults read to them, but adults tended to read digital texts with children differently from printed texts.

“Reading to children through Zoom has occurred in many families during the pandemic, but anecdotal evidence shows that it was primarily for the most privileged children,” such as those with highly educated parents or grandparents or family members who could afford to spend more time reading with them, ”Kucirkova said in an online message. She suggested that teachers can help serve as a role model for parents by hosting video conference reading sessions using both print and digital books.

The researchers analyzed the results of studies of more than 1,800 children from birth to 8 years old, comparing their comprehension and vocabulary learning when reading on paper versus screen. Researchers also looked at the effects of common e-book enhancements, including spoken storytelling accompanying text, design enhancements, and in-book dictionaries.

Some of the more commonly used enhancements did not significantly improve student understanding. For example, Bus noted that audio storytelling for eBooks wasn’t much, especially for kids who needed to practice reading the most.

“It was the children who closed their eyes and just listened,” she said. In an eye-tracking experiment, for example, “Unsurprisingly, we found that good readers focus on the text while listening, thereby benefiting from that experience. The poor readers weren’t looking at the text at all, just the illustrations.

The researchers also found that dictionaries did not improve children’s comprehension, but built students’ vocabulary.

The analysis also found that digital texts tended to be less effective than texts printed in classrooms. In part, Kucirkova said, this could be because group reading used in schools may make less use of the interactive elements of digital books.

In the videotaped lessons, Bus noted that “teachers [are] read in small groups, and you can see that children are eager to interact with the book when possible in competition with their peers. However, looking for an opportunity to interact requires so much attention that they cannot focus on the story. Teachers should therefore organize sessions so that children are sure of their part in interacting with the story.

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