Friday, April 28, 2017

One More Story? I'm Not Tired!

Growing up in a digital world may not be as terrifying as you think.  ♦ 
A scene familiar to many: a child sitting in the lap of their parent, moving their finger from word to word as the parent reads it aloud, flipping the page once they get to the end of the sentence they memorized twenty times before, looking at the same illustrations and laughing at the same funny voices as a dim light shines on them.
   Today, adapt that memory to options of flashy games, a digitized voice reading the story, and bright LED lights reflecting off the face of the parent and child. These come in an array of tablet applications, some with a section for young children’s stories and others devoted purely to adolescent children’s books. This might seem like a scary new reality for those of us who fondly recall the good old days of print . . . but for the generation growing up digital, it might not be so scary at all.
   The increasing market of e-books has strong selling points, including space and cost efficiency. But there's also a strong, surprising benefit when it comes to e-books and literacy: children who are opposed to reading may find unexpected interest in e-books, associating them with technology and engaging lights and colors. When a child’s playtime on their iPad is limited and must be balanced with equal time reading, reading on an electronic device will likely seem more inviting. However, e-books might also negatively impact children’s development in the stages of learning to read, and early tests to determine the effect of e-books on reading comprehension have led to mixed results.
   A recent study comparing parent-child co-reading across print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms found both formats of books effective across many different aspects. All formats, for example, led to equal numbers of children being able to explain critical plot points of a story, though those who read print versions were able to better recall more specific narrative details, even those seeming insignificant. But, while print books were found to be more beneficial for comprehension, e-books were actually more effective at engaging children and encouraging physical interaction between the children and their stories.
   Perhaps one reason comprehension has lagged behind with e-books is that designers can get too easily carried away with the interface, having too many elements which lead to distractions from the plot. It is simple and logical to add enhancements to make reading enjoyable and interactive, but too many sounds and games can reduce emphasis from the plot of the story, overstimulating a child to a point where they are no longer absorbing information. A criticism in this realm includes children getting lost and forgetting that the main goal of sitting down with a story is to read it. Likewise, having the meaning of words unfamiliar to a child easily accessible via a link can lead to a larger vocabulary, but it can also hinder problem-solving skills. With print books, when a child does not know a word, they are urged to sound it out and use surrounding words to discover its meaning, not hold a finger on the word until it is spoken aloud for pronunciation and definition. Though children may be drawn to books with an abundance of interactive features, parents should take caution in determining if the “extra stuff” is useful or not.
   For adolescents who are older, studies show that reading a print book leads to better comprehension. A Norwegian study of tenth graders reading a PDF versus a print book showed that students who read a text in print better understand it. This is partially due to spatio-temporal markers, i.e., knowing where in the story a specific point occurred because students could feel in each hand how many pages had passed and how many still had to be read. Additionally, readers who are immersed in a text often recall where on a page information was given (on the right on the top of the page, etc.). On a PDF where one must scroll, the information moves all over the place, and the inconstancy of the placement of words on a page led to a less clear memory of information read.
   But what about those elements of the reading experience that can't be so easily measured in a study? I so fondly recall my nighttime routine in preschool and elementary school, squatting in front of my bookshelf overflowing with picture books and their colorful covers, taking the task of choosing one very seriously. (Or two, if I’d tried a new food that day.) I’d then sit in my dad’s lap and follow along word by word with my stubby pointer finger. Such a memory has led me to have initial feelings of doubt in accepting e-books as a medium for children to use when learning to read. However, I believe e-books can serve as a positive gateway to reading for those not as naturally engaged. It is important for parents to assess the needs of their child to determine what type of memory you want to create for them. If the method chosen is one which is stress-free and enjoyable, then the means by which the child learns to read doesn’t matter, as long as they are learning at all.
  • About the Author
    Hannah Spector is a freshman at Miami University. She is currently in the University Studies program with interests spanning from politics to children to nutrition and health. She also enjoys running, Americas' salads, and any 20-minute period of free time that can be spent watching The Office.

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