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The Secret, Simple Literacy Solution Every School Needs

June 01, 2022 6 min read
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Educators have faced enormous challenges in the last few years, and these challenges have taken a big toll on staff morale.

Students and educators have experienced significant personal losses as a result of COVID-19. The trauma this has caused has affected their well-being and—at times—their focus on academics. Absenteeism has been an ongoing problem since schools reopened.

Amid this backdrop, educators are tasked with overcoming the considerable losses in learning that have occurred during the pandemic. Given these hurdles, it’s no wonder that teachers and administrators have never felt more exhausted and powerless, or that teachers’ job satisfaction is at an all-time low.

Educators are in dire need of solutions that can help student learning outcomes while making their jobs easier instead of more complicated.

The good news is, there is a simple, no-tech solution that can help solve a host of challenges in schools today—from poor literacy skills to a lack of equity and even meeting the needs of special populations, such as English language learners and students with disabilities.

What is this secret, simple literacy solution that every school can benefit from? The answer might surprise you: it’s as easy as providing youth large print books.

Large print books give educators the gift of simplicity, because they don’t require extra effort on the part of teachers. They’re backed by research showing clear benefits to students. What’s more, schools can use some of the billions of dollars they’re getting in federal pandemic relief aid to purchase large print books for their classrooms.

Five key challenges that large print books address

In 2019, the well-respected nonprofit research organization Project Tomorrow® launched a study to determine the efficacy of large print books. Project Tomorrow’s nationwide study revealed five key areas where large print books can help:

Reading ability

Teachers surveyed by Project Tomorrow overwhelmingly agreed that both struggling readers and students who read at grade level benefited from reading large print books. For instance:

  • 80% said large print books benefit students who have issues tracking or who lack self-confidence in reading.
  • 75% said students reading below grade level demonstrated better comprehension and retention as a result of reading large print books.
  • 73% said large print books enhanced reading fluency for those reading at grade level.
  • One middle school reported an increase in Lexile reading levels by 2–3 times the average recommended growth.

Reading enjoyment

Large print books not only help students become better readers, but they also make reading more enjoyable for them, leading to more time spent reading. Consider these findings from Project Tomorrow’s research:

  • 69% of striving readers said they enjoyed reading large print books more than any other books during the school year.
  • 67% of teachers noted that large print text reduced stress and anxiety in students reading below and at grade level.
  • Middle school students reported a 43% reduction in feelings of anxiety about reading when using the large print format.
  • Nearly 60% of middle school students said they could focus better and didn’t lose their place due to distractions when reading large print books.
  • 54% of students in grades 3–12 said their school reading experiences would be more enjoyable if all books had large print.

English language learning

Project Tomorrow’s research also revealed that large print books had a profound effect on the achievement of English language learners (ELL):

  • 62% of teachers reported faster acquisition of the English language when ELL students read large print books.
  • 42% of teachers reported improved decoding skills among ELL students who read large print books.
  • 47% of teachers reported ELL students reading large print books had greater confidence in reading abilities, experienced less anxiety or stress about reading, and spent more time reading.
  • 44% of teachers noticed an increase in ELL student participation in class read-aloud activities using large print books.

Special education

Another population that can benefit greatly from reading large print books is students receiving special education services. Project Tomorrow found:

  • 68% of teachers reported greater engagement in reading activities among special education students.
  • 57% of teachers reported special education students had better letter and word recognition as a result of reading large print books.
  • 59% of teachers noticed special education students enjoyed reading large print and were less distracted over longer periods of sustained reading.
  • 47% of teachers recognized special education students’ overall fluency was enhanced through the use of large print.

Student equity

Equity Infographic

Large print materials provide many benefits to readers who are not reading at grade level. Adding large print books is a strong step toward curating a collection focused on equitable access for all students.

Adding large print materials goes beyond supporting students who don’t like to read or striving readers who are still working on their reading skills. Large print books can be enjoyed by students at every reading level—from avid readers to students who suffer from eye strain to English language learners and young adults who want to improve their literacy skills.

Providing access to large print books is an easy and affordable way to build more equity; large print is an impactful format for all readers.

“The larger the words are, the more engaged you are to read it.”

Nicole Ferroli, a seventh-grade ELA teacher at O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, had never had experience with large print books. When the school’s librarian brought them to her attention, she was hesitant to try them at first.

“I thought large print was meant for struggling readers,” Ferroli said. However, she gave her students the opportunity to read a large print book during a unit on historical fiction.

By the end of that unit, “I realized that readers of all levels in my classroom loved large print,” Ferroli observed.

The next book her class read was The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. Although all students were reading the same text, they were able to choose whether they wanted to read large print or regular print.

“I was shocked to see the number of students who chose to read the large print text over the regular print text,” Ferroli said. “It was almost half and half.”

She added: “Large print has essentially become a part of our classroom library, and it’s been incredibly powerful for our students to be able to see titles that they want to read, but now in a format that they know is going to help them be successful.”

An eighth-grade student at O’Neill Middle School said large print books are “less intimidating” than smaller print materials. “The larger the words are, the more engaged you are to read it,” she noted.

A simple way to make a big impact

Large print books are a simple, no-tech way to make a big difference in literacy skills for a wide range of students. And because they represent an evidence-based intervention supported by Tier 2 and Tier 3 research, as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools can use federal grant money to purchase large print materials—including the $190 billion available in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding.

Discover more than 1,000 large print titles that support standards-based curricula in the most recent Thorndike Press catalog. Thorndike Press, from Gale, part Cengage Group, is the leader in publishing large print books for K-12 school systems. Their catalog of large print books grows every month with new high-interest fiction and nonfiction books, including contemporary classics, award winners, and bestsellers.

For more information on how educators and students can benefit from using large print materials in the classroom, download the free white paper, Advancing Literacy with Large Print.

For support with ESSER funding, access how-to resources developed by Project Tomorrow.

Thorndike Press large print books are about the same size or smaller than standard print editions.