While many schools already used digital tools in their teaching of reading prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, extended periods of remote or hybrid schooling certainly quickened the pace and appetite for technology.
In fact, surveys now show that school library budgets have been shifting to digital assets over the past few years, especially at the high school level. In a 2021 survey of librarians conducted by the School Library Journal, nearly half of school libraries expected to spend more on digital e-books that year, while decreasing spending on print.
As this hybrid learning experience involving books and screens becomes more commonplace, it’s important for educators to understand the strengths of each format, particularly around reading and understanding content.
Below are examples that show the strengths and weaknesses of print and digital experiences for four reading instruction priorities.
1. Reading aloud to, and with, young children
Children often work with adults and partners as they practice their reading skills, and that interaction can be enhanced in powerful ways by reading print material together. Still, studies show e-books can help to improve reading skills, too. But parent and teacher scaffolding is needed for full benefit. Of course, that is the case for reading print books, too.
2. Navigating text features
Some studies have shown that students struggle more with comprehension when they are reading on digital devices rather than with print materials.
3. Understanding complex text
Studies show that readers may remember specific details better from digital books, but they may lose an understanding of overarching ideas threaded through the content.
4. Accessibility for readers with learning challenges
E-books can be more accessible for individuals with disabilities, such as those with visual impairments, as they can easily adjust the font size, contrast, and color scheme. But never underestimate the power of one-on-one interaction to gauge understanding and lead students through challenges.
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