The question, “Which is better, print text or digital text?” is one that I hear often from friends and colleagues. I was teaching reading and writing back when reading on a computer was something one could only imagine a Star Trek character doing. I always had a wide variety of reading materials other than books in my classroom for kids to read including newspapers, magazines, comic books, TV and movie scripts, etc., and I encouraged kids to read everything. That may explain why, with the advent of computers in schools, I didn’t think too much about whether kids should be reading from screens. I was focused more on the benefits of digital text for struggling readers than on whether digital books may be harmful to young readers.
Recently there have been several articles suggesting that reading digital books rather than print books may have a negative effect on comprehension, causing me to wonder whether we should be encouraging students to read ebooks at all. The book Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens was recommended by a friend who recently became a grandfather and worried about the role of screens in his grandchild’s life. It addresses questions about technology, twenty-first-century literacy, and equal opportunities for all students to gain the literacy and critical thinking skills necessary for success. Its goal, in the words of the authors, is “to stop seeing technology and reading as in opposition to each other, and instead start building places, online and off, that put media in service of reading and, more broadly, in service of literacy and critical thinking for all kids.”
The book focuses on young children and makes three major points about technology and literacy. The first is that, in the 21st century, we cannot limit our literacy instruction to print books. Children can gain background knowledge and vocabulary from all kinds of media and we must strive to give all children, regardless of family background or income level, opportunities to engage with new literacies from a very young age. The second point concerns the social interaction aspects of literacy. The authors use Sesame Street as an example. The Children’s Television Workshop found that children learned more when a parent or caregiver watched the show with them and talked with them about it. The same applies to reading books, whether they are print books or interactive digital books. Children need to interact with humans and it’s these interactions that lead to gains in all aspects of literacy. The third major point is that parents and teachers need to be thoughtful about the apps and ebooks they choose for children. The authors offer advice and examples of books and apps where the interactive elements further the narrative and are not merely distractions.
We cannot ignore the prevalence of screens and media in our children’s lives, and we do them a disservice if we only teach reading from print books. Other aspects of literacy – listening, speaking, viewing, thinking, and creating must also be addressed. Physical books will continue to have a place in our homes and classrooms, but balancing print literacy with other literacies is essential.
What do you think? What challenges and successes have you experienced when your students read from a screen? What professional development and support do teachers need to help students with these new literacies? Whether or not you’ve read (or intend to read) this book, I’d love to read your comments.