Making Sense of Digital Texts

Books vs Digital Texts: Is there a Difference?

As a parent educator, I love talking to parents about early literacy and their young children. Getting children excited about books and reading is one of the biggest goals in my classrooms and I thoroughly enjoy watching emergent literacy skills at work. One question that arises again and again from these parents is how reading a digital text differs from that of a traditional paper book?

Parents and educators often talk about teaching children through technology so they can compete in a technological world. but I wonder if technology actually helps our learning. Studies have shown (and anecdotal evidence supports) that people have different reading experiences with books versus digital texts, and in most cases we learn better via traditional books. I have hypothesized that the tangible aspect of a book makes a difference in our learning, especially when thinking in terms of young readers. The act of turning a page and feeling the weight of a book adds to the experience of reading it. Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at the University of Stavanger, in Norway,  agrees that the physical presence of a book impacts our reading and comprehension. She believes that our interactions with the printed page impact our learning in a way that the use of a screen does not.

However, the question arises as to why this is true and is there anything we can do to support learning on digital texts? Katrina Schwartz’s article discusses ways in which educators can teach students strategies for reading digital texts that mirror the ones we use for traditional paper ones. I have experienced some of these strategies in this class, such as using hypothes.is and this blog. I will admit that they have helped as I use digital texts, but I would greatly prefer books to reading digitally.

I would argue that I learn better with books versus digital content, and while this may be true of many people, is this because humans are designed to learn this way or because we have been taught to read in this format? It can certainly be argued that we learn best from paper books because that is how we were taught to read in the first place. Conversely, if we had learned to read with digital texts, would that be our preferred way to interact with text? Moreover, can we find a middle-ground where we can learn and apply reading strategies to both types of texts to be equally successful in our reading and comprehension?

I do not think we will find the answers to these questions yet, but I believe it is important for us to continue to ask them, especially as we see how they impact our youngest readers and learners. In the meantime, I will continue to give my young students as many experiences with paper books as I can.

One thought on “Making Sense of Digital Texts

  1. I think you raise some great questions about learning to read on through digital text versus books. I also learned purely through books that were not on computers. I think of when I started using digital text in upper elementary school and I felt I was more successful because I had already became a strong reader. I can see a shift already with the amount of eBooks now being purchased and even with my own young daughter using her kindle. Amazon’s Free Time is a godsend for filtering those for me. I could see how students with disabilities becoming strong readers because of all the tools a computer contributes to reading.

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