Tagged: reading research

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Are physical books better than e-books?

Research on e-readers in schools (#2)

Kindle Deckfavicon My good friend Pete sent me this article last week, which summarizes a forthcoming study that suggests that students reading on Kindles comprehend less than those reading on paper.

This debate has been a fiery one ever since e-readers first emerged in 2007. I think it’s an important debate.

But I also think it’s important to look at what the latest study does and doesn’t say. New York Times reporter Stephen Heyman’s “Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience” does a good job getting down to details.

Some background:
+ The study involved 50 graduate students from Norway and Sweden,
+ The students read a 28-page short story,
+ The students read on a Kindle DX. (Do those still exist?)

Some findings:
+ Students reading on Kindles had similar emotional responses as students reading on paper,
+ There was no significant difference among the students on questions involving the short story’s setting, characters, and plot,
+ Students reading on Kindles did significantly worse reconstructing the order of major plot events. Students reading on paper did much better.

Based on this study, lead researcher Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger in Norway believes that there is something about the tactile experience of handling paper that helps the brain keep track of plot:

When you read on paper, you can sense with your fingers a pile of pages on the left growing, and shrinking on the right. [The differences for Kindle readers] might have something to do with the fact that the fixity of a text on paper, and this very gradual unfolding of paper as you progress through a story, is some kind of sensory offload, supporting the visual sense of progress when you’re reading. Perhaps this somehow aids the reader, providing more fixity and solidity to the reader’s sense of unfolding and progress of the text, and hence the story.

Though her study included just 50 students, and those students were 20+ years old, Prof. Mangen might be right. It’s altogether possible that reading on paper is superior to reading on E Ink, especially when it comes down to high-level reading comprehension. By no means do I think that we should eradicate physical books in schools.

But I also think it’s crucial not to go crazy and call for the immediate destruction of all Kindles.

If you’re an English teacher, and you want students to do a close read of a challenging text, the Kindle is not for you.

On the other hand, if you’re an English teacher, and you want your students to read voluminously, and to like reading, and to choose their own books, and to build an independent reading program, and to help struggling readers find their place, I’m pretty certain that it doesn’t matter if you choose Kindles or physical books.

As I’ve emphasized many times, I’m not particularly interested in any debate that has an either-or answer. If the question is, Should students read on Kindles or on paper, I say, Both. favicon

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Loyal Iserotope readers flood my inbox with great articles about reading. Thanks!

favicon One great thing about my life right now is that more and more people know that I have this blog. This means that there are more and more loyal Iserotope readers, which increases the likelihood that I get inundated, as has happened the past few days, with great articles about reading.

“Have you seen this?” one person wrote.

“You’ve probably read this already, but I wanted to send it to you,” another person wrote.

It makes me really happy. Thank you! It also makes my reading flow a little easier. If loyal Iserotope readers are sending me something to read, that means it goes to the top of my list. And it means that I’m likely going to write a post about it — like I’m doing now!

Here are three articles that people have sent me:

Bruni_new-thumbLarge-v2Read, Kids, Read
By Frank Bruni, The New York Times

This column is a bit all over the place, but I appreciate Mr. Bruni’s central point: Books are “personal” and “passionate,” and they offer focus, similar to meditation. If you haven’t been following the research over the past year about the benefits of reading fiction (e.g., increased focus, more empathy, greater intelligence), this piece offers a good summary. Mr. Bruni, however, is extremely concerned about a recent report by Common Sense Media that concludes that recreational reading among teenagers has plummeted over the past decade. I am dispirited, too, but it’s not like didn’t know that reading is on the decline.

1378999648543022_10150820373479467_661357797_aCommon Sense Media: Children, Teens, and Reading
A Report on the State of Reading, May 2014

This is the doom-and-gloom report that Mr. Bruni was talking about. To be sure, the conclusions are a bit scary. High school students are reading less often for pleasure, and the percentage of students who rarely or never read for fun has gone up drastically.

The report blames this trend on the following reason: “The technology revolution of the past decade has led our society to a major transition point in the history of reading.” In other words, traditional reading is boring, while surfing the Internet or checking your Instagram is fun. I don’t know if totally buy this argument.

One table I found interesting compared households of “frequent readers” with households of “infrequent readers.” Take a look.Screenshot 2014-05-13 23.11.36

The most jarring statistic to me was that mean household income was virtually the same (and quite high, I might add!). The table seems to suggest that the keys to promote reading are to put lots of books in your home and to set aside structured time to read. (This advice is corroborated by many research studies. For example, one study I read last month indicated that it is perhaps more important for parents themselves to read a lot than for parents to read to their children.)

Overall, I’m not sure what to think of this report. It tried to bring together the findings of seven studies, each of which had different definitions of reading — does reading your phone constitute reading? — and relied on widely divergent methods. Despite the big press it got, I’m not so sure the report succeeded.

As a side note, the report did mention Kindles and other e-readers. A few recent articles are very negative toward e-readers. That’s because they don’t know what they’re talking about. 🙂

imagesSchooled
By Dale Russakoff, The New Yorker

This one’s a must-read. It tells the story of school reform in Newark, New Jersey. Yes, that’s where Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100 million. And that’s where U.S. Senator Cory Booker promised to revolutionize and revitalize public education. This is a well-written article that incisively describes all that is wrong about the American education system today.

I mean, it’s a really tough read. You’ve got the old-school Newark school district, which was not working. (The student-to-administrator ratio was 6:1. Ridiculous.) And then you’ve got the Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey and Cory Booker (whom I want to like) and Chris Christie. Then there’s union-busting and union-slamming. And plenty and plenty of for-profit consultants.

Ms. Russakoff doesn’t say this directly, but it’s pretty clear that he thinks that Newark’s school system can’t be fixed, that Mr. Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation was spent wastefully, with little or none of it going to help students, and that neither the status-quo nor reform efforts can address the challenges of urban schools.

Yes, it’s depressing, but you have to read it. You can also find it at Iserotope Extras.

Again, thank you, loyal Iserotope readers, for sending me articles. It shows that you care. If you have an article for me to read, please send it to mark AT iserotope DOT com. Thank  you! favicon

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Research on e-readers in schools (#1)

research-paperfavicon Recently I rediscovered the excellent electronic databases at the San Francisco Public Library, which means I can get access to JSTOR and do other nerdy things.

(Not unrelated: I’m working on getting a library card from the Library at UC Berkeley. Can’t wait.)

Anyway, I got searching on JSTOR, and there are tons and tons of articles about e-readers and their effects in students, so I figured I should read some and tell you about them, because hey, the Kindle Classroom Project is working for a reason, right?

So here’s the first installment in a sometimes-series that I’m going to call “Research on E-Readers in Schools.”

E-Readers: Powering Up for Engagement
By Twyla Miranda, Kary A. Johnson and Dara Rossi-Williams
Educational Leadership, June 2012

The authors conducted a study of 199 middle school students in an urban public school in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. They found that students, especially boys, had more motivation to read during the school’s Sustained Silent Reading period if they had the opportunity to choose an e-reader in addition to physical books.

It’s not a surprise that the researchers noted that boys found e-readers exciting. I see the same thing, anecdotally, with my students. Latino boys in particular — especially those who are significantly below grade level — like reading on Kindles. It’s as if the Kindle gives them another chance to get excited about reading again.

The authors did not go into any specifics about whether e-readers helped improve students’ reading skills. My preliminary (but unscientific!) research suggests that it does. Kindlers in Oakland last year rose 1.9 grade levels, 73 percent more than their non-Kindler peers. This year, the effect is similar: Kindlers have grown 75 percent more.

(Naturally, I recognize my data’s limitations. There are many. But it’s clear that something special is happening with students who read on Kindles.)

Finally, the note many benefits to using e-readers to promote reading. All but one are very similar to those I’ve experienced. For example, students in the study reported that there is no gap between finishing one book and starting another. The e-reader allows different font sizes, and some students liked using text-to-speech. My students say the same thing.

The only difference is that the middle schoolers in Dallas-Fort Worth also liked highlighting and annotating their books. I haven’t seen my students do much of that, though they do like making their own collections. It might be a good idea to introduce my students to that feature (along with others) in our monthly Kindle meetings.

Next up, I’ll try to find some articles that have some hard research on whether Kindle help raise reading scores. Do you think it’s out there? favicon