Paper vs Digital Reading

The National Literacy Trust [UK] surveyed 56,900 children and young people in 2019 aged between 9-18 into how they use technology to read and how this is linked to their reading enjoyment, reading behaviours and reading attitudes.

They found:

  • While print remains the dominant reading format for most children and young people those who read fiction, non-fiction and comics in digital formats is increasing.
  • Young people who are the most engaged with reading i.e good & confident readers, who enjoy reading, think positively about it and read daily are more likely to read on both paper and screens than their peers who have a low engagement with reading. 
  • Girls are more likely than boys to read a greater number of materials both on screen and paper and disengaged boy readers are more than twice as likely to say that they read fiction on screen than their more engaged peers.

‘Digital reading is becoming an increasingly important part of children’s literacy lives. It gives children new and exciting ways to access a wide range of reading materials and is particularly effective at getting disengaged groups of children excited about reading.’ Jonathan Douglas, National Literacy Trust Director

In her book Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in the Digital World neuroscientist Professor Maryanne Wolf has drawn on a body of evidence to come to the conclusion that ‘the more we read short automated texts on screen, the more our reading shifts towards skimming.’ She argues that digital reading has altered “the quality of attention” from that required by deep reading which ‘fosters empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and self-reflection.’

Previous reading research identified risk factors or barriers to reading which included limited access to books and a poor home learning environment. To this list is now added screens of tablets, smartphones, video consoles and other devices.

In his article Kids Don’t Read Books Because Parents Don’t Read Books Jordan Shapiro reflects that today’s culture is more heavily text based than in previous generations with the ‘reading’ of Google, Twitter, Facebook, email and text messages on a daily basis. The problem though, according to Shapiro, is that adults aren’t reading many books because they do not have time to do so. Rather reading has become skimming book reviews rather than reading the book and listening to audio versions of books rather than the printed one.

A Common Sense Media report found that ‘Parents can encourage reading by keeping print books in the home, reading themselves, and setting aside time daily for their children to read.’ 

The consensus of the experts supports this and advises parents to commit to ‘the provision of and the practice in the use of high quality texts on and off screen.

But Shapiro maintains that, ‘most studies show that the text delivery method is irrelevant…..Books matter; how kids read them doesn’t.’

He takes this further with the following advice, ‘At the end of the day, how our children read and what our children read says a lot more about adult attitudes about books than it does about the kids. Model the behaviours and attitudes you want your children to emulate.’

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