Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.
We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.
Despite the proliferation of e-readers, tablets, and digital reading and writing technology, recent research is making digital texts look a little less appealing. This article discusses the slow reading, complex-text, and comprehension literacy skills we just can’t get from reading electronically. This one has lots of great links to the reasons digital reading “fail[s] to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way.”
As Shana’s school in West Virginia is increasingly making the move to one-to-one technology, digital learning, and an increased emphasis on electronic reading and writing, she wondered how this shift would impact readers’ literacies. Her discussion with Amy follows. Please join the conversation in the comments!
When much of the research points to poorer reading comprehension and lower rates of retention in electronic reading, why are some schools moving toward digital reading?
Shana: My school recently adopted a new textbook series across multiple content areas that contains a small print book and a massive digital one. This online textbook features texts, activities, tests, and quizzes that can only be accessed digitally. By and large, my students have reported immense dissatisfaction with their reading experiences in this digital format–in history class, English, and math. I wondered if that was because they just weren’t used to reading digitally, but during our reading conferences, they disagreed. They use e-readers, they read articles on their phones constantly, and they have become accustomed to taking their state tests on computers. Most students reported that they were more tired after reading digitally, that they didn’t retain the information well in that format, and that they were frustrated by their inability to interact with a physical text by annotating, highlighting, etc.
After talking with students and experimenting with digital vs. print reading myself, plus reading the articles linked above (and many more), I felt really frustrated about the de-emphasis of print reading in schools.
Amy: Interesting question. I haven’t seen this move toward digital reading myself. My district does have 1:1 iPads, and I know there was a big technology push just prior to me moving to my school, but I’ve never heard that students should be reading digitally instead of reading in print. I’d probably throw a bit of a fit if I did. Personally, I love paper. I love everything about print on the paper page. I’ve moved to digital in a lot of ways — my students create and write on their own blogs, and they turn most of their drafts in using Google docs, but when I sit down to confer with them, I’d much rather have a look at the printed page. It seems easier to zero in on skills that shine brightly or those that need some work — but that is probably just preference.
It’s an interesting argument though, and really, if I believe so much in the importance of digital writing — and I most definitely do — shouldn’t I also believe in the importance of digital reading? Hmm. Now, you’ve got me thinking.
Shana: I love paper reading and writing, too, Amy. This is probably why my desk is currently cluttered with books, notebooks, and stacks of paper. Certainly electronic reading would be cleaner…but it lacks the tangible presence of print that shows me my progress through a book, a student’s writing process, and physical thinking on a page.
Why are physical textbooks, literary anthologies, and notebooks being phased out of our students’ educational routines?
Amy: I don’t know much about how this might look in other teachers’ classrooms, districts, or states, but I have not used a literature textbook or anything like an anthology in several years. I find them cumbersome. When my students and I read short passages for analysis, I make copies. I need readers writing on the page. If a text is too long, I give them QR codes, and they all know how to annotate digitally with an app on their iPads (I didn’t teach this. They learned it last year or the year before.) I use a lot of texts that can easily be found online, e.g., columns by Leonard Pitts, Jr., and articles from The New Yorker. For full-length texts, we read in book clubs where my students all purchase their own books, or borrow one of mine. Annotating is a valuable skills, and using a textbook makes doing that quite difficult.
Shana: I love the QR code idea for a longer text! I’ve always felt that it sucks a bit of the joy of learning reading skills out of students when receive a thick, copied packet that I ask them to read and annotate. I’m with you on providing print copies of columns, articles, or books to students for teaching specific reading skills. I love when students check out a book from the classroom library that was previously annotated during a book club reading. They always ask who read the book previously, and their notes become part of that new reader’s experience with the book. That experience of seeing a prior reader’s interaction with text on a page is just not possible with textbooks or digital reading.
What are your thoughts on digital vs. print reading? Join the conversation in the comments, and check back tomorrow as we discuss digital vs. print writing.