Digital vs Paper

Welcome to my first blog posting of 2013! One of my goals this year is to blog more often — preferably once a week. I would like to continue my series of the five components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. But lately I have been wondering about our reading habits and how we are embracing new technology. Are we and our children reading more paper books, digital books or audiobooks? When do we choose what type of book to read and why? I know for myself I love the feel of a book in my hands. I especially love books that have beautiful covers, heavy paper with serrated edges such as The Women of the Cousins War by Phillipa Gregory. When I want to read a book that I know I will share with someone — my spouse, parents, or one of my children I like to read a physical paper book. When I give a gift I want to be able to give someone a paper book. 


When I compare prices I have been finding that often times the kindle edition is cheaper. I recently bought and read The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling on my kindle. I also got an iPhone for my birthday so I enjoyed being able to alternate reading on my kindle at home and my iPhone while waiting to get my car inspected or other times that I found myself with a few extra minutes and waiting as they synched to whatever page I had stopped at. I did not enjoy the book as much as I wanted to and so was very happy I didn’t spent price of the hardcover price of almost $20. I found myself liking the ease of being able to switch back and forth between the kindle and phone. I have other books on my kindle that I have yet to read and perhaps will start one as I am waiting somewhere and find myself with nothing to read or do. 


Audiobooks can be a great tool for children to follow along and practice reading. They can be useful for children who have a high interest level and want to listen to chapter books that are at a higher reading level than their reading level. My husband listens to audiobooks a lot on his long commute. He recently purchased The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien as an audiobook so that our boys could listen to it before they see the movie and be familiar with the story (of course the movie is only the first third of the book I hear!) They are asking at night if they can listen to more of it. 


In a Temple University study (https://www.temple.edu/news_media/tradbooks.html) researchers found that with young children there were more positive interactions when parents and child shared a traditional book versus an electronic books. The electronic books in the study read to the children so the parents did not have much opportunities to interact as the book told the child what to do. Parents who read traditional books made comments about the pictures and related the book to the child’s life which is modeling for the young child what readers do when they read — making connections, asking questions, predicting, etc.


For older readers, particularly struggling readers, using an e-reader can be particularly useful. If you have a child who focuses on how long a book is or how many pages are in a chapter they can’t spend time flipping through pages and looking. Students can be reading books that are below their grade level without their peers knowing. If students need to change the type face they can with most e-readers. Students who struggle with vocabulary can look up unknown words with the built-in dictionary. They also tend to enjoy reading on an e-reader. Of course more research studies need to be conducted on the benefits of e-readers for all students, but there are some good reasons why they might benefit struggling readers. In addition, I don’t know how many schools use or have access to e-readers. My children use them at home occasionally, but not at school. 


Personally, I think David Ulin’s words in The Lost Art of Reading (2010) sum it up best for me: “For all my antipathy to the Kindle, I’ve loaded my iPod with hundreds of titles….Does this mean I’m reading on the machine more? Yes and no. The fact that I can however — that, on a small handheld device, which fits into my pocket, I can carry millions of words from across the ages — makes me feel as if I’m standing on the edge of something, albeit something I don’t yet fully understand” (135). 


Will reading on electronic readers get kids to read more? Will it help struggling readers be more successful? Will schools utilize these new technologies in positive ways that support best practices for teaching reading? I think that time will tell and more research is needed. For me and my family we will continue to listen to The Hobbit audiobook, we will read paper books and I will try to encourage my boys to read more on the kindle. I will still love physical books, but will try to use my phone and kindle more to read the books I have already purchased and haven’t read yet. What about you? I am curious how you and your families read? Do your own children or students use electronic readers at school and if so, how do you incorporate them into your teaching? Please leave a comment and join the conversation!

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