Recent research shows that e-reading and reading a hardcopy are two very different experiences. Science backs up the idea that reading on a screen results in lower reading comprehension, less retention, and reduces the relaxing effect of reading. All of these findings are something to consider as parents and educators. As students spend more and more time in front of computer and on tablets they are developing habits that could impede their ability to read for pleasure as well as hinder the development of reading skills such as plot comprehension.
fascinating research linking the tactile experience of reading a printed book with greater comprehension and retention. One 2014 study showed that people who read short stories from a Kindle had less retention of the story than people who had read a printed copy. And "slow reading", the sort required by a novel or long written work, is a skill that can be lost if it is not exercised. When reading electronically formatted articles or literary works, our reading pattern shifts into something more resemblant of skimming, as opposed to the concentrated reading that results in you being lost in the story. And if the book has hyperlinks built into the text, the distractions drastically increased and the ability to focus solely on the story is constantly interrupted. As we get more and more used to jumping around on our tablets, skimming articles, clicking links and jumping to other websites, our brain is being trained to process information that is not conducive to thorough, detail oriented reading.
I believe the ramifications of this lost skill are widespread, whether it's a reduced enjoyment of the relaxing practice of reading a novel, or accepting soundbite encapsulations of complex ideas and arguments, or a closing of one's world and experience due to an inability to persevere in reading a challenging story, we have a lot to lose. When children are not challenged to do anything more than read books they find to be fun and easy, there is a great risk that they will never come to know the satisfaction of making their way through a work like War and Peace. While we often talk about the pleasures of reading on this blog, I think it's important to sometimes remind ourselves that it is also a discipline and a skill that requires practice, especially for children. I was always an avid reader and it was not something I struggled to learn but I did have to learn how to persevere in my reading. I distinctly remember my mom assigning me Ivanhoe when I was about 12. Up to this point, reading was pure pleasure for me but I was in tears by the end of the first chapter. The exasperatingly detailed descriptions of a shepherd and the blades of grass being eaten by the sheep bored me beyond reason. I begged my mom to let me quit and read something else. She wasn't swayed by my arguments and so I struggled through, hating every second...until I suddenly was caught up in the fascinating story of Rebekah and the Black Knight and evil King. To this day I am not a fan of flowery Victorian prose, but I learned a valuable lesson in reading Ivanhoe. Reading is not always easy, sometimes it's work. But it will pay off. And the discipline of slowing down my frenetically paced reading, absorbing details, re-reading paragraphs and sentences that are especially beautiful is so much easier in a real book. So while the sentimental reasons for preferring books to e-books are still strong, we now know that they're better for our brains as well as our hearts. So take your kids to the library, give them books for their birthday presents, help them build their own libraries - it's a gift that will benefit their whole person.
To read more about the research on e-reading vs. reading as well as the relaxing and sleep-enhancing benefits of reading, check out this article.
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