Are e-books good for children? Ever see a child read an e-book? Their total involvement is striking. It causes us to think, “Wow! E-books for children are great! This is something parents and teachers should be excited about.” But it may not be so simple.
Ongoing research on elementary school children reading e-books and traditional print books was presented at a recent meeting of the American Educational Research Association (www.nbcnews.com/tech-news/are-e-books-better- or-worse-print-kids-both-n78291). This research was a continuation of the researchers’ work previously published in The Reading Teacher titled, “Teaching with Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K-6” (www.jcsd.k12.or.us/sites/jcsd.k12.or.us/files/files/teaching with interactive picture books in k-6.pdf). They compared children’s comprehension when reading an e-book with their comprehension when reading a traditional print book.
Findings of the Study
The researchers observed teachers and teachers-in-training using interactive e-books with children in grades K to 6 during a summer reading clinic. Four different books were used, two in the form of interactive picture e-books and two in the form of traditional print books. The e-books were considered to be of a high quality. They found that the children were more highly engaged when reading the e-books but when reading the print books, their comprehension was better.
Pros and Cons of Interactive E-Books
The most obvious advantages of e-books is that they are very engaging and that there are many benefits to engaging children in books. They may contain animation, music, narration, attention getting sounds, vocabulary aids, videos, games and puzzles. Moreover, they’re very convenient. You can take lots of e-books with you and they weigh no more than the tablet you’re carrying. Even when riding in a car, a child will be occupied with an e-book without a parent’s interaction.
These very advantages, however, can be problematic. To begin with, the interactive features can be distracting, taking children’s attention away from what they’re reading and focusing it more on the animation and sounds. Kids tend to skip around to find more stimulating pages with characters that make sounds and passages that offer interactions. These distractions can lead to poor comprehension of the text. The pauses in reading not only slow down reading but also rob it of continuity and, therefore, fragment the comprehension. Many children end up spending more time on accessing the games and puzzles than on the print.
In addition, some features that are potentially helpful can easily be misused. Narration, for example, is a lot easier to listen to than reading for oneself. It’s tempting, therefore, not to do the reading. Also, the possibility to access a dictionary may discourage a child from trying to decode or get the meaning of a word from context, both important reading skills.
The important question, according to Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, is, “Which, if any, of these features are necessary to enhance engagement and improve a child’s comprehension of the story? Which ones are nothing more than distractions, eye candy, elements that derail the very act of reading?” She suggests that, unfortunately, there is a limited number of e-books that actually support literacy (www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissuecurrentissue/890540/are-ebooks-any-good-html.csp).
How to Choose and Interactive Picture E-Book
Given the advantages and disadvantages of e-books for children, what should we look for in choosing them? The authors of the study published in The Reading Teacher include a limited number of suggestions of high quality e-books, but they also offer criteria to be used when choosing them:
- Are the interactions supportive of reading skills, i.e. do they help readers make inferences or understand certain words?
- Do the interactions distract from or do they support understanding of the text?
3. – Do the interactions take a lot of time away from reading or are they relatively short?
4. - How often do they occur? Is this too often?
5. - Are they found embedded in the text or are they accessed on another screen, thus taking the children away from the text?
6. – Are the interactions placed in a way that increases children’s motivation without distracting them from the text?
What is very clear is that e-books are proliferating and that parents and children like them. More research needs to be done regarding how they affect reading and how parents and teachers can best use them.
If you have any thoughts or opinions about this, please let us hear from you.
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