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Digital v Print: Latest Research

August 28, 2018

Words| Mary Ryan

I have to declare up front that I love books. They have a look, feel and smell that for me, creates a delicious sense of anticipation. The thought of sitting on the back verandah with my feet in the sun, a cup of tea, a Tim Tam and good book, screams ‘relaxation.’ I don’t get quite the same buzz from the digital.

The question though is, is reading reading?  Does digital or print actually make a difference to our children’s reading ability and academic success? Some studies suggest that comprehension and retention are poorer when we gain our information digitally. Equally, there are studies that show there is less difference as the technology improves and the digital more closely mimics print, for example page turning rather than scrolling. Preferences, experiences and purpose also have a role to play in what is essentially, a complex issue. As with most things in life, balance is the key. A combination of print and online reading serves our children well, particularly when we know that more and more, education uses technology to achieve its goals. What matters is that parents and carers model reading to their children. It may be an online academic text, or the Sydney Morning Herald. It might be on the verandah with a cuppa in one hand and a Candice Fox crime fiction book in the other. Our children will mostly imitate our behaviour.

In my experience children often move away from books as they enter their teenage years, but seem to come back to it later. Think about yourself as a reader – were their times in your life when you read less or more? Keep reading yourself and keep talking about print and digital books with your children.

Screens are the entry point into the digital world and our children read differently, play differently and interact differently because of them.  With the use of screens, other issues are raised for parents and educators. I don’t believe we have a choice. Preparing our children for this world requires us to teach them to work and play in the online world, but we also need to consider:

  • for what purpose and for how long are our children using screens?
  • are our children accessing age appropriate games and apps?
  • what are they not doing because of the screen?
  • what online behaviour and screen use do we model to our children?

My pet hate is seeing a family at a dinner table in a restaurant, the children deeply engrossed in technology. If you want your children to be good readers and to succeed academically they need to be good talkers and thinkers. They do not need constant passive entertainment. They need to interact with, respond to and connect with the world and people around them. They even need, sometimes, to get a little bored, letting their minds wander into creativity and imagination.

So, after that rant is it print or digital? There is no definitive answer, but in preparing our children as learners, a combination of both is important. Parents and carers need to model reading behaviours, both in print and digital. Parents and carers need to talk to their children often and engage in conversation about the world around them. For me, there is no greater gift than a book, read, shared and treasured by a family, and on the inside cover, a special note from grandma.

Mary is an educator with more than 30 years experience. She has taught Kindergarten to Year 6 and has held a number of leadership positions in schools across Sydney. Mary has a particular interest in the space between school and home and a determination to empower families and schools to work positively together for the benefit of children.

You can find Mary on Facebook at Teacher at the Gate a place where expert teachers partner with parents to better understanding their children’s journey through school.

Read more from Mary Ryan 


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