Which is better for my child: e-books or traditional print books? I say BOTH.
The e-reader best known globally is The Kindle; although there are increasingly more ways to access e-books: through tablets, desktop computers, iPads and mobile phones. Research shows that struggling readers may lack the motivation needed to persist in gaining a new skill because they have frequently had unpleasant experiences with reading. E-books have the ability to increase student motivation and spark interest; they provide a multimodal way of reading, through the interaction of text, sound, animation and images.
A study by Larson (2010) takes a closer look at two children in second grade who both display strong levels of reading ability and comprehension. Observations found that the two students personalised their reading through the employment of the built-in tools, to support their understanding of the text. The font size was adjusted, they accessed the built-in dictionary, activated the text-to-speech tool, and inserted notes. These tools, specific to the e-reader assisted the two children in their learning, not only this but it motivated and engaged them in the process.
The built-in dictionary was also seen as a valuable tool for users. Larson (2010) noted that the participants used the dictionary to facilitate understanding. They accessed it when they were unsure of the definition of a word and in other cases to help with decoding of words, particularly multi-syllabic ones. Lastly, another feature particular to the e-reader is the text-to-speech function, or the ability to integrate audio such as narration. The text-to-speech tool can provide struggling readers with the correct pronunciation of words, therefore allowing them access to understanding of the text (Morgan, 2013). This is particularly helpful for children acquiring English as an additional language.
On the other hand, studies by Morgan (2013) uncover that the same tools that are beneficial to readers can also serve to be distracting when they have been poorly designed. It was discovered that users became depended on the tools, which consequently prohibited them from taking risks. Students used the text-to-speech function to tell them how to pronounce a word, rather than using phonological and phonetic skills to attempt to decode an unfamiliar word. As a result, children will develop literacy skills at a slower rate because they are not employing critical thinking skills. Not only this, but when children came across a word they didn’t know the definition of, they immediately looked this up in the dictionary tool instead of trying to use contextual cues. Lefever-Davis and Pearman (2005) describe this phenomenon as learned helplessness; children become depended on the electronic tools therefore hindering their ability to put forth their maximum effort.
So where does that leave print books? Still in the classroom! (I hope). Even though there is much research supporting the use of e-books, traditional print books should not be eliminated entirely as they offer children with another form of literacy learning and experience. On top of this, I believe that people have a certain attachment to physical books, hence why e-readers purposefully emulate features of books such as the sound of turning the page and the black font on a white screen. Research suggests that people find a certain comfort in seeing their books collected on a shelf, physically turning the pages and often the smell associated with books. I can confirm this feeling as a student in my class came up to me, flicked the pages in front of my nose and said “Ahhhhh Miss Christina, I love the smell of books!”
Larson, L. (2010). Digital readers: The next chapter in e-book reading and response. The Reading Teacher, 64(1), 15–22.
Lefever-Davis, S., & Pearman, C. (2005). Early readers and electronic texts: CD-ROM storybook features that influence reading behaviours. The Reading Teacher, 58(5), 446–454.
Morgan, H. (2013) Multimodal Children’s E-books Help Young Learners in Reading. Early Childhood Educ J. 41, 477-483.