Just Keep Reading
A University of Texas professor who studies reading says the consequences of online reading negatively influence comprehension, particularly of more difficult texts. Professor Andrew Dillon says, “We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scrolling, and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, daily habits of jumping, clicking, and linking is just ingrained.”
Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist who is one of the world’s foremost experts on the study of reading is concerned about what screen reading is doing to the brains of children. She and other researchers say there are major differences between online and print reading. Reading comprehension of paper books is better than that observed when one reads from a screen. Wolf not only found her own ability to understand literature diminishing due to reading from screens but she also hears complaints from English department chairs who say current students are unable to understand classic literature. Experts worry that if this phenomenon of decreased comprehension occurs in adults, what harm can intensive screen reading cause to children’s developing brains?
Print book sales increased modestly between 2014 and 2015, according to Nielsen BookScan. (QZ.com, 12-19-15) But there is no denying that screens will remain in children’s lives. “There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.” Children need to know how to manage both print books and online access.
Former English professor Deb Werr-lein has found one solution that pulls her own children away from screens and other distractions is to read aloud with them. She keeps sharing books with them, even as they become young adults. Werrlein says:
It’s well known that reading aloud benefits infants, toddlers, and emerging readers. Aside from introducing children to a love of literature and storytelling, reading exposes them to written language, which differs from the spoken word. Writing contains more description and typically adheres to more formal grammatical structures than speech. When you choose books that exceed your child’s independent reading level, you promote language acquisition, increase vocabulary, and improve comprehension. These benefits foster literacy in young people, but the pluses don’t diminish just because the kids grow up. (Washington Post, 4-6-14 and 6-2-15)