The recent Joan Ganz Cooney Center quick study, “Print books vs. eBooks” has caused quite a stir in reading and techno-panic circles—inspiring paper book purists to condemn eBooks all together and the eBook curious to become more vociferous about the merits and potential of tablet-based literary experiences. These articles beg the questions: What were the results of the study? Why should parents and children’s book lovers care?
“Print books vs. eBooks” study in a nutshell:
Purpose of study: To compare parent-child reading interactions, child reading engagement and child reading comprehension across basic, eBook and enhanced (multi-media) book formats.
Methodology: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center “recruited 32 pairs of parents and their 3-6-year-old children at the New York Hall of Science’s Preschool Place. Each pair read a print book and either an enhanced or basic e-book while researchers videotaped their interactions and took observational notes. Following the co-reading task, researchers tested the children on their comprehension of the story and interviewed parents about their reading practices at home and elsewhere.”
“Across all book formats, children performed nearly equally when asked to explain a critical element in the story.”
“Children who read enhanced eBooks recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.”
“When measuring overall engagement—a composite of parent-child interaction, child-book interaction, parent-book interaction, and signs of enjoyment—63% of the pairs were as engaged reading the print book as they were when reading the e-book (both types).”
“When measuring child-book engagement (e.g., direct attention, touch), more children showed higher levels of engagement for the e-books than the print books… Children also physically interacted with the enhanced e-book more than when reading either the print or basic e-book.” See full study details here.
What does this study have to do with my child? Why should I care?
As eBooks are a relatively new fixture on family (and school) bookshelves, the research on “Print books vs. eBooks” is in its infancy. Therefore, when reading articles about such research it is critical to check the research methodology before extrapolating the findings to our own families (or classrooms). The Joan Ganz Cooney Center study above reflects findings from 32 families in New York using only two eBook science titles. Furthermore, the results refer to children ages 3-6 and may not extrapolate to older children. In a nutshell, great exceedingly small-scale study, but not conclusive enough to draw definitive opinions on the goods/evils of “Print books vs. eBooks”.
So, what does this mean for parents that want to know, “Should I be reading print books or eBooks with my child?”
It is time to put on our researchers’ caps and do a few homespun tests of our own!
While reading print books, eBooks or enhanced books with your child (or students), ask yourself, “Is my child recalling information from the story? Is she engaging with the print/images/interactive features? Are we inspired to have further conversations about the story? Which eBook interactive elements enhance our reading experience? Which detract from the experience? Are we having fun?”
The news media is always looking for a juicy “what is good vs. bad for children” story to rile up parents (and educators). So, when it comes to stories about reading research, let’s not let the politics of “the reading wars” or the public’s “Print book vs. eBooks” debate get in the way of our own assessments of what works best for our families and classrooms.
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