best practices

Screened Out

April 17, 2019

alphaspirit /

Scanning screens is a fast and furious distraction, but it leaves me exhausted, anxious, vaguely frustrated, and even sometimes inexplicably depressed. I get the opposite feeling from holding a book in my hands and reading words in glorious black and white. Reading slows things down enough to actually feel like you’re learning or that you’ve been someplace beautiful or magical. Books take me places that the electronic highway doesn’t reach.

Yes, I know tablets do lots of cool things. That’s the problem. According to the New York Times, e-readers “actually get in the way of reading.” Students may find digital products appealing at first, but “their multitude of features diffuse children’s attention, interfering with their comprehension of the text.” An article in Forbes backed that up, reporting that students actually “prefer to read on paper rather than a screen” because they “concentrate better” and “retain information.” For middle school students, electronic devices prove too tempting to load up with games and other “not allowed” software because, well, middle school.

Forbes also calculated that devices were more expensive than published books because, in addition to the problems of replacing tablets due to middle school students’ tendency to break stuff, crack screens, lose chargers, run out of battery life, and fight over open outlets, new licensing is required every year for every student.

More alarming is a study by the Mayo Clinic indicating that devices such as the iPad cause nausea, eye problems, and headaches in children. “Your eyes strain to accommodate the print, which is usually smaller in electronic text,” said one researcher. “We tend to have our eyes wide open when looking at a screen, as opposed to partially open when we hold a book. Many devices are back-lit so you’re staring at a bright screen. It’s like looking at the bright sun all day.”

And yet, despite the panacea promised by e-readers, we have an increasing reading crisis, according to a report this year in Education Week. A study by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy determined that the crisis in reading is caused by students struggling with comprehension skills such as “finding the main idea.” Probably because when using an electronic device, we are bombarded by “main ideas.” Every idea is a main idea, and so none are.

The answer to the reading crisis is simple, healthy, and cost effective. Instead of fast and furious, think slow and curious. Reading books in print on paper gives young minds a chance to grow into the content, rather than chase it.

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