Annie Murphy Paul writes about what you need to know before letting your kids read e-books.
Could e-books actually get in the way of reading?
… the Schugars reported the results of a study in which they asked middle school students to read either traditional printed books, or e-books on iPads. The students’ reading comprehension, the researchers found, was higher when they read conventional books. In a second study looking at students’ use of e-books created with Apple’s iBooks Author software, the Schugars discovered that the young readers often skipped over the text altogether, engaging instead with the books’ interactive visual features.
It seems that the very “richness” of the multimedia environment that e-books provide—touted as their advantage over printed books—may actually overwhelm kids’ limited working memory, leading them to lose the thread of the narrative or to process the meaning of the story less deeply.
By contrast, the authors observe, some e-books offer multimedia features that actually enhance comprehension. In Miss Spider’s Tea Party, for example, children hear the sound of Miss Spider drinking as they read the words “Miss Spider sipped her tea.” In another e-book, Wild About Books, sounds of laughter ring out as the reader encounters the line “Hyenas shared jokes with the red-bellied snakes.”
The quality of e-books for children varies wildly, the authors note: “Because the app market allows for the distribution of materials without the rigorous review process that is typical of traditional children’s book publishing, more caution is necessary for choosing high-quality texts.” They advise parents and teachers to look for e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the text, rather than those that offer only distractions; that promote interactions that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming; that provide supports for making text-based inferences or understanding difficult vocabulary; and that locate interactions on the same page as the text display, rather than on a separate screen.