How to Teach Students How to Read on Screens, and Why You Might Want To

kid reading on a coach

Internet-literate people are at a funny moment when it comes to digital reading. Just in my own family, for example, I do about 85% of reading on screens of various types, mostly because I just don’t have any room for books. My wife, a full professor of contemporary American literature, is the exact opposite–reads most things in print. Our son *tends* to read books in print and other things via social media links, but there are exceptions. (In December he read Empire Falls on a phone, which seems to me like an . . . undesirable experience.) And everyone remembers, or half-remembers, studies that seem to demonstrate lower rates of comprehension for screen reading, so . . . folks worry.

Fortunately for all of us, Michael Larkin has written a splendid, research-based post entitled “To Read Well on Screens, Change Your Mindset.” (The post extends a paper he gave at the 4Cs earlier in the month, called “Cultivating a Digital Reading Mindset in First-Year Composition.”)

Larkin walks through the assumptions we bring to print and screen reading, and what kind of literacies in each our students bring to campus:

The question arises whether we need to continue to teach traditional literacies associated with print and then help students transfer those skills to the digital realm OR whether we ought to focus on cultivating the different kinds of literacies that reading on screens requires. The research of Julie Coiro of the University of Rhode Island suggests that the answer to both halves of that question is likely “Yes.”

Larkin then walks through an experiment he did with his students a year ago, including some aggregate results and one student’s extended reflections. He reminds us, in particular, that “Teaching students of all backgrounds to read well on screens is a democratizing practice. It ensures that such pursuits—and the benefits that flow from them—don’t turn reading into a gentrified activity whose advantages are available only to a privileged few as we spend more and more of our time reading (and talking and watching and living) on screens, cordoned off in shrinking electronic worlds of our own making.”

Crucially, he also offers a link to a handout he distributes to students on reading strategies, and several strategies for faculty to develop their students’ screen-reading skills, including:

*Help students to cultivate a screen reading mindset that they’ve got to bring effort, and effort of particular types, to be able to read successfully on digital devices. Perhaps most prominent among these practices is that they need to reduce distractions as much as possible and resist the medium’s associations with speed, efficiency, TL;DR, and entertainment. Power browsing, skimming, scrolling, and reading for gist are useful but they aren’t everything, and neither should they be the only thing.

*Create self-reflective screen reading assignments that will help students to be more self-aware and to identify their own best practices.

*Think carefully about how you’ll employ digital readings in and outside the classroom. Particularly with younger readers, do not substitute digital readings for print if you don’t plan on addressing the differences between them.

The whole post is thoughtful and well-written, with lots of links to additional resources and research, so do read the whole thing!

Do you have a preferred strategy for helping students cope with reading on screens? Please share in comments!

Photo of a totally random kid by me.

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