In experiments with middle school and university students asked to read a passage and then be tested on it, Professor Naomi Baron said, there is a mismatch between how they feel they learn and how they actually perform.

Students who think they read better - or more efficiently - on the screen will still do better on the test if they have read the passage on a page.

And college students who print out articles, she said, tend to have higher grades and better test scores.

''When kids enter digital spaces, they have access to an infinite number of platforms and websites, in addition to those e-books you're supposed to be reading,'' Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician said.

''We've all been on the ground helping our kids through remote learning and watching them not be able to resist opening up that tab that's less demanding.''

''All through the fall, I was constantly helping families manage getting their child off YouTube,'' Dr. Radesky said. ''They're bored - it's easy to open up a browser window,'' as adults know all too well. ''I'm concerned that during remote learnings, kids have learned to orient toward devices with this very skimpy partial attention.''

Professor Naomi Baron - emerita of linguistics at American University said that in an ideal world, children would learn ''how to read contiguous text for enjoyment, how to stop, how to reflect.''

In elementary school, she said, there's an opportunity to start a conversation about the advantages of different media : ''It goes for print, goes for a digital screen, goes for audio, goes for video, they all have their own uses - we need to make kids aware that not all media are best suited to all purposes.''

Children can experiment with reading digitally and in print and can be encouraged to talk about what they perceived and what they enjoyed.

Dr. Radesky talked about helping children develop what she called ''metacognition'', in which they ask themselves questions like, ''how does my brain feel; and what does this do my attention span?'' Starting around the age of 8 to 10, she said, children are developing the skills to understand how they stay on tasks and how they get distracted.

''Kids recognize when the classroom gets room busy; we want them to recognize when you go into a really busy digital space,'' she said.


With complex texts in any format, slowing down helps. Professor Baron said that parents can model this at home, relaxing over a book, reading without rushing and perhaps generally de-emphasizing speed when it comes to learning.

Teachers can be trained to help students develop ''deep-reading, mindful, focusing on the text,'' she said.

For example, students can be trained in digital animation, highlighting but also making marginal notes, so that they have to slow down and add their own words. ''We've known that for years. We've done it with print. We've to realize that if you want to learn something from a digital document, annotate,'' she said.

There are also studies that suggest that reading comprehension is better onscreen when readers page down - that is, when they see a page [or a screen] of text at a time and then move to the next, rather than continuously scrolling through text.

No one is going to take screens out of children's lives or out of their learning. But the more we exploit the rich possibilities of digital reading, the more important it may be to encourage children to try out reading things in different ways and to discuss what it feels like and perhaps to have adults reflect on there own reading habits.

Reading on digital devices can motivate recalcitrant readers, Professor baron said, and there are many reasons to do some reading on a screen.

But, of course, it's a different experience. ''There's a physicality.'' Professor Baron said. ''So many young people talk about the smell of books, talk about reading print as being ''real reading''.

The World Students Society thanks author Perri Klass. M.D.


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