Thinking about Digital Reading

Reflections from the Kids & Family Reading Report.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rose Else-Mitchell

CREDIT Scholastic Kids Family Reading ReportI am an early adopter. I can’t help it. iPod, iPhone, iPad, iPad mini (doesn’t every household need both?), the Kindle, Windows Surface, even a Chromebook, whatever the new shiny thing—I want it.

Since I work in educational technology at a publishing company, of course I constantly wonder: What do all of these devices mean for reading? For books? What does reading online really mean for print? What works best for whom? And for what kind of reading?

While new devices continue to hit the market, the reading experience continues to evolve.

After the first Kindle was released, you could hear my coworkers’ excitement in the hallways: No more packing heavy books on trips to the beach! Wow, instant gratification buying through iBooks or Amazon! Access to any book with the tap of a button!

And yet, when I pack for the beach, I pack my Kindle and some new release paperbacks. When I read at night, it’s not an ebook. When I am reading a book for work, it’s probably on my iPad.

While new devices continue to hit the market, the reading experience continues to evolve. And now I think we’re getting to a point where it’s much more a blended experience for most people. Sometimes we buy online, sometimes in a store. We read on a device, or we read via hardcover or paperback. It feels natural to jump from the digital to the analog. We use the technology when it’s convenient, based on our purpose for reading, and other times maybe not.

The shininess is wearing off of e-readers, and that’s a good thing. eBooks and reading online are just part of our daily lives.

Data from Scholastic’s latest Kids & Family Reading Report shows the same is happening for kids. The percentage of children (ages 6-17) who say they prefer to read print books rather than e-books increased in 2014 compared to 2012 (55 percent compared to 43 percent). There could be a lot of reasons for this. It could be about access. As adults with decent Internet access (most days), we forget there are plenty of families who don’t have access. In fact, over 20 percent of U.S. households still don’t have high-speed Internet access, according to Census Bureau data. Or maybe, like me, they have tried e-books at school or at home and either incorporated them into their reading routines or decided digital reading wasn’t for them.

The Kids & Family Reading Report is chock full of interesting data about digital reading at school and in the home, for educators, school leaders and parents:

  • While more kids say they prefer reading print books compared to two years ago, the percentage of kids who report reading e-books at school has doubled since 2012–from 12 percent to 24 percent. Schools in some ways are catching up; you see this in the large-scale purchases by school districts of devices like iPads, Chromebooks and laptops, although we have seen tablets falling off both at school and for consumers in the last year. I suspect e-reading at school will continue to grow, and then flatten out, as it has for children outside of school. This assumes classrooms will be able to blend and balance digital with print effectively.
  • For some older students (ages 12-17), reading e-books appears to be a motivator to read more. The researchers analyzed more than 130 measures to see what predicts whether a child will be a frequent reader. Many frequent readers said, “I’m reading more for fun since reading e-books!” If you have a reluctant reader in your home or classroom, you might try giving them an e-book.
  • For the first time, the Kids & Family Reading Report took a look at independent reading that students do at school. We learned that 52 percent of children have positive feelings about independent reading that they do at school. There’s an opportunity here. We should give kids more time to read independently–on their own, as a class, or even as a whole school.
  • Interestingly, according to the survey, parents are less enthusiastic about their kids e-reading. Only 3 percent of parents said they prefer their children read e-books. An equal percentage (48 percent) said they prefer them to read print books or have no preference. I am sure that this relates to many parents general concern about the amount of kids’ screen time.

As a teacher, a product developer, and a parent of a four year old, I know how important it is for kids to have choice — choice of what to read, where to read, and how to share it — whether it’s e-books or print books. Children almost universally agree that, “My favorite books are the ones that I have picked out myself.” Choice is an important intrinsic motivator for everyone; and every parent knows that couldn’t be truer for children. The report also asked kids what kind of books they love to read. What do you think they said? Above all, they want books that are funny!

We want children to become excited readers who enjoy books and appreciate the importance of reading as a foundational competency that they need for success in school and for living a happy, productive life.

Let’s use this report card on kids’ reading habits to serve them better—and to make them laugh out loud!

Rose Else-Mitchell is Executive Vice President, Scholastic Education and Publisher, Global Education. She joined Scholastic in 2001 and has played vital roles in launching Scholastic’s technology programs including READ 180 and SYSTEM 44, as well as developing iRead and MATH 180.

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