On Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 12:00pm ET via Zoom, Children and Screens held the #AskTheExperts webinar “Oh, The Places They’ll Go? Reading in a Digital World.” An eminent group of researchers, clinicians and literacy experts explored the shifts in reading behavior in our increasingly digital world. Moderator Maryanne Wolf, Director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice at UCLA facilitated an engaging conversation about the current research on reading, the role of technology and ebooks on cognitive development, language acquisition and other developmental processes, the best reading practices and habits for children of all ages, as well as practical advice on how to foster a love of reading in young people.

Speakers

  • Maryanne Wolf, EdD

    Director; Professor Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice; Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
    Moderator
  • Kristen Hawley Turner, PhD

    Professor & Director of Teacher Education Drew University, New Jersey
  • Rita Carter

    Author Mapping the Mind; Exploring Consciousness; The Brain Book
  • John Hutton, MS, MD, FAAP

    Assistant Professor; Director Division of General and Community Pediatrics; Reading Literacy Discovery Center (RLDC), Cincinnati Children's Hospital
  • Naomi Baron, PhD

    Professor Emerita of Linguistics American University

[Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra]: Welcome, I am Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra, president and founder of Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development, and host of this popular Ask the Experts series. We are so pleased that we are joined by more than 850 other webinar registrants for today’s important conversation. Anna Quindlen, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, famously said, “Books are the plane and the train and the road, they are the destination and the journey, they are home.” Today we will explore how and why the journey is different when reading on a device, rather than on paper and what that means for our children’s development. Our eminent group of experts has joined us to unravel the complexities of reading in our increasingly digital world, and we’ll answer your burning questions about e-readers, books on tape, textbooks, deep reading, short versus long-form reading, and so much more. Our panelists have reviewed the questions you submitted, and will answer as many as possible during and after their presentations. If you have additional questions during the workshop, please type them into the Q&A box at the bottom of your screen. When you do, please indicate whether or not you would like to ask your question live on camera if time permits, or if you would prefer that the moderator read your question. We are recording today’s workshop and we’ll upload a video onto YouTube in the coming days. All registrants will receive a link to our YouTube channel where you’ll find videos from our past 26 webinars, which we hope you’ll watch as you wait for this video to be posted. It is now my great pleasure to introduce our moderator. Dr. Maryanne Wolf is a scholar, teacher, and advocate for children in literacy. She is the director of the Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners and Social Justice at UCLA in the graduate school of Education and Information Studies, and is known the world around for her thoughtful consideration of research, brilliant spirit, and extensive scholarship. We are so delighted that she is with us today. Welcome, Maryanne. 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Thank you, Pamela, and Pamela, I want to put a special thank you out to you for all the work that you do. You are rightly named when we say, her Stella Pietra. You are our rock, so thank you so much, and what a brilliant panel we have today. It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce all of them, but also to give you just a few minutes of context for what we’re going to be doing today. The first statement that I want to make is one that I want you to think about, because it seems so simple, but it is not. We, our species, our children, ourselves: we are not only what we read, but how we read and upon what we read. Now, never has that statement actually more important to understand than this hinge moment in our species’ life, in which we, for the most part, are actually tethered to digital devices like no other time in our history. And as we are bombarded with information I want to, I want to actually give two different perspectives on this. Even more than that. One is by my colleague, Sherry Turkle from MIT, who said that we err as a society not when we invent or innovate something new, but rather when we fail to understand what it disrupts or diminishes. And this moment when we are, some, most of us are just bombarded by information, it’s a good thing to think of what the poet T.S. Eliot said. I quote, “Where is the knowledge in our information? Where is the wisdom in our knowledge?” With all of this information that is bombarding us and our children, we need to take questions that the panelists are going to address very seriously. About what different mediums will advantage or disadvantage, what processes will be disrupted or diminished. What we do with that information on different mediums has such important implications. And when, when you think about reading, many of you just think of it as something we take for granted, but I want you to realize that reading literacy literally changes the organization of our brain. It makes a new circuit with – different panelists will, will talk in more detail about – but it also changes not just the, the brain’s structural circuitry, but in so doing, it changes and gives us the development, the opportunity to develop more and more cognitive, intellectual processes. In addition, it gives us a platform for understanding the perspective of others. So this social-emotional component which when we add to the critical thinking capacities that come with that, those intellectual changes means that critical thinking and empathy are being developed by the sheer act of reading: reading closely, reading deeply. There are two other elements that happen that many of us don’t think about, and that is the place of beauty and imagination in our lives. Perhaps there is very – there are very few vehicles more important for us to perceive beauty than in the way language is portrayed in our books. But the last element that I want to emphasize is one that most people do not think about, and that is the political dimensions. The implications of how we read will impact our society for the, the dimension of critical thinking, the dimension of empathy together change how we as citizens develop our powers to participate in a democracy. So there are direct links between what we read, how we read, and upon what we read for our democratic institutions. And in this very important moment when our society has not only had COVID to deal with, but the exposure of inequities, and the upsurgence of the January 6 phenomenon, which, and I will say: all of these are subject to our ability as a society to be critically analytic of the truth value of the information we receive and the empathy we bring to that, to make good decisions as a society. So in this panel, we are looking at what goes on in the human brain when we are reading in different – on different mediums, and what are the long-term implications for – I would suggest to you that the implications go well beyond what any of us thought pre-COVID. We now not only are within a hinge moment, we’re on the other side of the hinge, and we have to figure out as a group, and this panel could not be better suited to do that. How we can move forward with hope, with excitement over the innovation in a digital culture, but also with the caution necessary to understand what is changing our brain at different times in a child’s development. So at the end of my remarks to you, I would suggest that you are very wise to have begun this, this time with this group of people, because I think the growth or the stunting of critical reasoning and empathic processes will be a legacy of our generation to the next. And so, this work, which I’m so happy to be able to moderate, gives us today just one and a half hours a glimpse of the realities, and the future, and the implications of science and linguistics and education for our young. Now, it’s my next pleasure to introduce the first member of our panel. Rita Carter is just an extraordinary scholar and writer and I had the great distinct pleasure of meeting her on a BBC program 12 years ago, next to a cathedral if I remember correctly, in London. Rita has done such a powerful job of translating neuroscience for the public. She has books, Mapping the Mind, I think there’s 18 translations by now, Rita? Exploring Consciousness, The Brain Book, all of these are just wonderful examples of how a great writer can translate science for all of us. So welcome, Rita. 

 

[Rita Carter]: Thank you, Naomi. That was very, very generous of you. My interest began really looking at the very nuts and bolts of brain mechanisms. How this bit did that, and whizzed around a bit, like looking in a car engine. And increasingly, as I think happens to everybody who gets into that, your interest slowly gets drawn, away from those sort of mechanical bits and processes, and more into what the product of all of this is, that is, one’s subjective experience. What the nature of it is and how, what is informed by, how does it come to be, how it is, why isn’t it the same for us all? And so and so forth, and that is what happened to me. It’s a more complicated process when the materials, the stuff that informs subjective experience, does not come directly from the senses. It’s not because of reflected lights getting into your eyeballs and noises getting into your ears, and so on and so forth. Much of the research that I did certainly, you know, 20, 30 years ago, when I started looking into this was like that. You know, it was all about so, a piece of light goes in your eyes and that triggers that, triggers that, triggers that, and eventually you see whatever the thing is that the light reflected off. What then became I, I think much more interesting was how one can have experiences about things, or of things that are not there directly. Experience you create in your mind because this clearly is a very different process. And of course the main way, one of the main ways that we get to have those kind of experiences is through the written word, is reading stories. We see things that aren’t there, we experience a whole world that isn’t there. So the fact that is such an amazing way of exercising this faculty. That we do have to see a world that isn’t actually in front of our noses makes reading one of the most, well, maybe the most important thing that we do now. And I can’t claim to be an expert in the, I suspect, quite subtle differences – well, actually maybe not, having read some of their mates’ work, they’re not subtle. They’re very significant, actually, but you will come to that and other people will talk about that. But I’m not an expert in how that experience differs according to what the medium is you’re using, whether you’re using screens or books. But what I do know about reading is the most important thing about it, is that children should do it. They should be, got to doing it as early as possible, as frequently as possible, and as widely as possible. Here in the U.K., when I was growing up there was a huge argument about whether children should be allowed to read. We had a writer called Enid Blyton, she was never big in the U.S. She was enormous here, and they were very simple adventure books. And the argument from teachers and lots of people was “children shouldn’t read this rubbish.” Yes, it’s impoverished linguistically, it’s simple, simple, it’s crude, but I for one as a child, was absolutely gripped. And what that very, very simple language nevertheless had the ability to transport in a way that more sophisticated things at that time certainly didn’t, so I am very much of, as a result of that direct experience of mine, very much of the view that anything is good to read. Start street signs, cereal packages, store labels, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to get a child from the earliest possible age to understand that it’s not just the noise that you can translate these words, these visual symbols into, but the meaning behind them. Because once they have that, once they have basic literacy, they have the door is open for them to a much wider experience. The words themselves can become transparent and the child can move through it into these other worlds. There’s nothing like it for, if you like disconnecting the human brain and a child’s mind, from the constraints of the here and now, being able to let it fly, to be independent in a way. And of course, that is the basis of imagination. Now, Naomi mentioned this in her introduction, and it is one of the things that there has been quite a lot of research done on, which is the ability of reading to enhance theory of mind. That is, the ability to, to see the world through other people’s perspectives. You know, you may be familiar with it but uh, there have been quite a lot of them showing that really quite a small amount of reading, particularly fiction reading, obviously stories, things particularly which deal with people: their motivations and as well as their actions, but why they did things, what they were thinking, and so on and so forth. that these things are absolutely brilliant at getting children to take a different perspective, to walk in other people’s shoes, in other words. One of many experiments involves giving people, a group of people, a number of faces with the showing expressions. Exaggerated expressions of fear, love, etc., and asking them to guess what the expressions mean, what people are feeling who have these expressions. And then the researchers took the, measured everybody’s ability to do this accurately, and then sent half the group away to read some literary fiction. The other half read, I don’t know washing machine manuals or something, something pretty dull but just as word dense. And there was such a way to do this and at the end of the time they were brought back, and they were given that very simple theory of mind test again, looking at the expressions on people’s faces, and the group that had been reading fiction had really significant enhancement of the ability to tell what those expressions meant. Whereas the group that have read the washing machine manuals were perhaps better at washing, I don’t know, but they weren’t any better. Anyway I’d know what people were thinking now given the incredibly important role of empathy because that is a sort of empathy, mind reading, in the world today, and its importance for the – that many wider things nearly hinted at the whole way that we interact at every level right up to the political. It depends so much on empathy and developing that sense, that I think that on its own is such a good reason to get your child reading. Of course empathy is only one component of imagination, which is what reading is so wonderful at developing. There are others and creativity for example, is not all about imagination as people think, there are many components. But perhaps the most important one is again this ability to see things that aren’t there. To see a red pencil, when all you’ve got is a black pen. Because it’s that ability to see other things in your mind’s eye, that is the first step towards inventing things. Towards seeing what things might be like if they weren’t the way they are, and creativity, one, used to be a luxury for sort of artists and various people like that. It ain’t a luxury anymore, it impacts on every single area of our life, and so again it’s another thing that is just so important. And reading, it has been demonstrated time and time again, is the best tool for doing that. And now it does it by literally changing the brain. And I think there are two levels to look at here: there is, there is the absolute fascinating level that Naomi has done so much to reveal to us, which is the actual way that words are processed into meaning, which is so complicated because we weren’t born to, to read. You can, a child could be if they were born, if they had people talking around, that they will learn to talk, you can’t stop it. Nobody has to sit down and teach them, painstakingly, how to talk. But you could dump a child in the Anglia Library, and leave it there for 20 years, it will never read. I don’t know what it would get good at, but not reading, unless somebody actually showed. So we don’t have, we haven’t evolved yet, anyway to have these particular neural pathways that allow us to read automatically, and so obviously they have to be taught. Now interestingly, that is one level at which the brain is quite dramatically, immeasurably, and can be shown very clearly on brain scans to be altered by reading. The other way which is less easy to measure, and open to much more interpretation and questioning, is how the content of what is read alters the brain. And I have been able to find quite a few studies, but none that are absolutely clear cut. Everybody is still trying to work out what they mean, but I would say my interpretation of what I have seen is that children experience the content of a story much as if they really were in it. So for instance, one interesting brain scanning study showed that children who were who read a, a book which is an action book, an action adventure, after they had read it and indeed for several days beyond that, I don’t think they went on scanning of much longer than that, but certainly it was a lasting thing. It wasn’t momentary, had quite different function in the somatosensory cortex. And that’s the bit of the brain that is to do with the body, and with feeling, and with touch, not the sort of thing that people would usually think that an imaginary world would impact on very much, but it turns out it does, very much. These children were literally in the footsteps of the people they’d been reading about. Okay, well, as I say, I’m not an expert on the difference between screen reading and reading books, and I’m going to be as interested as you are, I’m sure, to find out. But some of the questions, unhelpfully, they are only questions, not answers, that do come to mind that I hope we will learn is: is it that there’s something intrinsically to do with screen reading that alters? Well, I know there are studies showing that is a difference in the effect, but is it because we come to them with a different attitude? Is it because we aren’t used to them, we associate with different things? I hope we’ll learn a bit of that today. And meanwhile, as I said, the only take-home message I really have for you is that it’s better to read anything, in any way. Quantity is better in this case than quality. Thank you very much.

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Thank you, Rita. And you’re, you couldn’t have given us a better message to begin with, especially when we think that at this moment there has never been such isolation for all of us, and what you are describing is truly one of the amazing aspects. Almost semi-miraculous, about reading a book or reading in general, because it serves as an antidote to isolation as we take on the perspective of others. Now, one of the things that is happening, however, is that many of our children and individuals are not reading long forms of reading and we don’t have the same even percentage of time reading books. And we have a question from our audience from Dr. Ed C who wants to ask you about that. Dr. C?

 

[Rita Carter]: Do I have to turn something off? 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: He has to turn off? Uh, Dr. C, you must turn your video on.

 

[Dr. Ed C]:  Uh, I think it’s on, can you hear me?

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Yes, welcome. 

 

[Dr. Ed C]: Okay, thank you. So thank you very much, uh, for this presentation. It’s really interesting to see where things are going and what the, what the benefits are. My question is related to, the – the first question is just related to motivating reading, especially as we are in this time of uh, people reading a lot less. They’re reading like that is a line to their interests, so this is, it could be social media, it could be videos, it could be games. Those types of things are what they’re spending a lot of their time doing, and so I was curious what are some ways that we align closely with the interests of readers so that we can potentially motivate them?

 

[Rita Carter]: I wonder if there’s something to be learnt from something I’ve been quite interested in, is this sort of the fan writing. The whole fan movement where people kick off an established thing, maybe a book, maybe a film, or could be anything, and write around it, create writing. So it’s writing in a way, but I wonder if that is perhaps a way into this. That maybe what you begin with – it’s all very well to encourage somebody to read something you liked yourself when you were the child’s age, or something that you know is great, and that they should enjoy, but perhaps if you start with something they know they already enjoy, and if that happens to be a computer game, no matter. Maybe if you can edge them towards some of this peripheral writing that goes with something established. Sort of stuff that we don’t necessarily think of as literature, or even kids books, you know, maybe would that be a way to it? Um, I know that I, as a child, started with certain interests and read out from them, because you read so this science fiction book was the first thing really turned me on. I like that, so I read another one, like another one, and of course, as we know, the more you read the more you’re drawn outwards. So perhaps rather than trying to say this is really good for you, find what the child’s already interested in and find some written form of you know, pursuing it or allowing them to pursue it.

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]:  Rita I’m going to just, uh, only because of time… Dr. C, thank you so much for your question, and I’m just going to amplify slightly what Rita said with a very practical suggestion. There are for the first time, I think, some very interesting apps out there, that are, one of them is called Bookalicious, in which the level of the child, and the interest, are ascertained by a sort of, like, an avatar. But you get to know, what, the gender of the child, all these things, and then a list of suggested books for the library are given. I mean one could buy them too, but Bookalicious helps you connect to libraries and connect the interest to the child. So that might be a concrete way of taking Rita’s suggestion home for you. But now we’re going to move into – thank you Dr. C, thank you. Now we’re going to move into our next presentation, and it is by, well, I could just say everybody on the panel is a friend or colleague, friend and colleague, and it’s a delight to be able to introduce someone whose work I have put in every, almost every presentation in my zero to five period, and that’s Dr. John Hutton. He’s a wonderful team at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. And I think it’s – I’m looking at my notes – I think you’ve done about 37 children’s books in one way or another, on amazingly different topics from sleep and resilience. But very pertinent to us today on dialogic reading, on reading to your children between zero and five. And some of the imaging, John, that you have shown the world has been so important for all of us. It’s immediately apparent what happens when we read to our children, so I will give you a formal title. You’re the Assistant Professor in the Division of General and Community Pediatrics, and Director of the Reading Literacy Discovery Center, but you are from my standpoint, one of the best zero to five imagers to, to take this message home. So, John. 

 

[Dr. John Hutton]: Maryanne, that’s a huge compliment coming from you. I’m a long time fan, you’ve been one of my inspirations for a long time and I’m honored to know you. But most of all, I’m a father of three daughters who keep me in line, and some dogs, and other things. But yeah, I mean I, I feel like a lot of the work we’re doing, especially around MRI, the brain imaging, is sort of using very high-tech methods to verify the obvious. Which is sort of like, you know, we’re we’re really having to make the case, as you know, for you know, the reading is more than something that’s nice to do if there’s time, but it really is a critical aspect of that early caregiver child experience, parent-child experience that helps shape the brain. And we, we created actually, a video, which is a little bit ironic because I’m a little bit of a technophobe or I pretend like I am. To sort of summarize a lot of our work that we’ve done around brain imaging, looking at different aspects of what families can do with their child in those critical first five years or so, when the brain is growing really rapidly, or it’s very plastic as we say, and maybe we can watch that, and then we can dive more into the to the format question about print versus ebooks and all that. So, if that’s okay with you?

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Perfect.

 

[Speaker in video]: Learning to read is an amazing process, but did you know that children aren’t born with a reading network? Instead, one has to be built through practice, where brain areas are trained to work together. This video shows how this happens. Language and reading mostly involve the left side of the brain, shown here the area in the back. Highlighted in blue helps with seeing and imagining pictures and scenes. In red is a visual area specialized for shapes and objects, including letters and words. The area in orange processes word sounds such as rhymes or phonics. It helps children learn to decode letters and words as they learn to read. The areas in green help understand what words and stories mean, by combining them with pictures, imagination, and feelings. An area near the top of the brain in yellow helps pay attention to stories when listening or reading. This special part of the brain in the back called the cerebellum helps to learn new skills, including language and reading, like a turbocharger on a car. Brain areas on the surface are connected by bundles of nerve fibers like wiring in a computer. These grow stronger and faster with practice, such as listening to stories and talking about them. The bundle in red connects language areas involved with sounds and meaning. The bundle in green connects areas involved with reading quickly, and connecting words with feelings. The bundle in blue connects areas involved with seeing, imagination, and meaning. Now that we’ve seen how a child’s brain is wired for reading, how can we help? Research using a technology called MRI shows how reading to children in the first five years when their brain is growing rapidly helps shape their reading network. One study found that children with more books at home, and who were read to more often, had stronger activity in brain areas supporting language, imagination, and meaning shown in this brilliant blob. To build reading routines, pick books from the library, a bookstore, or ask your child’s doctor for help. Try to read for 15 minutes every day. It’s important to involve the child in stories, which is sometimes called dialogic reading. Another study found that children read to this way had stronger activity in brain areas involved with talking and understanding. Try asking questions, and inviting your child to help you during the story, like turning pages and talking about what they see. Getting a child involved helps build their interest in reading. Children showing greater interest during stories have been shown to have stronger activity in their cerebellum, supporting learning. To build interest, let your child pick out books and help you tell the story. You’ll both love it. Increased activity, or firing in a child’s brain also helps the wiring in their reading network grow stronger. A different kind of MRI study showed this: children with stronger home reading routines had more developed connections between brain areas supporting language, imagination, and attention, and also better early reading skills. Despite so many new technologies, MRI research suggests that for young children, simple books are best. Compared to animated stories, children read regular picture books had stronger, more balanced connections between areas supporting language, imagination, attention, and learning. All of this research shows what many parents, grandparents, and teachers already know: sharing books builds brains. Pick up a favorite book, invite your child onto your lap, and build together today.

 

[Dr. John Hutton]: So yeah, so that was a video that actually was commissioned by the kindly people at Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It was a wonderful group nationwide, can’t say enough good things about Dolly. I’m gonna share a few slides kind of diving a little bit deeper into some of this stuff. So first of all, let me get myself sharing here, can y’all see what I’m what I’m sharing? Is that coming through, Maryanne? 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Yeah. 

 

[Dr. John Hutton]: Okay, so this is sort of framing me. So I’m coming at all this from a perspective of a kid that just likes to play in the mud. So I didn’t really know much about anything I do with screens. So this is a sort of a summary slide of, sort of what was in the video. Just a lot of the research we’re doing, looking at these different aspects of what we call the home reading literacy environment, just the things that parents and kids, or caregivers and kids, can do together. Around having more books, reading more often, but you know that the topic today is more getting into the idea of format. So you know, if you’re, if someone’s reading with a child, you know, does the platform matter? What if it’s on a tablet, what if it’s a print book? And if it’s on a tablet, what, you know, what kinds of bells and whistles are involved? And that’s sort of part of the research we’ve worked, we’ve been working on in addition to just looking at screen time in general. So one of the, one of the things as far as framing the difference between e-books and sort of “book-books,” or print books is, really comes down to this critical question. What is the role of the parent or caregiver? Because you know, a lot of these technologies that are on a, on an iPad or whatever. I mean, you can read those just like any other book. There’s really, I mean, I love print. I love turning pages. There definitely are some advantages to books themselves, in terms of the tactile, the smell, the um, you know, there’s definitely a lot of advantages in that. But if a book’s being read on a device, there’s really nothing wrong with that, in the, in the sense that you know, there’s radiation or something that’s going to hurt the child. It’s more how is the book that’s being read stimulating that parent-child interaction that’s so important, as far as talking about the book, asking questions, and sharing feelings. The other, the other issue that’s very important is the question of content. You know, a lot of ebooks that are on devices for whatever reason, the makers love to build in these sort of bells and whistles, what they call enhanced content, and the good news about that is it’s really interesting. I mean, kids think it’s fun to watch and push and makes noises, and you know, you touch the apple on the apple tree and it falls down and, and makes a funny, funny sound. But it can also be very distracting, and there’s been some research looking at effects on parent child interaction and comprehension, especially in younger kids. And I found that the more of this type of content can really be a distraction in terms of putting more focus on the device and on the animated stuff, rather than the story, and there’s less questions and less talking, and there’s also features on these devices that make the device the reader, where you click a button and the, and the stories sort of quote “read” to the child through the device itself without a parent being involved, and that’s okay if there’s no time to read. You know, the child’s engaged and they’re looking at a story, but it also makes it one-directional, where the child is really not able to ask questions and talk about deeper meanings in the story. And, and sort of taking the discussion out of the story, so that’s, that’s a really important issue. And the other thing is, you know, it’s definitely well known that whatever – whatever’s being read, whether it’s a print book or an e-book it’s, you know, reading together is always going to maximize benefits with kids. It’s just going to make it much more possible to go outside the story to talk about concepts that aren’t in the story, or that are more complicated. And then as far as the issue Rita brought up, the importance of longer narratives, absolutely. This is really really important. A lot of kids now are we call “grazing,” you know, reading short things. You know, whether it’s social media and adolescents, or younger kids looking at YouTube or whatever, that’s videos. But, it really is important to practice reading these longer narratives to practice engaging attention, building up those attention networks that do require practice. And then also developing that sense of imagination and empathy, being able to connect with the characters that can help make it more possible to connect with characters and longer books. You know, going from picture books to Harry Potter. Maryanne, I know, has done a lot of work as far as e-books being a great way to, to get a lot of books to underserved areas very efficiently and inexpensively, so that’s definitely an important role for e-books, I think. As far as other issues involved with that parent child dynamic, you know, just introducing this concept that really frames what a child is going to get out of the book, and, and how those different reading networks are going to be engaged to practice. You know, there’s a concept in behavioral research known as scaffolding, and educational research, that’s been around for a long time. Which is essentially, you know, that idea that with time, you know, the types of books that a child is reading are going to go up in difficulty. So you start out with, you know, books almost no, with no text at all, just all pictures. You read them together, you know, that’s sort of with babies for example. Very simple concepts, and then as you go, you kind of stack on more complicated things as children can handle it. Going from very simple board books, to a little bit longer picture books, to beginning readers that have some pictures but less, and then eventually getting to books without pictures, where the child has had the opportunity to practice sort of engaging those visual networks through pictures, but also engaging their imagination, and eventually being able to just rely on their imagination to do the work, and to bring the story to life in their mind, and eventually read Maryanne’s books. So anyway, so this kind of, is sort of, the trajectory we’re looking at. We’ve done some MRI research, and Maryanne, feel free to cut me off if I’m going long. But essentially, looking at comparing these different formats between audio, regular picture books, audio illustrations, and animation we did a couple of MRI studies looking at this. Comparing how these brain networks are engaged during these different formats, and what we found is, and this was preschool age children, that audio seemed like in terms of how these networks come together, was a little quote “too cold” in the sense that there was a little evidence that the language network was having to strain a bit. There wasn’t as much engagement of visual, which makes sense because there were pictures, but there was some engagement of imagination. And this may be because stories of that age, you know, the child does have to work a little harder, I mean, and they may hear concepts they’ve never heard before. You know, if they mention a rhinoceros, the child’s never seen one, they’re going to have to work a little bit to figure out what that means, which is why pictures are so important. By contrast, in animation what we found was, it’s almost a little “too hot.” The brain networks weren’t really cooperating in this really balanced way. There’s a lot of emphasis on visual networks, visual processing, and we know that – that there’s only a certain amount of capacity in a child’s brain to sort of process things, especially through moving fast. And there’s less engagement of language and imagination. And then in the middle, as you might guess, audio with illustrations, there was almost what we call it, “just right,” where language and vision and imagination networks were kind of coming together and seeming to cooperate in the most balanced way. The language network wasn’t having to work quite as hard, and this is probably why this kind of book is so appealing to kids at that age. There’s just enough pictures to help kids along, but not so many that they don’t have to engage these other parts of the brain, and it gets to be a little over stimulating. And of course, we call this the Goldilocks effect, you know, looking at the different, you know, really the appeal of picture books at that age. I do have, you know, some pictures of what that looked like. This is just examples from this research, the golf balls are parts of the brain, sort of talking to each other. Red is more, blue is less. Illustration compared to audio, there was just more engagement with these visual, sort of, imagination networks with the visual perception helping the language network. By contrasting animation, there was less connections between imagery and others, and so some evidence. There’s just differences here between these different formats. We also looked at attention, where we looked at engagement, of the focus part of the brain, you know. What – what, where the spotlight is during the story during animation compared to illustration, there was a big drop in connection between the focus network, the attention network, and language, and really a big emphasis on visual stimulus. And then, also, in between languages involving switching, where the attention goes, being able to sort of toggle between imagination and pictures and language, So, really it’s pretty substantial differences here in these different formats. This is all very preliminary stuff, but it really speaks to the idea that there are differences at this age and how these books are processed especially if there’s animated features, so that’s really all I’ve got, and I’m gonna stop sharing. And if there’s any time to talk about anything, I’m happy to, or we can just move on to the next person.

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Oh John, it’s so wonderful to see all the new work as it evolves, and I can’t help but hope that you saw on Sunday – the New York Times, the essay by Pamela Paul called you’re – “You’re Not Too Old For Picture Books.” 

 

[Dr. John Hutton]: Never.

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: I hope you saw that, it’s a great essay for everybody here. John, there have been questions so I’m gonna – because of time, I’m gonna only give you one of the many questions that people are having. But this one is a very prevalent, and that is: what do you advise parents who are – this… is this is, this is what unfortunately I’m calling “babysitter’s effect,” – using things like Alexa, Siri, etc., to have them read to the child? Now, I don’t want to set you up by saying “babysitter,” but what would you – what would your response be? 

 

[Dr. John Hutton]: Yeah, it’s sort of a brave new world we’re living in. I mean, this technology is coming on very quickly, you know, the role of sort of robotic devices, you know. And you know, it sort of remains to be seen to what degree those can sort of simulate that real human parent-child interaction. I mean we know they’re, you know, the brain is an analog organ that evolved to process multiple senses – multi-sensory stimuli – touch, taste, smell, you know, being held. I think that – that these kind of interactive devices like Siri, I mean first of all, they’re gonna… there’s still… got a lot of work to do in that technology. But, there probably is a certain level of what we call “contingency,” where they can answer questions that a child asks. But it’s probably going to be mostly factual stuff, you know, like, you know, where do – where kangaroos live or something. And this and Siri’ll say “Oh, Australia.” Whereas it probably isn’t going to do as great of a job with things like emotions. “I’m sad today,” or you know, “I miss my mom,” or, or whatever. So, so there’s a balance there. I mean, I mean, I guess you always have to ask “What is the technology going to be able to, to simulate, in terms of that human experience?” And I think in, to some degrees, it does a pretty good job, but it’s their limitations. So I guess I, we just have to be careful to remember that there’s always going to be a very critical role for human grown up caregivers with children, that we really can’t outsource to a device in any sustained way. I think in emergency situations, not emergencies, but in limited amounts – fine. But we just really do have to make, make room for those, for those human things. 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Thank you, John, that’s just the perfect response. And for those people who want to read more about that there’s your work, Barry Zuckerman, Jenny Radesky’s work on gaze, and how the importance of the human is, in helping the orientation of attention and feeling. So thank you so much. Now I’m gonna rush to the next developmental period, which is actually gonna be the older reader. And no one could do a better job in making that work not just accessible to us, but alive to us, the particular issues of the older reader. And  Kristen reminded me the last time we were together was with that, at National Council of Teachers of English, and it was wonderful to hear her then, and I so look forward to her now. She’s a professor and of, and director of teacher education at Drew University in New Jersey, and she’s the founder and director and author of so many books on different forms of literacy. So we couldn’t have a better person to follow John developmentally, Kristen, than you, thanks so much.

 

[Dr. Kristen Hawley Turner]: Thank you, Maryanne. And I’ve already noticed a theme running through the presentations, that I just want to call out for anyone who’s watching, to think about the role of interest. And then also the role of shared reading or connections with reading, particularly with adult mentors and children. So I come at this work from the perspective of an educator. Let me go ahead and share with you, and I often hear questions about whether we should be reading in print or digital, whether print or digital is better, but really I know that I’m living in a world where I read both print and digitally, and that teens are also reading in both print and digital forms. About 10 years into my 20 plus year role as an educator, I had something happen. I gained a second identity, and now I approach all the work that I do both as a parent and an educator. So I wanted to introduce you to the teen readers who are in my own home. They are 13 years old, which means that they were born about the same time as the iPhone. They have grown up in a world that has always had smartphones or reading potential in their pocket. They’ve also grown up in a world where from a very young age, they were seeing their parents on computers and on devices. So when I ask questions, I’m constantly thinking both as a teacher, and as a parent. And the question for today is, “What does it mean to read in a digital age?” As I mentioned for me, reading is a lot. It’s pleasure reading, it’s easy reading, sometimes, it’s difficult reading that really makes me engage, there’s reading on a screen, there’s reading in print. I live in a “both and” world, and so do my children, and so do all of the teenagers. But at this moment, you have been watching a screen for a while and as an educator I would say it’s time for a brain break, or a screen break. And so I want to get you involved a little bit, just kind of take a moment, and this is going to work best if you’re watching this webinar on a different device than your phone. And what I’d like you to do is actually grab your phone, or your tablet, or some device that you’re not watching the webinar on, and read something. And I’m just gonna pause, and don’t let this pause be uncomfortable. Take it as an invitation, and a moment to pick up that device and read something. So please do that. Okay, now I’m going to be that mean teacher and make you stop. I didn’t give you nearly enough time to do what you actually probably want to do, which is take a break from the screen and read something that interests you. But now I want you to reflect, and I’m going to ask those of you that have a phone to participate. I can’t have everybody contribute to this poll, but I’d like to collect some data. When you were asked to go to your device and read something, what did you open? What app did you open? So if you could text the number to 37607, so 37607 is the person you’re sending it to. And if you opened a social media app, messaging, or texting app, or an email app, text 46921. If you opened up a website that provides articles or blogs, you’re going to text the number 49659. And if you opened up an e-reading app where you could access full-length books, text the number 49700. And if this works we should be able to get… Oh, here it comes, some live data from our participants. Yes, so this is not surprising to me that about half of the people who got into this poll opened up social media apps. It’s something that is, we’re kind of automated to do when we pick up that phone. I’m actually quite pleased to see that about half also opened up blogs or articles, or something like that. I’m going to ask those of you who have it open to give us another response. When you opened up that app or website what did you start doing? Did you start scrolling? Did you start reading? Did you start scrolling and reading, or did you do something completely different than scrolling and reading? And again, if you don’t want to participate, or you can’t get into the poll, just think about this: What did you do as a reader when I asked you to read something? So again, we’re seeing about half the people said reading, some people had this combination of scrolling and reading. I imagine if I asked teenagers this question, I would get a lot of scrolling, because that’s typically what they tend to do. So, what are we reading? In some research that I did several years ago with Troy Hicks, we adopted from Thompson the idea of short-form, mid-form, and long-form writing into what we are reading. So when you, you go to a social media app or a text messaging app that is an act of reading. You are taking in visual information and processing it in some way, but it’s often skimmed or scanned reading. You don’t need a lot of cognitive engagement, and really, you’re often in a conversational mode when you’re in those short-form texts. Mid-form texts, which are your news articles and your blog posts, you can typically read and comprehend them in one sitting. But, and, you need a little bit more cognitive engagement in order to to do that, but they’re still different than what we would call long-form texts or ebooks, academic articles, things that you probably have to read over a series of sittings, and you really have to use multiple strategies to engage with them. So based on your responses to the poll here, as adults, we are reading all of these kinds of texts, and my research found that teens are too. Actually 9 out of 10 teens are using social networking, and 84 percent of the teens in our study read news stories and blogs, and about half of them said they read digital books and magazines. And these numbers are actually confirmed by other studies, like from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and Common Sense Media. I think you might hear from Naomi in a little bit about how that long-form reading is declining, particularly in this age of COVID, but teens are reading all kinds of texts. So what does that mean for us as teachers? Well, my question is really, “Are they good at it?” Because we haven’t taught them how to read digital texts. Most of our reading instruction has been about reading print-based books, and some, somewhat digital articles, but mostly print-based articles. So this question, “Are they good at it?” is something that I ask in my own home. And so I just want to give you a case of a teen reader who has been working on reading New York Times articles and reading them critically, and so at home I’ve been using the strategies that we know are good for print-based reading. And we’ve actually printed out the articles, and we work on predicting based on the headings and the title, we work on chunking the text, we work on her ability to construct the gist, to summarize. Her teacher provides questions that she is able to answer, and look for those answers, and – and help her to understand. And then we’ve also worked on annotating, and this has been an ongoing project as I am a parent at home during COVID, with my learners at home with me. I’ve been helping with this work, and she’s been getting pretty good at it over the year. About halfway through the year she was assigned a very similar task with a digital text. It was a very linear text, like the New York Times article, with questions that were provided by the teachers. And when she went to the computer, she didn’t do any of the things that she was doing with that print version. Instead she started scrolling, and scrolling up, and scrolling back, and she was kind of lost. And she wasn’t doing as well on her reading assessments on the digital text as she was when the article was in print. So this said to me, the skills she’s developing to read these print articles are not automatically transferring when she goes to a screen. So what does that mean as a teacher? Well, I did a study with Lauren Zucker looking at high school students, 11th and 12th graders in particular, about annotation. Because we were also finding that teens did not know how to annotate digital texts. But yet they’d had years and years of experience teaching and practice in annotating print-based text. So we ask the question, “What happens if we teach them how to annotate digital texts?” So we started that study, and there were 63 11th and 12th graders in the study. 21 percent of that group said that they knew how to take notes directly on a digital text, 17 percent said that they liked doing it, and 22 percent said reading digital texts helped them learn. And I’ll come back to in a little bit why these questions are important when we think about engagement of readers, but as you notice, we’re looking at less than a quarter of the students in these classes that really knew or felt good about annotation, something they had been learning their entire academic life, since they were in grade school, on a digital text. We did a year’s worth of instruction where we taught them how to annotate articles, we taught them about hyperlinking in articles, and what that means when you move from one article to another with your annotations, we gave them multimodal texts that had video and image embedded, and taught them how to do annotation with multimodal texts. And at the end of the year we did a post questionnaire about – and this is all their own self-perceptions – but you’ll notice there, their like to read print didn’t really change, but we did get some change in their liking to read digital text. We also got some change in knowing how to read digital text. And then finally, we got some change in their perception of whether they were reading carefully with digital texts. So that kind of told us when we go from 21 percent saying they know how to take notes directly on a digital text, to 87 percent saying they know how to do it or they are competent in it. 17 percent saying they like to do it to 54 percent. And 22 percent saying reading digital text helps them learn or they find usefulness in digital text, moving to 40 percent, that we really do need to teach them. So we can’t just look at: we’re teaching in print, and then we ask them to read on a screen and are surprised that they are not doing as well. When we teach them, they actually can do better on the screen. Just as a side note, we also ask them at the end of that, “What is their preference?” And this is something that has held true in all of the work that I’ve done with teenagers, most of them still prefer reading books in print. There is, there is a larger percentage that prefers reading articles digitally, and I think that comes really with the access that they have to articles. But there are some teenagers who prefer books digitally. And I think every reader has a preference. And this is something that I try to think about for my own children, as well as for all of the teens that we are teaching. Some are going to prefer print, some are going to prefer digital. So kind of to summarize, “What do we know about adolescent readers?” We know that they are actually reading a lot. So if we look at all of those short-form and mid-form text that they are reading, they’re reading a lot. The short-form, the social media posts can actually lead them through links to other texts. And a lot of the adolescents in my studies are following those links and engaging with texts in a more, in a deeper, cognitive way. As the other panelists have talked about, they also read a variety of texts that are both print and digital. Every reader has a preference, and they have opportunities to connect through reading that did not exist in the past, just because texts are digital, they can share them, they can comment on them. But also, we have primarily prepared them to read print texts. And what do we know, that holds across teaching, and what we know to be good teaching, about engaging readers in – whether it’s print or digital – it’s about the text and the reader’s interaction with the text. If they find the text useful in some way, or relevant to their interests, they are more likely to be engaged. If they feel competent in reading the kind of text that they are given, they are more likely to be engaged. And if they have social opportunities to discuss texts with other readers in kind of a real authentic situation, or to share reading authentically, they are more likely to be engaged. So that turns me to thinking about what I do as a parent. If the research says that interests matter, then as a parent, I want to help my children find texts that interest them. But I want to think beyond just the books that interest them. I want to think about short and long texts, print and digital, there are so many opportunities to find texts that interest kids, that I don’t want to limit it to just that young adult novel, or a book that I hand to them. I also know that scrolling is an act of reading, as we kind of showed in our survey earlier, but it isn’t reading. “So what do your children see you doing?” is a question I ask myself all the time. When I pick up my phone, and I’m on my phone, am I just scrolling? Are they seeing that active reading, and just thinking that scrolling is what you do on a phone? So I want to be mindful of how I read, and then I want to share my reading with my children. So if I’m on my phone I might want to talk to them about, “I found this great article that I’m really interested in, let me tell you about it,” and it shows that when I’m on my device, I’m not just scrolling mindlessly but I’m actually cognitively engaging with something that is on my device. I also know that we live in a “both and” world, and so I need to embrace the reading that they are doing digitally. My son loves to read sports articles on ESPN, and that’s great. It’s his interest, I want to embrace it, I want to encourage it, I want him to tell me about it and have a conversation. My daughter loves digital texts that have embedded videos, so she can learn how to do crafts. Again, I want to embrace that kind of reading, but I also want to make time for print reading by asking them to put down their devices. And I do that often, I say, “Hey, let’s take a screen break, pick up a book, you know, let’s read something else.” And I just encourage that throughout the time that we’re at home together. I also know that digital is different, so I need to help my teens transfer their skills of print-based reading to their digital reading. And I might not know how to do everything, but I can learn alongside them. So I didn’t grow up in an era where I was taught to annotate digitally, it’s not a comfortable thing for me. But I’ve learned the basics because I’ve learned alongside my children as they are learning, and so I think having these open conversations about how it’s different, and you’re learning as well, is a great thing that parents can do. In one of our studies, Andrew, who is a senior, said to us, “Reading is supposed to be connective.” And this is the biggest thing that I can say – we need to read together in the household. You can see my two little readers around a device together, but this is not an uncommon occurrence, where I am also sharing what’s on my screen, talking through what’s on my screen with my now-teenagers. And they were younger, kind of growing up through this lifetime, I want to connect with them as a reader. I want to talk about the things that I’m interested in, that they’re interested in, that their father is interested in, and we want to share those things and be connected through our reading. So I just want to thank you, and I guess if there’s questions, Maryanne?

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Oh, Kristen, you did such a wonderful job. It’s just like having the perfect parent and perfect educator put together. You actually remind me of several important things that I’d like to underscore before I give you one of the questions, and that is Walter Ong, who was this great philosopher, and who really took a more philosophical view than Marshall McLuhan, said, “The real question is not the either or question, but what happens to those in a culture who are steeped in both mediums.” And that’s really where I think you, and I, and others who are really trying to figure out “How do we build a biliterate brain?” And in my own work, I tried very hard to say that those first 10 years are more print dominated. While we’re still using the parallel digital skills, we’re learning them in parallel, but we’re really learning deep reading in those first 10 years. And I want to emphasize and ask you, my, my real worry was that it, you, after you have deep reading developed in the kids with print…You absolutely pinpointed “How do we teach deep reading digitally?” And so one of my questions for you is to amplify what you were doing, because I – I think you’re really pinpointing the key. It’s not that we’re against either medium or that, I’m so involved with books, I’m speaking, I, being representative of this group, of many groups, but how do we teach deep reading on the digital medium? What are some of your thoughts on inside the school especially?

 

[Dr. Kristen Hawley Turner]: So again, I appreciate all the work that you have done, and it’s really influenced my own, in terms of understanding the cognitive effects of reading on a screen. And I think that we are kind of in this space where we have to uncover ways of younger children understanding that digital texts are different than the print books that they have. So, I think this can happen in the home with parents. You know, as, as John said, you know, we can read e-books and just say, “Hey this is – look how this is different. I turn the pages on a book, I’m reading similarly on this ebook, but I’m scrolling, and it’s harder to turn the pages, and it feels different,” You know, having those open conversations, even with young children. But you also mentioned Sherry Turkle earlier, and about, you know, I’m always drawn to her work, “Alone Together.” I really think parents need to think about what they are doing on their devices. And if we can turn our minds to see our devices as reading tools, and that the work we are doing on the devices is actually reading, and share that with our with our children even from a very young age, then they’re going to start to see that there are things to be read on a device that are different than the print. And then we can bring this into schools in the same way. We don’t have to be all digital or all print, there should be a variety of texts as children are learning to read. They need to learn that in a digital text you can click on a hyperlink and it takes you somewhere else, it takes you somewhere else in the text or somewhere outside the text, so these affordances or these aspects of digital text are something we do need to teach in the elementary grades. We can’t wait until they get to be teenagers, because they need to learn this critical reading of digital text, just like they’re learning critical reading of print text. 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Kristen, that’s just the most wonderful answer and I would, I know we’ll come back to you during the question-answers, but I know I have to move straight into Naomi who will take us into even older readers. Now I want to say that it is just a pure joy to at least have a Zoom to see Naomi, who is a dear friend, and we get to at least correspond. But this gives me a chance to share with you, the viewers, my excitement over Naomi Baron’s long work in this area. And her newest work is going to be, I think, out any minute now, Naomi? It’s “How We Read Now.” Oxford Press has always been how you publish, but you have done so much work. And your title I have to be formal here, is Professor Emerita of Linguistics at American University in Washington. She’s a former Guggenheim, Fulbright, a year before me. We, I wish we had overlapped, but it was at the Stanford study, for, anyway – you’ve got so many things I’m not going to say, we’re running out of time, but I really want to emphasize your new work, Naomi. And I know you’re going to summarize some of that now, which will directly address some of these questions about the cost and weaknesses of different mediums for our, even our older readers. Us. 

 

[Dr. Naomi Baron]: Thank you so, so much, Maryanne. All right, let me start with some slides and share, and here we go. So, what I’d like to talk about has already been touched on by a number of my friends and colleagues, namely that the medium that you’re looking at is very relevant to think about when you’re thinking about reading, but so is the kind of mentality that you bring to the medium itself. Okay, what I’m going to be talking about is a lot of research, but really looking at the conclusions. And the research was overwhelmingly done both by me, and by many other colleagues pre-pandemic, and some of those results may change given what’s happened over the last almost a year. I’ll be focusing on what happens when we do longer reading. Not talking about social media, not talking about the shorter kinds of things you might read online in particular. I’ll say maybe one sentence about audio and video, because those are obviously means of acquiring information or enjoying narrative as well. I’ll then talk a little bit about, “So, what has this pandemic done to us,” and close with some advice to parents and to educators. Let’s begin by thinking about what’s been happening in schools for oh, 10, 15, maybe even going on 20 years, of a move towards use of digital devices as learning media. There have been really three main motivations for this move to digital within K-12, as well as in universities. Cost, namely. Most of the time, not always, digital materials – think books for the moment – are less expensive than print equivalents, and then there are open educational resources which do not have a price tag to the user. Convenience, they’re all on one device, they don’t weigh a ton. In principle, if you have the devices and internet access, everybody can get all the materials. And a third motivation has been a concern of parents and educators, that we don’t want to leave students behind in the digital revolution. I think we’ve overdone it in each three of those categories, each of those three categories. But those have been the main motivators. Another major change that’s been happening within schools has been a shift in what the curriculum is about when it comes to reading, instead of focusing on single texts. We’ve been moving increasingly to asking students to work with multiple online documents to find them, that is to navigate or to search, to evaluate them, to see whether they’re credible sources and to integrate the findings. As a result, within a number of curricula, there’s been a shift from an emphasis on literary reading, or narrative, to focusing more on informational reading, which has its own challenges, but at least we need to know what’s happening. By contrast, contrast to what’s been happening in the schools, if you look at the sales of books, trade books in the children’s literature area, that is children and YA, young adults. E-books were growing dramatically from roughly 2010 to roughly 2015, and then they began to fall, and the last two years before the pandemic they fell in 2018, 2019, about four percent. The same as – was true for adults. We’ll talk later about what’s happening now. I’d like to look at different age cohorts and different kinds of data gathering for reading a different medium. John has talked a wonderful amount about working with very young kids, the only things I really want to point out, not everything on the slide, are two. One of them is – there’s a lot of mixed messaging when you look at the research. Is it true that dialogic or joint reading must be done in print to be effective? Probably with toddlers, maybe not totally with preschoolers. Again, mixed data on that. When you look at what kids remember again, it’s mixed findings. What I find really interesting is some of the studies show well, if you’re looking at basic information, let’s say that that preschoolers have from memory of a story, it’s sometimes about the same in the two media, print and digital, but if you get into more detailed pieces of the story, including what’s the structure of the story, “When did things happen?” Print seems to be better. Interestingly, it’s exactly the same thing that is happening with adults. One point that’s important to make, and, and John hinted at this when he talked about the bells and whistles of what’s in an awful lot of the e-books or the apps for young kids, is there’s a number of people who are really working hard on developing better digital books for young kids. The better digital books that have built into them opportunities for dialogic reading, that don’t have all the bells and whistles that distract you from the screen. So we’ll have to see over the next number of years, if as the e-books and the apps get better for younger kids, if indeed they can be as productive for learning and joint participation. There’s been a lot of research about a decade and a half worth now, looking at the kind of reading comprehension that students, largely uni, university students, but now also a number of younger kids, have. When you give them a passage to read, and then you give them a reading comprehension test, do it on a digital device, do it in print. The research overwhelmingly is showing, and there have now been dozens, probably hundreds of studies, that there are three consistent results suggesting that reading in print can be better for comprehension on a single test. Okay, we need all those qualifiers: for longer tests, texts for questions that need to be answered by being abstract, or using inferences in your answering, and answers that require more detail, not what I call pebbles on the beach you can just sort of pluck it right out of the text. Interestingly though, if you ask students these days, and this goes for research with middle school kids and research with adults, university students, here. If you ask them, “Do you think you did better, or will do better on the digital test than on the print test?” They’re increasingly saying “I’ll do better digitally,” but in actual fact they do better in print. Another place where some interesting research has been done which relates to media, is if people are using a lot of social media, they tend to have lower scores. And in interest of time, I’m going to skip the audio and video. Well, what happens if you do longer term comprehension measures, not just a one-off test? Well, many of you know about what’s sometimes called the nation’s report card, that the National Assessment for Educational Progress does every two years. If you look at data from 2017 and 2019, particularly for the fourth graders and the eighth graders, on the reading test. You find a really interesting mismatch between the amount of daily use in the classroom that teachers report in the language arts classrooms, and reading scores on this nation’s report card for reading. And that is, the more use of the digital devices, the lower the reading scores. Now like most research, it’s actually more complex. Some of my colleagues in Spain and I have been looking into the weeds on the results, particularly the 2017 data, and if you use the digital devices creatively, for things like research purposes, which is what online is very helpful for, then there isn’t that negative correlation. But if you’re doing lots of repetitive drills which unfortunately a lot of digital devices are used for, it seems to be to your detriment to be using these digital devices. But what do students themselves say? And here’s where I really recommend asking kids “What do you think about your learning when you are, or you’re concentrating, or your enjoyment when you’re reading digitally versus you’re reading in print?” So my colleagues and I have done studies with secondary school students and with university students, and they consistently say overall they concentrate better, they learn, they remember better, with print. This is them speaking curiously, this is the opposite of the perceptions they have when they’re taking a single test digitally versus in print. Okay, one other point to just think about: we know that people overall, particularly children, seem to be reading less. That goes for a number of us adults as well. But let’s not romanticize how much reading people have been doing. The Common Sense Media study, which is a great source of information, the results from 2019 showed that tweens and teens that is, you know, basically from 8 to 18, were only reading for pleasure about 29 minutes a day. That’s not a whole lot, but guess what? Adults are reading even less for pleasure each day. The American Time news survey, done by the US Department of Labor, showed an average of 16 minutes a day. And some work by the Pew Research Center said that 27 percent of adults hadn’t read a book, whether in whole, or in part, and in any medium, in the last year. So before we blame kids, let’s ask, “What are we ourselves doing?” Which brings us to the pandemic. We’ve all been in survival mode, and the enormous switch to digital texts and resources and library purchases was what we needed to do. But one of the results has been of the pandemic, not necessarily specifically of the move to digital, is nobody can concentrate. And as a result of the pandemic, the ways that book sales have been going trade, meaning basically for leisure or pleasure. There’s been a surge again in e-books for children and young adults, as well as in the adult space, although the e-books are starting to decline for adults. So, what kind of advice can we give? We need to recognize that this has been a really trying period since the middle of March last year. And that withdrawal from so much digital – I didn’t say all digital – from so much digital, is going to have to be a mindful, gradual process. Working on concentration, whether that’s reading in print or digitally, is something that’s a task we have to undertake, and we have to go slowly with it as in any kind of recovery mode. It’s, and as Kristen said, some of this is going to involve modeling at home, modeling how we read print, also how we read digitally, but particularly how we read print, because so many people are doing so much less of it. In terms of modeling at school, there need to be conversations with teachers in the PTA and libraries, and we can’t just say, “Okay, let’s go back to the same mix of print and digital that we had pre-pandemic,” because there are real budgetary issues right now, and we’ve changed our style of doing things, and we can’t just turn on a dime. But what’s most important that I want to leave you with is one of our attitude, of our mindset. To go back to a question several people have raised: How much is the medium, how much is the mindset? Both are important, but especially important, because with medium you say, “I take this one, I take that one,” but especially important, is something we have to think about, as Rita said, that’s not tangible. In this case it’s the mindset. How do we, what do we want to achieve when we’re reading from a particular medium, from a particular kind of text? And then put our mind to help make that happen and I thank you.

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Oh, Naomi, I don’t want you to stop. However, you must, unfortunately. We could listen to each of you for so, for so long. It has just been terrific and you’ve brought so much together. We really have only time for two questions, one of them is a live question from our audience, from Blythe. Her question is, how can schools be helped to identify what is needed in this post – when, when there’s a post-COVID period. So her question’s about, “How do we help the schools?”

 

[Dr. Naomi Baron]: The most important thing we can do is let people know. And people here means teachers, it means principals, it means administrators, it means decision-makers. To let them know there’s a lot of research that helps us make wise decisions. One of the experiences I’ve had in talking with a lot of teachers is, this research hasn’t percolated down. And it’s not their fault, but it’s up to us as the people who want to do applied research. Of taking what we’ve learned and sharing it with others to get this information out. And there are a number of ways of doing that. One is to do something like have a community meeting with teachers and parents and students to talk about what their experiences have been over the last year. And we’ve learned a lot, and it’s been hard to concentrate, and it’s been hard to read. And, and we know that the amount of assignments, reading assignments, that have been given have been reduced and that’s probably a good thing to do. But what do we want to do going forward? And to talk about this, and to talk about the medium issues as well. Interviewing students about what their own perceptions are, about how they learn, how they concentrate, how they remember. And then sharing that with teachers is really important. There was a statistic that came out just this morning, a study that was done asking both faculty members, and this is in higher education but I’m sure it applies to K-12 as well, asking faculty members and asking students whether they would prefer to have materials in print or digital. And the faculty members, about a quarter of them said, according to this study, print. Half of the students said print. All right, so, it is really clear students understand something that administrators and teachers have not. If you want to ask about learning over the long haul, the students get it. And we have thought about cost and convenience, and don’t let kids get left out of the digital revolution. That is the message that I think we need to bring to schools 

 

[Dr. Maryanne Wolf]: Oh my goodness, Naomi, I  hope we can get this whole panel to many schools. So we’ll, we’ll hope that Pamela can do that. Now I’m gonna have to do in two minutes, a question about dyslexia, because we are running out of time. And I will say that Kristen really set this up by talking about: there are individual differences. And a study by Julie Coiro that was based on her dissertation, actually showed that some of our students actually do better digitally, and some – many do not. Now, although, I have talked and written about the biliterate brains, emphasis in the first 10 years, on print. And simultaneously learning all these wonderful digital schools in a parallel track, the individual differences in dyslexia must be taken into consideration. And indeed there are individual differences within dyslexia, so I want to pinpoint two of the areas in which I think digital mediums are so important when thinking through what that individual person with dyslexia needs or does not need. The first is practice. Some of the amazing things that the digital world can do is provide practice, and things that are so difficult for a teacher in a class of 24 to 30 to give an individual student. So the practice, especially on the alphabetic principles, the graphing phoneme correspondence rules. Learning these especially in the early parts of the teaching, of reading the practice that’s possible, the difference of font, the differences in speed, of presentation, this can be a real boon in dyslexia. The second area is that, because so many of our children fall behind, and this applies way beyond dyslexia, into this moment when there’s such – going to be such regression. We can use digital resources as background knowledge that is being missed out by our children. So in two areas in particular, I think, our children with dyslexia can be aided. And this brings me to a summative statement because I have one minute only to give it to Pam. And that is first: thank you, panel, I couldn’t be more honored to be with each of you who represents such an extraordinary panel, a range of knowledge. Second is, that I think there’s a message here that we all share, and that is to preserve and expand. How do we preserve these deep reading skills, the imagination, critical thought, empathy in that next generation as we expand and as we learn how to teach deep reading in different mediums? So I want to end my little section before giving it to Pam, with a quotation from – I seem to have more poets than scientists, John, I’m sorry, Rita –  but it’s from Hölderlin, in the poem Hyperion. “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story, and I was just – that’s the genius in putting science to work, for all of us. So thank you, panel, it’s just a delight to be with you. And now, I give it back to Pamela, who will end us all. 

 

[Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra]: Well, thank you so much, Maryanne, Naomi, John, Kristen, and Rita. That was truly inspiring and insightful. Thanks to all of you, our Zoom participants, for joining us as well. To continue learning about this topic, please be sure to visit our website at www.childrenscreens.com, and read our tips for parents and other resources. Our conversation addressing children’s well-being and digital media continues in two weeks when we bring you All in the Family, a conversation about media rules, parental controls, and family media plans, on Wednesday, March 10th, at noon EST. We’ll also post a video of today’s webinar on our youtube channel, which we encourage you to subscribe to and share with your fellow parents, teachers, clinicians, researchers, and friends. For more from Children and Screens, please follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn at the account shown on your screen. When you leave the workshop, you’ll see a link to a short survey. Please click on the link and let us know what you thought of today’s webinar. Thanks again, and everyone stay safe and well.