Are we teaching the skills for ‘screen reading’?

Does reading on a screen require different skills to reading on paper?


I have been thinking about this as part of our rethink of the curriculum, mainly because of recent news articles which suggested that iPads and other tech in the classroom might interfere with the concentration span of pupils (no conclusive evidence) – and a chat I heard on Radio 4 concerning how memory could be improved by the physical nature of handwriting your notes.

This led me to wonder if the skills we use when reading from a screen are different to reading from a book.

Of course, a discussion around Digital Literacy is not new – and teaching children to sift through information, search safely, reflect on what they read and identify what is useful is something that should be built into both e-safety lessons and research/literacy lessons.

But are we missing something by not teaching children that reading on a screen takes different skills? – the site for the annual ‘Readathon’ cites their own research:

With reading via the internet (72%) now more likely to be listed than newspapers (70%), teachers recognise the positive attributes of digital media. Almost two thirds of respondents approved of digital reading devices and 72% are expecting digital books to become more important in the future.

Other companies now also offer an ‘online’ element to their reading schemes and resources – 2Simple’s Purple Mash now offers a ‘Serial Mash’  which aims to deliver books in chapter size chunks to get children reading.  The advantages of these types of online reading materials seem obvious; easy to access; easy to share; possible cheaper; and children seem to enjoy accessing them.

Questions remain however about their usefulness as teaching tools, and the way in which children use them…

Bartleby's Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.
Bartleby’s Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.

What skills do I think we need to teach children to be able to read from a screen successfully? 

The art of sitting comfortably at a desk..sounds obvious right? But actually, we spend lots of time getting children to sit ‘properly’ – encourage them to be comfortable reading in book corners – at a computer desk? Not so straightforward.. Can they sit comfortably? Have you checked the screen distance?

Avoiding distraction... tricky this one. On tablets and laptops it is probably easy to ensure that they turn off any wifi connection (put it in do not disturb mode etc.) – but have we discussed with our pupils why you might want to do this?

Bookmarking – apps and schemes and online books all have quirky ways of saving where you are up to or ‘bookmarking’ a place.  Needed of course because they may not have traditional ‘pages’ which could be discouraging for children just beginning to read and to count progress in pages.

Saving for offline reading… Have you ever modelled to the class how you might save an article you find to read later? Or used a service such as Evernote to save and then share what you want to read? Important skills for those who regularly access information online. Even following hyperlinks can break concentration – are we modelling a ‘read then click’ habit?

Recognise symptoms of eye strain… interestingly time will tell if this will be a huge problem for us all, or if our eyes can adapt – but there is no doubt that we need to have a discussion about what eye strain feels like and how we can minimize it.. Is the screen too bright? Are you blinking enough? Is the room well lit? There are some great tips here for minimising eye strain. 

Making use of the technology.. can they enlarge text when they need to? Are they able to use functions such as ‘high contrast’ to support them if they need it? Have they used built in dictionaries to support their reading? Again, as we model using a thesaurus in writing, should we also model how to zoom in on text?


I would love to know if this has been discussed at your school… Have you modelled new skills to support children reading on a screen?

Further reading:

Bryan Goodwin – Research Says/ The Reading Skills Digital Brains Need 

How does electronic reading affect comprehension?

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