So Many Words…. So Few Comprehend

The new way of words

How many words have you read on a screen in the last few days?

The number of words in our lives is multiplying by the millions every day. We read words in documents, emails, social media, news updates and even online shopping. So many words!

For our students who are growing up in a digital world, it means they are constantly bombarded with words.

The Internet has revolutionised the distribution of information. Google allows us to sift through staggering quantities of data in short periods of time, quickly identifying what interests us and enabling us to discard everything else. The digital age has nurtured an increasingly short attention span, and many may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available on any given topic. Our response to this situation is to skim read or “skate over” most words we read each day. 

The impact of reading on screen on learning

What are the outcomes of reading on-screen on learning, compared with reading in print?

In 2005, researcher Ziming Liu noted that:

With an increasing amount of time spent reading electronic documents, screen‐based reading behaviour is emerging. [This]… behaviour is characterised by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one‐time reading, non‐linear reading, and reading more selectively, while less time is spent on in‐depth reading, and concentrated reading.

Research suggests that reading online results in less understanding and less critical reflection.

They may have access to more information, however, information is not knowledge. Deep reading, also called slow reading, is the intentional act of reading more slowly and thoughtfully with the purpose of increasing, or deepening comprehension. Skim reading, such as what we do online, does not promote deep reading, hence limits our ability to understand.

The other challenge of online reading is the distractions. The ability to have sustained focus on one article in a linear way is challenged by advertising, links that take you away from your reading, scrolling and refocussing on the next section, and of course social media, emails, reminders and many other aspects our minds have to compete with to stay focussed

Advice to students

At school and work, we all need to be able to read on-screen, and there are enormous benefits for the environment, but we need to be aware of the challenges and carefully manage them. This will be particularly true for our Year 12 students in the coming weeks as they prepare for their final exams.

Some advice for all students but particularly our Year 12 student when reading online:

  • Copy articles or readings into a word document so it can be highlighted and annotated. This active engagement increases comprehension of information.
  • Complete revision notes on the screen if you choose but have a hard copy printed to use for more effective engagement.
  • Use a range of techniques other than reading; this is only one means of revision, which has limited impact. Transferring information to other forms is very beneficial.
  • Write summary notes of any online reading you are doing, so it allows you to interact with the information.
  • Reflect on what you have read when you have completed it and think through how you would summarise the article.
  • Close all social media and other possible interruptions when reading on-screen and endeavour only to have one document open at a time.

Though not online, deep reading is also an essential part of exam technique to ensure instructions and questions are carefully interpreted.

Some researchers fear that without the use of complex paper-based texts, the human brain may decrease its ability to cope with sophisticated sentence structure and complex content. 

So, during this exeat weekend, why not encourage your daughter to take time away from her screens and sit down with a book and enjoy some deep reading.

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