Which are Better for Co-reading? Print Books or E-books

In Children's by Dennis Abrams

“We found that enhanced e-books offer observably different co-reading experiences than print and basic e-books…”

By Dennis Abrams

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop issued a report by Cynthia Chiong, Jinny Ree, Lori Takeuchi and Ingrid Erickson, comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic, and enhanced e-book platforms. And although the sample size was decidedly small (Thirty-two pairs of parents and their 3-6 year-old children were asked to read a print book and an e-book together. Half of the pairs read a basic e-book, the other half read an enhanced e-book), the study’s findings led the authors to recommendations that should be of interest to designers, parents and educators alike.

Among the study’s findings:

1. Enhanced e-books are less effective than print and basic e-books in supporting the benefits of co-reading because they prompted more non-content related interactions. (The basic e-book elicited similar levels of contented related actions — labeling, pointing, verbal elaboration of story features — from children as its print counterpart, while the enhanced e-book drew out fewer contented related actions than its print counterpart.)

2. Features of enhanced e-books may affect children’s ability to recall a story because both parents and children focus their attention on non-content, rather than story-related issues. (Children who read enhanced e-books recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story, while across all formats, children performed nearly equally when asked to explain a critical element in the story.)

3. Print books were more advantageous for literacy-building co-reading, while e-books, particularly enhanced e-books, were more advantageous for engaging children and prompting physical interaction. (When measuring overall engagement — a composite of parent-child interaction, child-book interaction, parent-book interaction and signs of enjoyment, 63% of the pairs were as engaged reading the print book as they were when reading both types of e-books. Only 6% of the pairs were more engaged with the e-book than the print book, compared to the 31 percent of the pairs that were more engaged with the print book than the e-book.)

The study’s recommendations?

1. Designers should exercise caution when adding features to enhanced e-books, especially when those features do not relate directly the story. E-book enhancements should also be designed in a way that allows parents to access and control settings to customize the co-reading experience with their children.

2. Parents and preschool teachers should choose either print or basic e-books to read with children if they want to prioritize literacy-building experiences over ones intended “just for fun.” However, given that appeal is an essential building block for early literacy development, enhanced e-books may be valued for their ability to prompt less-motivated readers toward engagement when they might otherwise avoid text all together.

Read the entire report here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.