General Education

Textbooks Come Alive in Schools


In today’s world of one on one technology, students like to fancy themselves digital experts, hopping from device to device, website to website in an effort to learn and retain new information, demonstrate their growing skill set, and even to assess their knowledge of concepts learned.

A growing number of districts are now spending time and money on technologies that they hope will increase student engagement and boost test scores, making us competitive in the global market once more. While there is most certainly a push for increased technology in the classroom and beyond, we have done so with the hope that it will have a positive impact on the classroom. Unfortunately, we as parents, educators, and policymakers are finding that this is not necessarily the case.

Students are acclimated to screens from the moment they step into the classroom, so it would be natural to say that they prefer this type of learning and that it aids in assimilation and retention of knowledge. Test scores demonstrate the opposite trend, however. Research done over the last twenty-five years shows that the use of printed textbooks in the classroom is far more effective than the use of digital media for the same reason. In particular, the act of scrolling through data significantly lowered a student’s ability to retain and process information, while the stationary feel of a book in the hand also tended to anchor in knowledge and new concepts. These studies demonstrated the following:

  • Students preferred reading online to print
  • Reading pace was significantly faster online than in print
  • Students self-assessed as more proficient in online reading
  • Data demonstrated that readers choosing printed books were significantly more accurate than online readers
  • Overall comprehension was improved with printed text as well

Perhaps it’s time for districts to once again buy textbooks for their classrooms.

Printed Perspective

When considering whether to abandon print in favor of increasingly digital demands, we need to take a look at some factors that play into what works best for students.

1. Consider the purpose of reading text. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to learning in the classroom; there is a time and a place for both printed and digital text, and the most progressive classrooms commit to using both to foster learning and growth.

2. As the data above demonstrates, reading printed textbooks results in greater comprehension and depth of knowledge than reading digital text. Students who are skimming digital text for answers to questions would get a satisfactory response with screen reading, while deeper concepts that need to be built upon for further learning are better off done with printed text.

3. For students that struggle with comprehension, printed text is vastly superior to digital text, as it allows the reader to slow down and fully digest what is being presented on the page. Students who read at a moderate to slow pace assimilate data more completely than students who are comfortable reading at a faster pace. Printed text forces the reader to slow down and take their time chewing on each word.

4. Printed text holds a rich place in our history and societal development. Where would we be without ancient Sumerian scrolls, the library at Alexandria, and other historical texts that have kept record of us throughout the ages? We need to treasure this legacy and tradition as we seek to impart this love of history and learning to future generations; this could not be done without the presence of printed text in the classroom.

We are not so naive to think that online reading and mobile devices will wane in popularity anytime soon. This is the wave of the future, but we must also give credence to the past. Perhaps our goal instead should be fostering a love of reading and learning independent of the medium while giving valuable information on the validity of printed text in the classroom and its place in the world of academia. Teaching students to love reading in all forms is vital to their educational success, and fusing these two worlds–print text and digital media—into one symbiotic formula that works toward building literacy and increasing knowledge will teach them that both have valid places in the classroom.

School districts today should not shy away from the use of printed text in the classroom, although it seems that there is a smaller budget amount allocated to buy textbooks these days when compared to budgets allocated for technology. With the statistical data pointing to the effectiveness of printed text in classroom learning and comprehension, we must begin to shift our attitude once more to include basic elements of learning in the classroom.

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Aaron Gordon is a writer for various blogs.

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