Friday, November 6, 2009

Web Layouts - Impact on Reading Comprehension?

cc image courtesy of Herzogbr
cc image courtesy of Herzogbr

How different is reading on the web vs. reading in hard copy? Shouldn't we able to use similar strategies to help readers with web and non-web text? You'd think so, and yet, there seems to be a marked difference from the way students deal with reading a web page vs. reading a textbook page.

For me, this leads to more questions:
  1. if similar reading strategies are used, what is it about the web that makes it unique for the reader?

  2. what electronic tools exist that can help with those "similar strategies"?

Question 2 will be tackled in subsequent posts, but for now, think about question 1. One thing we really need to explore is layout.

When is the last time you were on Facebook? How about a Google search? Purchasing something on Amazon? Or, how about wikipedia? In each of those web settings (social networking, searching, e-commerce, and research), you will notice something consistent about the use of margins: unimportant stuff is on the outside of the page (e.g. "sponsored links," ads, or other superfluous text).

When is the last time you checked out a typical textbook page? Whether it's for social studies, science, or a language course, what do you notice about the margins? Important stuff is on the outside of the page (e.g. definitions, graphs, and background information).

What does this mean for our readers and their comprehension? For kids growing up with web-based content, they are programmed to ignore what's on the outside of the page. That has significant implications for reading comprehension.

If you are a teacher and you utilize web sources as well as textbook sources, be sure you are cognizant of how layout impacts comprehension and be sure you make your students cognizant as well. If you never use web content (which means you aren't reading this anyway), be sensitive to the fact that our students do, and that practice may have repercussions on understanding printed content.

I am not-so-patiently awaiting a time when textbooks don't figure into our budgets, classrooms, or backpacks at all. Until we get there, though, we owe it to our students to help them discern the difference between printed text and electronic text.