Paper Matters Blog
3 Quick Ways Paper can Improve Reading Comprehension

According to an article from the University of California, San Diego, in 2009, the average American consumed roughly 34 gigabytes of data and information each day, which was an increase of about 350% since the late 1980s. That number accounted for approximately five hours of television, two hours of radio and computer, one hour of video games of thirty minutes of reading. Fourteen years later, the amount of time spent reading or listening to the radio has been cut in half while our phone usage has exploded to more than four hours a day, making the amount of information we intake difficult to even estimate. The time we’re spending with digital media is coming at a cost to our reading comprehension, especially amongst our youth, but with school around the corner, we’re sharing a few ways paper can help.

Reading Between the Lines

Two interconnected abilities help you understand written materials: word reading and language comprehension. Word reading is the ability to decode symbols on a page, while language comprehension means knowing the meaning of words and sentences. Together, those skills form your ability to read and comprehend—also known as reading comprehension—which helps you process, understand and integrate what you read with what you already know.

So, what’s the problem? Well, the amount of digital media we’re consuming on a daily basis is negatively impacting our ability to read and comprehend.

Fourth-grade students (aged 9 to 10 years old) “who used tablets in all or almost all their classes had, on average, reading scores 14 points lower than those who never used them—a differential equivalent to an entire grade level.”

In addition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) conducted a study involving millions of high school students on the effect that digital media has on learning, and they found those who use computers heavily at school “do a lot worse in most learning outcomes, even after accounting for social background and student demographics.”

3 Ways to Get Ahead of the Curve

Reading comprehension begins early in life, but we’re seeing young students suffer from the overuse of technology. The ability to comprehend helps children build vocabulary, learn about the world, and understand complex concepts. Adults who improve their reading comprehension skills understand work instructions better. They are, on average, more productive at work and communicate more effectively. We need to ensure that these abilities continue to be cultivated, even in an increasingly digital world. Fortunately, there are ways you make sure that you or your young ones are staying sharp:

  1. Read physical books

    • Much of what we read on-screen tends to be text messages and social-
    •  media posts, which are usually easy to understand. However, “When people read on-screen, they read faster,” says Patricia Alexander, a psychologist at the University of Maryland. “Their eyes scan the pages and the words faster than if they’re reading on a piece of paper.” Because the brain borrows networks that evolved to do other things, your brain can slip into skim mode when you’re reading on a screen rather than deep-reading mode when you turn to print. By establishing a ”reading time” for you and/or your kids, or by taking the time to print at work instead of reading from your computer screen, you can squeeze in much-needed quality time with physical books and improve your comprehension and concentration.
  2. Take physical notes

    • It may be an extra step, but taking a mixture of physical and digital notes also improves both retention and recall. Being able to “place” a fact somewhere on a mental map of the page helps us remember it.  Not just where you are on some particular page, but which page. You might, for instance, remember that the part in the story where the dog died was near the top of the page on the left side—this is called mental mapping, and you lose that sense of place when a long, digital page just scrolls past you. Some e-reading devices and apps are excellent at simulating page turns, but they can’t completely replace the action of taking notes. So, grab a good pen and keep a small notebook or pad of paper handy while you read and you may begin finding it easier to remember small details or more information over time.
  3. Slow Down

    • “The most important thing,” says Naomi Baron, a scientist at American University in Washington, D.C., “is to slow down. You can concentrate when you read digitally, But you must make an effort.” She suggests saying to yourself, “I’m going to take half an hour and just read. No text messages. No Instagram updates.” When you read something important, digital or physical, slow down and pay attention. Turn off notifications on your phone or tablet. Only turn them back on when you’re done reading.

Digital reading has many advantages. When libraries and bookstores close or it’s dangerous to visit them, Kindles or the Books app can be a lifesaver. In most cases, when you’re reading on-screen you can adjust the size of the letters or change the background color, which can be a great help for people with reading disabilities or for those who have issues with their sight. Digital reading is here to stay, and we think it should be, but it must be in moderation. To really get the most from reading, and best prepare yourself for future success, you have to engage with the words on the page. Literally.

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