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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

How e-book reading changes reading behavior

January 9, 2012

I feel like I barely go through a week without reading about a school or district adopting e-readers for classrooms. Even at home, e-readers are becoming commonplace. Families are spending more time reading books with e-readers, even with their very young children.

Researchers at the Erickson Institute at Temple University seeking to understand the effect of an e-reader on the amount and types of verbal interaction between child and parent found some startling patterns. From the press release:

"It turned out that reading electronic books became a behaviorally oriented, slightly coercive parent-child interaction as opposed to talking about the story, relating it to the their child's life, or even talking about the book's pictures or text," Parish-Morris said. "Parents were under the impression that when you are sitting down with a book, you are supposed to read it," she added. "But what was happening with the e-books is that reading was not even part of the process, probably because these books literally read the story to the child. So parents are not needed. The book makes commands and tells the child what to do; it encourages them to play games and reads to the child, so parents are essentially replaced by this battery-operated machine."

This is bad news for those of us who know how valuable and irreplaceable parent–child conversations are for young children. As educators, we must recognize the role of e-readers in today's world, but also continue to advocate for traditional book reading experiences filled with language experiences as well.

Some recommendations for those with e-readers:

  • Don't let the e-reader drive the whole reading experience. Take the time to stop the reading of the book, to talk about what's happening and to enjoy the pictures.
  • Continue traditional book reading, and read together every day! Talk about the content and use interesting words as part of the conversation.
  • Regardless of the format, help your child make connections between the book and their own life. Engage in rich conversations and circle back around over and over again to books you both love.

There's a workable balance between traditional and e-books out there. Let's help our families find it!


I see Ray's point about using proper English when students are being read to. It is wonderful for parents to read to their children in their native tongue but when they are reading with their child in English it is important to have a good model of the language. Yes, second language learners are taught English at school but if they aren't practicing it at home, they are not as successful in school. I am a 2nd grade teacher in a district that has 96% of the population as English Language Learners. As long as children are reading every day and connecting with the text then progress can be made but when learning English having a good example is key to success as well and e-readers provide that example when it wouldn't be available in homes otherwise.

Who says that the parent has to read in English to their child? If the parent feels better reading in his/her mother tongue then that is fine. As long as the parent takes the time to read with their child. The English part is taught in school.

The other thing that e-readers provide is good english usage etc, in cases where the parent is only learning english as a second language!

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"A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom" —

Robert Frost