Reading is the gateway for learning, but one-third of elementary school students in the United States do not read at grade level. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are investigating how the design of reading materials affects literacy advancement. They discover that an overly busy page with extraneous images can draw the reader’s focus away from the text, leading to lower understanding of content.
The outcomes of the study are available in the npj Science of Learning.
“Learning to read is hard work for many kids,” said Anna Fisher, associate professor of psychology and senior author on the paper.
The normal layout of books for beginning readers frequently include engaging and vibrant illustrations to help define the characters and setting of the story, provide context for the text and motivate young readers.
And optimize their experience as they become more fluent readers. In the study, 60 initial – and second-grade students from the greater Pittsburgh region were requested to read from a commercially available publication developed for reading practice within this age category. Half of this book consisted of the published design and the other half was compact, having eliminated the extraneous images. Each child read from the exact same book. The group utilized a mobile eye-tracker to monitor the number of instances the child’s gaze shifted away from the text to images on the page.
To develop the streamlined version of the book, the researchers had a group of adults recognize relevant images to text. To distinguish, extraneous images were defined as amusing, but nonessential pictures to understand the narrative. For the compact version, the investigators kept the images that 90% of the adult participants agreed were pertinent illustrations. The rest of the illustrations were removed.
While the time every child spent on a page was comparable, the researchers discovered that almost all children reading the compact version had reduced gaze shifts from text and higher reading comprehension scores in contrast to the text in the commercially created version of the publication. Specifically, children who are more vulnerable to look away from text profited the most from the compact version of the book.
“During these primary school years, children are in a transition period in which they are increasingly expected to read independently, but even more so in the wake of stay-at-home orders as children are using technology with less in-person guidance from teachers,” said Eng. “This is exciting because we can design materials grounded in learning theories that can be most helpful to children and enrich their experiences with technology.”
Fisher notes only limitation for this study was that her staff just evaluated reading employing a single publication.
According to Fisher, these findings highlight ways to improve the design of instructional materials, particularly for beginning readers. By simply limiting extraneous examples, kids can have an easier time focusing and improved reading comprehension consequently.
“This is not a silver bullet and will not solve all challenges in learning to read,” said Fisher. “But if we can take steps to make practicing reading a little bit easier and reduce some of the barriers, we [can help children] engage with the printed material and derive enjoyment from this activity.”