Thursday, March 21, 2019

Digital Literacy: Balancing Print and Digital Text

This article was contributed by Amy J. Rolain, Lines Elementary Teacher Librarian, with contributions from the Barrington 220 Elementary Teacher Librarians.

How do we support our learners as they become successful readers of e-books?

Every avid reader is aware of the magic of print books, whether it's the wonderful smell of a new book, the joyful feel of each title as you browse the bookshelves at the library, or the warm memories that come rushing back when you read a well-loved childhood classic. As our youngest learners begin to build on their experiences with print and step into the world of digital text, how can we harness the benefits of both?

"We cannot assume that students’ prior experiences with devices have prepared them for the unique demands required to access and read an e-book effectively" (Schugar et al., 2013). While reading digital text, many students forgo the reading strategies they use when reading print books, which may contribute to research literature consistently showing a small cost to comprehension when students read from a screen (Ferlazzo, 2016). Kristin Ziemke, author and expert in innovative learning practices, suggests that parents and teachers guide children to become better readers across all types of text, teaching them to navigate each effectively (Ferlazzo, 2016).

"As [parents and] educators, we need to take a closer look at what online reading is all about and think about how we can help our [children] not only navigate with comprehension but also understand the underlying structure of this world.” Kevin Hodgson (2017)

Digital text offers young readers a spectrum of benefits. Differentiation opportunities abound and provide readers with the opportunity to tailor their reading experience, including the ability to adjust font and text size, line spacing, and background. In some cases, text level can also be individualized, allowing all learners to read about the same topic at their unique reading level without the stigma of an alternate text. Audio support allows students to hear a fluent voice read books that may be developmentally appropriate and relevant to their interests and/or core curriculum, but above their decoding level.

Tools that support comprehension are paramount when reading digital text, including bookmarking, highlighting, annotation tools, and an interactive dictionary that allows readers to define words in context. Digital text is also convenient, portable and accessible. Students are able to carry an entire library in one device, providing them with an interactive, multimodal, motivating, and engaging reading experience.

All Barrington 220 students have access to digital text that provides the comprehension support tools discussed above and more. In addition to building-based e-book collections in Destiny Discover, Barrington students utilize the Sora app by Overdrive, a catalog of e-books and audiobooks selected and shared by Barrington 220 Teacher Librarians. Sora allows students to read and listen to e-books on their district-issued iPad or any device.

Students also have the ability to add their local public library to Sora, allowing them to check out audio and e-books with their public library card. The Sora app can be found on your child's self service app repository, and for home devices, can be downloaded at or from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. To access the Barrington Elementary Sora catalog, students log in with their district username (first initial + last name) and password.

Elementary Launchpad Digital Text Resources

In addition to Sora and Discover, Barrington 220 offers a number of additional subscriptions that provide students with access to high quality, age-appropriate digital text.

  • TumbleBook Library is a collection of animated audio picture books as well as chapter books, graphic novels, nonfiction books, math stories and books in Spanish. 
  • PebbleGo (Grades K–3) and PebbleGo Next (Grades 3–5) are databases that offer science, social studies, and biography content that integrates "read with me” highlighting and fluent audio read aloud, high-quality photographs, Spanish, and videos that support text, with kid-friendly printing and citation capabilities. 
  • Epic is a free in-school resource that offers an unlimited collection of fiction, non-fiction, STEM, biographies, and graphic novels to students. 
  • The MyON collection consists of 70% leveled nonfiction and provides a dictionary, highlighter, drawing tool, sticky notes, a journal, and a citation creator. 
  • Britannica School offers thousands of up-to-date, curated, and curriculum-relevant articles, images, videos, audio clips, primary sources, maps, research tools, recommended websites, and three separate leveled encyclopedias. Students can utilize read-with-me highlighting with audio as well as a dictionary, font size adjustment capabilities, and articles in Spanish. 
  • Flipster is an easy to use digital magazine newsstand accessed on each school library homepage. 

While magazines are selected and purchased by individual libraries, most sites offer Ask, Cobblestone, Dig into History, Faces, Muse, and Zoobooks. Back issues are available, and all articles have zooming and printing capabilities. These digital text resources and much more can be found on your school's Elementary Launchpad, which is located under the Student Menu on each elementary homepage. Library homepages, catalogs, and home access password information can also be found at the top of the Elementary Launchpad.

How can we harness the benefits of print and digital text?

As we strive to harness the benefits of both print and digital text, parents and teachers must always remember that nothing can replace the close bond and rich conversations that come from sharing a good book, no matter the format. Modeling the application of comprehension strategies such as predicting, inferring, retelling, summarizing, and comprehension monitoring must be implemented with digital texts just as they are when reading traditional print books. The key to getting kids to read deeply in any format is to have them engage with the text in meaningful ways and use the tools available to support comprehension. In the digital space, that means disrupting a pattern of clicking, skimming, scanning, browsing, bouncing, and keyword spotting and dispelling the common childhood myth that digital text is only for casual, leisure reading.

Teaching kids to slow their reading pace down, engage in and break down complex text, find key ideas, organize, discuss and reflect on the text and defend claims will develop good digital reading habits that become second nature (Schwartz, 2016). Close, thoughtful, and engaged digital reading and reflection can and will emerge when parents and teachers model this behavior, both with the worn, dog-eared pages of beloved traditional print, as well as the convenient, tailored reading experience of digital books.


Alexander, Patricia A., and Lauren M. Singer Trakhman. "The Enduring Power of Print for Learning in a Digital World." The Conversation, 3 Oct. 2017,

Ferlazzo, Larry, et al. "Why the Death of Paper Books May Be Greatly Exaggerated." Classroom Q&A with Larry Ferlazzo, Education Week, 28 May 2016,

Hodgson, Kevin. "Strategies for Online Reading Comprehension." Learn NC, 2017,

Overdrive (2018). Sora: The Student Reading App from OverDrive Education. Retrieved from

Schugar, Heather Ruetschlin, et al. "Teaching with Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K-6." Reading Rockets, 2013,

Schwartz, Katrina. "Strategies to Help Students 'Go Deep' When Reading Digitally." KQED Mindshift, 16 Oct. 2016,

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