Interactive Book Features: Which Facilitate Reading and Which Are Distractions for Reluctant and Early Readers?

Special thanks to Digital Support Analyst Spencer Hanson for this insightful post!
In updating our whitepaper for educators about Lerner Interactive Books, I am discovering a lot of information about how reluctant and early readers engage with interactive books. In the long history of education, using this technology to help children read is very new, and I’m impressed by the amount of research that has been performed in just the last few years.

Lerner has been on the forefront of developing Interactive Books and providing them to schools and libraries since 2012. It is encouraging to find that our approach continues to be supported by recent studies and that our goal to provide interactivity that’s not distracting has been hugely successful. We knew from the beginning that we wanted our interactive books to be first and foremost books, encouraging kids to read left to right and turn pages in order. We have been very intentional in the features we offer, and emerging research supports our decisions. Here’s a snippet of the revised whitepaper about including features that encourage reading and avoiding features that distract from reading. Enjoy!

Researchers have observed that early and reluctant readers can benefit from reading interactive books. Increased comprehension, vocabulary, fluency and overall literary proficiency have been attributed to their use in the classroom. Today, there are many options aimed at the education market; however, they are not all equally beneficial to the goals of early literacy. Most interactive books provide narration usually synced to text highlighting. Other features tend to vary between products and may include animation, sound effects, and games. These types of features are criticized by parents, educators and researchers as bordering on entertainment or “edutainment” rather than being productive educational resources. The research ultimately agrees that when features are irrelevant to the content, they tend to distract young readers and negatively impact their comprehension and literacy development.
Dr. Ihsan Sayyed Ertem (2011) criticizes interactive books that “offer too many choices and too many animations that may distract and confuse struggling readers” (pp. 30-31 citing Coiro, 2003). Ertem further explains his concern for the development of young readers:
[I]f the illustrations, games, attractive pictorial options included in the interactive storybooks do not support the story, they can distract and draw attention away the children’s focus on the story rather than support the narrative’s comprehension, could cause passive reading, and delay children’s early literacy development” (p. 31 citing De Jong & Bus, 2002; Labbo & Kuhn, 2000; Matthew, 1996; Shamir & Korat, 2006; Underwood & Underwood, 1998). 
In agreement, Bridget Dalton (2014) calls for caution when selecting interactive texts that offer features irrelevant to the text, as “these kinds of media experiences can interfere with students’ comprehension (p. 41). If features don’t focus on the text, they will distract.
Trushell, Maitland and Burrell (2003) compared two groups of children reading the same interactive texts but one with significantly more irrelevant features added. The results found a correspondence between students playing with the irrelevant features and “poor recall of propositions, particularly in episodes in the event structure” (p. 87). Oakley (2002) formed a similar experiment after observing reluctant readers and those with mild difficulties tended to dwell on the distracting animations and sound effects while reading interactive books. Oakley worried that students would be less engaged without the fun but irrelevant features; however, “when less glitz was available, these same students were happy to engage with educational rather than edutainment [interactive books], even electing to skip playtime and part of the lunch break to read them” (Oakley & Jay, 2010, p. 249 citing Oakley, 2002).
Young readers have been observed to be more focused and engaged using interactive books over their printed counterparts as well. Pearman (2008) found that not only did the interactive version of a text improve comprehension over the printed version but the digital text focused reluctant readers more than print:
When these students were reading the traditional print text, they often flipped backward and forward in the book, looked around the room for long periods of time, traced pictures with their fingers, and tried to hold conversations with me. Contrary to both my expectations and the findings of the Project Literacy Instruction Through Technology, these students were more engaged when reading CD-ROM storybooks. They clicked on words and pictures but kept their attention on the text instead of looking around the room. (pp. 599-600)

Lerner Digital selected interactive features with care when designing the Lerner Interactive Books collection. Unnecessary games, animations and sound effects are avoided to keep the focus on developing reading skills. Lerner Interactive Books provide professionally recorded narration and synchronized text highlighting for standards-based, age-appropriate content that is engaging and unique to the market. Unlike our competitors, our interactive books have three narration speeds: Speed 1 reads 30% below reading level, Speed 2 reads at reading level, and Speed 3 reads at a fluent level as if being read by an adult. Glossary terms open definition boxes when clicked, and page references in the Table of Contents and Index are linked to the actual pages. At the end of each book, there is an automatically scored and printable comprehension quiz, additional activities, and links to websites with related content. In addition, useful materials such as an implementation guide and teaching guide are embedded for the instructor to use.
Want to try Lerner Interactive Books with your own young readers? Try our free trial today!

Coiro, J. (2003). Reading comprehension on the internet: Expanding our understanding of reading comprehension to encompass new literacies. Reading Teacher, 56(5), 458-464.
De Jong, M. T., & Bus, A. G. (2002). Quality of book-reading matters for emergent readers: An experiment with the same book in a regular or electronic format. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(1), 145-155.
Dalton, B. (2014). E-text and e-books are changing the literacy landscape: Digital technology is beginning to offer an array of multimedia and multimodal devices and applications that promise to help struggling readers and engage all learners. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(3), 38-43.
Ertem, I. (2011). Understanding interactive CD-ROM storybooks and their functions in reading comprehension: A critical review. International Journal of Progressive Education, 7(1), 28-44.
Labbo, L.D. & Kuhn, M.R. (2000). Weaving chains of affect and cognition: A young child’s understanding of CD-ROM talking books. Journal of Literacy Research, 32(1), 187-210.
Matthew, K. (1996). The impact of CD-ROM storybooks on children’s reading comprehension and reading attitude. Journal of Education Multimedia and Hypermedia, 5(3-4), 379-394.
Oakley, G. (2002). Using CD-ROM “electronic talking books” to help children with mild reading difficulties improve their reading fluency. Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 7(4), 20–27.
Oakley, G., & Jay, J. (2010). “Making time” for reading: Factors that influence the success of multimedia reading in the home. The Reading Teacher, 62(3), 246-255.
Pearman, C. (2008). Independent reading of CD-ROM storybooks: Measuring comprehension with oral retellings. The Reading Teacher, 61(8), 594-602.
Shamir, A & Korat, O. (2006). How to select CD-ROM storybooks for young children: The teacher’s role. The Reading Teacher, 59(6) 532-543.
Trushell, J., Maitland A., & Burrell, C. (2003). Pupils’ recall of an interactive storybook on CD-ROM. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(1), 80-89.
Underwood, G. & Underwood, J. (1998). Children’ s interactions and learning outcomes with interactive talking books. Computers and Education, 30, 95-102.

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