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  • Writer's pictureMike Cruz

Paper books linked to stronger readers

This article was originally published on July 25, 2022 on KQED (channel 9), a PBS member television station licensed to San Francisco, California, United States, serving the San Francisco Bay Area.

There’s a lot to like about digital books. They’re lighter in the backpack and often cheaper than paper books. But a new international report suggests that physical books may be important to raising children who become strong readers.

An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study across approximately 30 countries found that teens who said they most often read paper books scored considerably higher on a 2018 reading test taken by 15-year-olds compared to teens who said they rarely or never read books. Even among students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, those who read books in a paper format scored a whopping 49 points higher on the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA. That’s equal to almost 2.5 years of learning. By comparison, students who tended to read books more often on digital devices scored only 15 points higher than students who rarely read – a difference of less than a year’s worth of learning.

In other words, all reading is good, but reading on paper is linked to vastly superior achievement outcomes.

It's impossible to say from this study whether paper books are the main reason why students become better readers. It could be that stronger readers prefer paper and they would be reading just as well if they were forced to read on screens. Dozens of previous studies have found a comprehension advantage for reading on paper versus screens. But these studies are usually conducted in a laboratory setting where people take comprehension tests immediately after reading a passage in different formats. This report is suggesting the possibility that there are longer term cumulative benefits for students who regularly read books in a paper format.

This story about digital readers was written by Jill Barshay and produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

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