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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 10/ 5/2009

Responding to Readers: Print vs. Screen, Who Should Pack School Lunches, College for the Retired, Getting Kids to Talk

By Valerie Strauss

The Answer Sheet likes to start the week by answering questions from readers. Email The Sheet with any school- and kid-related question you would like answered.

Reading Study Questioned; Researcher Responds

A reader identified as dwbucha1 properly blasted The Answer Sheet last week for part of a post that looked at two studies into reading on screen vs. print.

One was by researcher Anne Mangen of the National Center for Reading Research and Education at the University of Stavanger in Norway. She concluded that readers on screen absorb material in a shallower and less focused way than print readers.

A study by the non-profit Poynter Institute used equipment that watched readers’ eye movements and found that participants who read newspaper stories on line read an average of 77 percent of story text, compared to an average of 76 percent of text by participants reading from a printed broadsheet newspaper.

Here’s what the reader wrote:

The purpose of this column is supposed to be to present facts. What empirical evidence does Mangen present to support her claims? Her article either has none, or you have not conveyed them to us. Either case is a disservice to readers. You’re right that we need more research on the effects of digital reading. But why add to the pile of speculation and emotional argument on this topic? Still, the first section was illuminating.
Posted by: dwbucha1 | September 29, 2009 9:31 AM

The Answer Sheet contacted Anne Mangen in Norway to further discuss her findings and following is the Q & A:

Q) What kind of research did you do to come to the conclusion that screen reading is more superficial than print reading?

A) My article is based on my doctoral dissertation, which was a mainly theoretical study of the experience of reading digital narrative fiction as compared to print narrative fiction. In my study, I draw mainly on psychological theories of attention, perception and cognition, cognitive science, cognitive theories of film viewing, and phenomenology (mainly Merleau-Ponty) focusing on our experiential, sensory and bodily interaction with and experience of our lifeworld.

These overarching theoretical approaches are supplemented by recent findings from experiments in computer ergonomics and human-computer interaction focusing on readability and user-friendliness of different technical interfaces. It is my contention that a thorough understanding of the complexity of reading in different technologies demands a multi-disciplinary approach.

Q) Can you quantify the conclusions?
A) No, not from my research so far. However, I will be exploring the issue in depth by conducting empirical studies and experiments in the near future.

Q) What do you say to young people who swear that they read better on a screen than in print--even long novels?
A) It very much depends on what you – or they – mean by “better”, and it depends also on what kinds of novels they read, in what kinds of reading situations, what their purpose of reading is, the reader’s previous experience with different reading interfaces (screen vs. paper), etc.


A reader from Bethesda subtly slammed The Answer Sheet last week for making school lunch for her teenagers every day.

An email, with a request that the writer not be named, said:

“I have a question. Do you pack their lunches? Do other parents pack their kids’ lunches? Is this another way I have been negligent? Mine have been packing lunch themselves since first grade. I think I won’t talk about this in public.”

Another reader, soleil2000, was kinder in sending the same message to The Sheet. She explained in the comments section after the post that her children--a 2nd grader and a 4th grader--help decide when they will bring lunch to school and what they will purchase. Then on Sundays they set aside the components for the lunches and during the week pack their own meals.

That sounds like a terrific learning process for those children. The Sheet suddenly feels like she has been coddling her kids. Teenagers should be pack their own lunches.



Washington attorney Margaret A. Esquenet sent in some excellent suggestions to help parents get their children to talk to them about their school day. They are better than the ones offered by The Answer Sheet.

Margaret A. Esquenet:
I have found that I can get my first grader and my preschooler to talk more about their days if I ask about their friends. A little gossipy maybe, but they sure do like talking about the other kids in class, which let’s you segue into questions about them.

For example:

What did Best Friend wear today?

Did anyone get in trouble today? What happened? What did you do?

Did anyone get a Terrific Ticket today? Who/why?

It’s just matter of opening the spigot, at least at that age.

Also, we try to lead by example -- we have to answer their questions about what we did, with whom, and why. I once spent 45 minutes explaining copyright infringement to a 5 year old.

And some other questions:

Who is the fastest boy/girl?

Who is the quietest/noisiest?

Who gets in trouble most often and why?

What do you do best?

Who pushes the lunch cart?

Who is the nicest/meanest?

What did the teacher wear today?


The Answer Sheet received this e-mail:

I am now retired and I was hoping to be able to use my retired status to go to college for free or low cost. I understand from my basic research that many of our universities are allowing retirees to attend college for free by auditing the courses they want and to take part in the various cultural sport events they have on campus getting the same breaks as a student on campus.

What I am having problems finding out is a list of what universities have these programs and how I can contact them via email and check out their various options without having to drive to all of them. So please think of us retirees when you think of your education matters since we don’t lose the desire to become educated just because we are older. Thanks for the response. MIKE

The Sheet: Mike, the fastest growing segment of students in higher education are adults. And modern brain research tells us now that the brain works better the more it is used. So going back to school is a great thing for everybody.

If you have e-mail, that means you have access to the Internet, and that means that you can find the websites of every college and university that is near your home. If you don’t know which schools are out there, use a search engine and type in as terms the name of the city in which you live and "colleges" and "universities" or "institutions of higher education."

When you find the school sites, it should be easy to find lists of contacts. Email or call to get the information you want. Most schools have continuing education programs that are inexpensive. Be sure to check community colleges; they offer a wide range of courses that may interest you.

If you want help with a specific city, e-mail The Sheet again.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 5, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Higher Education, Parents, Reading  | Tags:  Reading research, higher education for the elderly, packing school lunches, parenting  
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Next: Willingham: What Should Students Be Required to Read?

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