Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Strategies for Digital Reading

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

My husband listens to audio books.  Downloading them onto his device, he listens as he works out, mows the lawn, or sometimes just when he's passing time.  For me, the love of audiobooks hasn't come quickly.  I find myself having to rewind to listen over and over again.  Though as a reader I lean more toward informational books, when it comes to audio books I most often have to choose fiction as I still haven't developed the strategies for keeping track of information while I listen.  While my husband has developed strategies for listening, I'm still trying to find my way.  In an effort to improve my understanding in audiobooks I took a step back; I started listening to podcasts, transitioned to listening to middle grade titles, and have slowly found my way into adult audio books.

Any time we learn something new, it takes time to develop the strategies to be effective.  It's not uncommon to read articles (such as Skim Reading is the New Normal, Paper or Tablet?  Reading Recall and Comprehension),  that essentially say that readers comprehend better in print than digital text.  As someone who prefers to read digitally, I often wonder if this is because we haven't developed the strategies we need for deeper comprehension. As a digital reader, I know I've had to teach myself some strategies to help with understanding.

We certainly live between worlds of print and digital text.  Across my day I find myself moving without thought between the two.  Saturday I was able to spend time listening to Kristin Ziemke at Literacy Connection.  As I listened, I found myself wondering, once again, about teaching readers the strategies they need in digital text.  What are the strategies we need to teach students to help them to read with greater understanding in digital texts?  How do we build their strategies without getting in their way as they grow as readers?  As a digital reader, I know I've had to work to develop strategies for reading with deeper understanding.

Some Strategies for Digital Reading
Teach readers to preview a digital text:  In a paper format, I often read the back of the book, looked at the table of contents, flipped through the contents, and maybe read a few pages at the beginning.  In digital texts there is rarely a summary of the text so I often find I have to go online to find a summary of the text that will help me prepare to begin reading.

Develop a system for highlighting:  While the skill of highlighting hasn't really changed, I've learned to use it in different ways.  While highlighting in print will bring something to my attention, highlighting in a digital text provides another way to return to key ideas about the text.  On my iPad, I'm able to use different colors of highlights.  I've created a system for myself where I use yellow for general pieces that stand out, pink for those that push my thinking above and beyond, and orange when I have questions about something I've read.  Digitally, it is possible to skim through highlights in a different view which can help to return to parts of the text.

Find a process for taking notes:  This has truly been one of the greatest challenges.  I usually keep notes in one of three ways as I read:

  1. In the notes feature of the app (this allows easy rereading in the notes view of the app).
  2. Keeping written notes in a notebook or digital notes in a space such as Evernote.
  3. Sometimes I convert the document, article or book to a PDF so that I can move it into Notability to take notes on the text as I read.  

Utilize location in a digital text:  In a print copy it can be easy to know where I am in a book.  Am I at the beginning, in the middle, toward the end?  In a digital text, however, it can be hard to know where I am in the book.  I've learned to use bookmarks so that I can easily revisit important text.  Location numbers, page numbers, and minutes to the end of a chapter, also can help with location.  For me, this remains one of the hardest challenges.  (Anyone have tips?)

Reduce distraction:  It is easy to get distracted when reading digitally.  Between clicking on links for more information and the ease in which I can move to other spaces on my device, I've had to learn a bit of self-discipline.  Often, when I really want to dig into reading, I switch to my reader as the risk for distraction is gone.  Helping readers to learn this self-discipline, make smart choices about following links, and changing views to reduce distraction are all smart strategies for digital reading.

Raising awareness with young readers about the challenges of digital reading can be one step as we work toward reading with greater understanding.  So often when we puzzle out challenges with our learners the solutions are better than we would have imagined.

Have other suggestions about strategies?  Please share them in the comments.


  1. This is good stuff, Cathy. Thanks. One tool that I've used for digital reading is Clippings.io, which lets you pull all of your highlights from a Kindle book into another format (Evernote, or just as text). I haven't done much with this ability, but I like knowing it's there.

    I, too, struggle with location. One thing that drives me crazy when reading nonfiction on the Kindle (which I do a lot these days) is the fact that the % complete stats are usually inaccurate, because they refer to the whole book (including endnotes and such) rather than to the text itself. I LIKE knowing how much is really left, and sometimes get discouraged when my progress is slow, only to find that the book ends at 55% anyway.

    1. Hmmm. I never thought about bringing them over to Evernote. If I'm reading an informational text for a book talk, I'll often keep notes in Evernote so that I can more readily participate. I did find all of the highlights are uploaded into my Kindle account through Amazon so I can access them online. This is particularly helpful with books I've borrowed from the library. I may have to try Clippings.io.

      I could go on for days about the improvements I hope they'll make to the Kindle format (which by far exceeds anything from Heinemann or Stenhouse...and other book houses that use PDF formats). I hadn't given much thought to the end location, but you are so right. I have noticed that in some books the chapter times aren't correct either. It must be that particular subheadings throw this off. Like you, I like to know percentages and times. It's the closest I can be to knowing where I am in the book (one of the things I miss in digital reading).

      Thank you for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment.