Digital Reading Poses Learning Challenges for Students

Dear Friends,


The following is a most timely and informative publication from Education Week.


Digital Reading Poses Learning

Challenges for Students

By Benjamin Herold

Comprehension may suffer when students read on the digital devices now flooding into classrooms, an emerging body of research suggests.

In response, some academics, educators, and technology vendors are pushing to minimize the distracting bells and whistles that abound in high-tech instructional materials. They’re also trying to figure out how best to help students transfer tried-and-true print reading strategies into new digital learning environments.

“We have to move into the 21st century, but we should do so with great care to build a ‘bi-literate’ brain that has the circuitry for ‘deep reading’ skills, and at the same time is adept with technology,” said Maryanne Wolf, the director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Schools have experienced a huge influx of digital learning tools in recent years, with nearly 1 in 3 public and private school students in the United States now using a school-issued mobile computing device, such as a laptop or digital tablet, according to a recent survey from Project Tomorrow, an Irvine, Calif.-based nonprofit group.

Over the same time period, all but a handful of states have adopted common academic standards that call upon students to master increasingly complex texts.

The convergence of those trends has helped spark renewed interest in decades of study of the merits of reading on a screen versus in print.

Researchers now say that while many digital texts do a good job of motivating and engaging young people, such texts also pose a number of problems.

When reading on screens, for example, people seem to reflexively skim the surface of texts in search of specific information, rather than dive in deeply in order to draw inferences, construct complex arguments, or make connections to their own experiences. Research has also found that students, when reading digitally, tend to discard familiar print-based strategies for boosting comprehension.

And many of the multimedia elements, animations, and interactive features found in e-books appear to function primarily as amusing distractions.

Rather than resist the new technologies, though, some educators are trying to make sure students get the best of both worlds. And they’re beginning to get help from ed-tech products such as Actively Learn, Curriculet, and Subtext.

“We are very intentional about how [our] user interface operates,” said Jason Singer, the CEO of Curriculet, an 18-month-old San Francisco-based startup that has already signed up more than 100,000 students and teachers for its free digital reading platform. “Our approach helps struggling or reluctant readers revisit or reread the text, or note that important moment to stop, take a breath, and read more deeply.”

Digital Reading Tension

Christopher Hitt, 14, is the picture of a “reluctant reader.”

“I never read. Only when I have to. I think it’s really boring,” said Mr. Hitt, a 9th grader in the 3,000-student Southern Regional school system in Manahawkin, N.J.

When given an assignment, he said, he prefers reading on a digital device to reading a print book.

But Mr. Hitt is also quick to acknowledge a big problem: “I understand better when [text] is on paper, because it’s all right there, and it’s not skipping ahead and back all the time.”

That tension—between digital reading’s tendency to foster increased engagement, but discourage deeper comprehension—is presenting a massive new challenge for schools, said Andrew Dillon, the dean of the school of information at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There’s been this huge push from tech companies to get their stuff into classrooms, but that’s purely a commercial venture,” Mr. Dillon said. “There are real consequences for the types of serious reading people can do in those [digital] environments.”

Researchers have documented students’ struggles with comprehension when reading Internet-based texts on computers, although the literature on how reading e-books on computers is inconclusive.

And while similar research on mobile devices is just emerging, there are worrisome signs: A study last year by Heather R. and Jordan T. Schugar, a wife-and-husband research team at Westchester University of Pennsylvania, found that a small sample of students comprehended traditional books at “a much higher level” than they comprehended the same material when read on an iPad.

A 2012 study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a New York City-based research organization for children’s digital media, found that 3- to 6-year-old children who “co-read” high-tech e-books with their parents “recalled significantly fewer narrative details than children who read the print version of the same story.”

As a result, some observers fear that mobile devices, especially digital tablets as they are now being used in the classroom, are not supporting the kinds of extended, rich interactions with text called for in the Common Core State Standards.

“People think of technology as the solution, but it’s often the cause of the problem,” Mr. Dillon said. “It’s not the end of reading, but it is the diminution or simplification of reading.”

For Katherine A. Baker, who’s been teaching freshman English at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey for 15 years, the question is not whether print or digital media better support students’ comprehension, but the best ways to help students like Mr. Hitt learn to read deeply in both environments.

“We live in two worlds now,” she said. “We have to adapt.”

“Some of our best thought will go into how the [digital] medium can address its own weaknesses,” said Ms. Wolf, from Tufts University.

But for now, she said, “good common sense tells us that we want to preserve the best of what we know from print as we acquire these new skills.”

Article from Education Week Published in Print May 7, 2014

“Screen Reading Poses Learning Challenges”      Vol. 33, Issue 30, Pages 1, 24-25

Coverage of entrepreneurship and innovation in education and school design is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.



Tincy Miller

SBOE District 12


Dear Friends,

The following is an inspiring speech given in 2012 by Munir Captain, former interpreter for the U.S. Military, Operations Iraqi Freedom (2004-2009).  With Memorial Day coming up, this is a most timely and informative message.  His letter defines and defends why we fight for freedom and liberty and why former President George Bush sent our troops into Iraq.   

God Bless America!  (although the letter is long, it is well worth the read…)




Tincy Miller

SBOE, Dist. 12



Munir Captain Remarks October 27, 2012 in Dallas, Texas

Thank you for giving me this incredible opportunity to share my experience with you. I’m honored to be here. My name is Munir Captain, and I am a former interpreter with the United States military and commander of the U.S. constituted Iraqi Special Forces.  I have been asked to speak to you about what life was like in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, how I joined the U.S. Military to fight for and build the new Iraq, and why we in America should support and commend our military’s efforts in the global war on terrorism.


I was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, when Dictator Saddam Hussein was in power. We were struggling in all aspects of life.  Our economy was in shambles, and so was our security and freedom. Under his regime, our lives had no value and people were getting killed for the most trivial reasons.  I watched as men and women were led to prisons, usually never to return. My neighbors were executed when the Ba’athists discovered a computer printer in their home. Saddam Hussein targeted my family because my grandfather was a successful businessman, outspoken against the regime.  He was captured and tortured by Saddam’s brother, and his business confiscated.  I come from a family of six: father, mother and four brothers, and we all lived in an apartment that was smaller than the studio I have here now.  My mom was paid only a dollar and a half each month at her job at a bank as punishment for not being part of the regime, but our rent ranged anywhere between $30 and $60 a month.  My parents had to work three jobs, and my brothers and I started working when we were in the 1st and 2nd grade.  All this work did not earn us a decent living, but enabled us to survive.  Most days we ate one meal; a day of two meals was a rare celebration.  The six of us would share 2 eggs, 1 potato and 2 pieces of bread, and that’s all we had for the entire day.  But we never felt sorry for ourselves, because our neighbors couldn’t even afford eggs; so instead, they would dig into our trash and eat our eggshells for their breakfast.  I remember my younger brother needing blood one time; he was sick and near death.  But the hospital’s doctors only had pens and papers.  They did not even have one syringe to pull blood samples from donors, or even electricity.


Fortunately, my brothers and I did attend school, where we learned English.  My school days were full of beatings, because I dared to question the teachers.  When I turned 12, I was forced to go to Saddam’s so-called military training camps, or forego further education because my family was not part of the regime.  Saddam’s men would wake us up at 4:30 in the morning, take us on a long march through the desert, with a quick tour through the camp’s sewage canals, then feed us bread hard enough to crack walls and safes open.  We would dip the hard bread in a canteen of milk and tea with no sugar, wait for 30 minutes to get it soft enough to be eaten, before heading out to the desert to train for 9 hours in 140 degrees Fahrenheit, with no water, wearing our black boots and black uniforms.  I saw over thirty percent of our unit die of dehydration, malnutrition and heat stroke.  These were young boys, dying like flies; Saddam’s guards showed no compassion, they just laughed at our suffering.


While the people of Iraq were suffering, Saddam and his boys were ordering French whiskey, Cuban cigars and prostitutes from all over the world, to celebrate the “victory” of the bloody wars our country had to fight for no logical reasons.  Iraq has been the playground of long, bloody wars.  In eight years of war with Iran, Iraq lost 1 million men, 500,000 thousand disabled and another 500,000 missing in action.  Then when Saddam thought that was not enough, he invaded Kuwait and led the country into a war with the world’s most powerful militaries.  When that one-way war was over and he lost epically, he raised another war against his own people.  Innocent people were being shelled by tanks and artillery every day.  Innocent women were being raped by his Republican Guards.  Babies were being mutilated and thrown into the rivers. When people went to mosques to peacefully pray and protest the oppression, he’d order his men to drive their tanks over those protestors.  Under Saddam’s regime before the U.S. invasion we lived in constant terror, with no hope of change.


When we saw the first American tank rolling into Baghdad, we thought it was a dream, because we couldn’t believe that Saddam would ever go away.  We were so oppressed that we couldn’t fathom a better life.  We watched as your troops handed out candy to kids, speaking without being afraid of being killed or thrown in jail, and those moments meant the world to us.  Had your troops not invaded Iraq and destroyed Saddam’s regime, we would never have been able to respect life, understand freedom, eat a decent meal or even own a cell phone or computer printer.  It was not until your troops invaded that I wore cotton socks for the first time.  When an Army sergeant handed me those socks, I couldn’t help but weep.  When I went through those so-called military camps as a boy, I had to wear my thick, hard, black boots with no socks.  My feet would blister and we had to march, train, jump out of helicopters and run with blisters.  I couldn’t believe how comfortable those socks were, and I will always associate that simple comfort with the American troops’ image.


Your troops treated everyone as human beings. We were treated with dignity and respect.  We started to earn decent wages; my family could finally afford to eat 3 meals a day, buy a car and a cell phone and go to a dentist.  I lost my teeth as a child because we couldn’t afford toothpaste.  It was your sons and daughters that taught us to speak freely without fear, pursue a better live and enjoy freedom.  What we saw inspired many of us to follow suit.  Iraqis started to open businesses and form political parties, people started to vote for the person they thought represented their interests best, and most importantly, we started to understand the value of life.


Your troops also taught us that freedom is not free, and that we had to fight hard for it.  So joining the American military was a quick and simple decision for me.  I was only fifteen years old when I joined and went to live on base, and I often say I was raised by the U.S. military.  The enemies of freedom hated what they saw happening in Iraq, so they started attacking what we were building.  Your men and women bravely fought those evil people, and were manning the front lines even when Iraqis wanted to give up.  IT TOOK YOUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS WHO INSPIRED US AND LEAD US BY EXAMPLEI saw Marines handing out candy and medical supplies to children’s hospitals; Navy medics treating wounded women; Army engineers building new schools and Air Force pilots delivering food and water to people in disaster.  What I admired about your troops is that they came from different walks of life; had different colors, races and religions; had their own political and personal beliefs and associations – yet they all fought for one cause.  They all believed in the same mission, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to accomplish it.  You should all be thankful that you have men and women fighting on your behalf, so you can happily and safely enjoy your freedom your Constitution granted you.  Iraqis will forever thank your troops for making it possible for them to write their own constitution that freed them from compulsory military service, swearing allegiance to one political party and man, and having to give away their freedom of speech.  When you see a man or woman in uniform, you should go shake their hands, thank them for fighting on your behalf so you can be here and tell them how much their service means to you. I can attest on behalf of those heroes that it is not money, rank or position they were after.  Many of the warriors I served with came from families that had money, but those warriors had a cause that is a lot greater than money or themselves; it was selfless service to their country, people and the freedom of people wherever they exist in the world.


But as you all know, the war on terror is not over, not in the world and certainly not in Iraq. While I was working with the U.S. military, I was ambushed by al Qaeda, and chose to go with them as a prisoner in exchange for the safety of my father and brother.  I survived eleven days of torture as a POW, before I freed myself and another prisoner.  We returned and I am glad to say, neutralized the enemy.  I became a permanent resident of the United States in 2009, because after surviving thirty-three assassination attempts on my life, my military commanders recommended me for a special immigrant visa.  I am now studying toward my bachelor’s degree in international business and human rights, and I will become a U.S. citizen next year.    But I carefully monitor events in Iraq, and I can tell you this enemy will not let up, and they are still targeting anyone who wants a free and peaceful Iraq.  Last summer, my younger brother and cousin were captured by al Qaeda, tortured and killed, and their bodies dumped in the river.  They were not military – they were both artists and college students, not even nineteen years old.  And this summer, my uncle and his family of seven were gunned down in their homes because he and his eldest son were lawyers responsible for bringing terrorists to justice.  The fight for freedom still goes on in Iraq, and I believe ultimately, those who love freedom will prevail.



So I want to thank all of you who served in Iraq.  Thanks to your military, Iraqis don’t have to worry about their own president attacking them with chemical weapons, eradicating entire villages and wiping them from the face of the Earth.  Thanks to your troops, Iraqi children don’t have to serve in the military and die out of dehydration just to get an education.  Thanks to your military, people do not have to eat eggshells to survive anymore.  Iraqis are forever indebted for the sacrifices your American sons and daughters made, so that Iraqis can live another day with dignity and respect.  You left this heaven of America, descended into what was the hell in Iraq, and gave nearly thirty-three million human beings a chance for life, freedom and democracy.  Thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and leading by example, teaching service above self, and that freedom is not free.



Information about the author, Munir Captain:

Interpreter for the U.S. military, Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2004-2009

Commander, U.S. Constituted Iraqi Special Forces

Munir Captain served as an interpreter for high profile conferences between senior Marine Officers, U.S. Generals, and Iraqi Ministry of Defense dignitaries. He led a team of Special Forces commandos in Operation Phantom Fury, considered the most valuable Iraqi unit supporting the Marine Corps. After thirty-three assassinations attempts on his life, his commanding officers recommended him for a Special Immigrant Visa, granting permanent residency and a path to American citizenship.