Online reading comprehension is a necessary component for the development of reading skills.
PJ O’Rourke said, “Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” For teachers, this may mean reading a great novel, a biography of someone you’ve always admired, a poem. For students, however, good reading can be a blog, an IM from a friend, or status updates on Facebook. Recent studies show, teens and young adults spend 16.7 hours online per week, a few hours more than they spend watching television, and far more than they spend reading books and magazines.
For many, the internet provides the primary source of reading material, so improving online reading comprehension practice is important. Students read online for entertainment, but they also use the internet for information.
According to a survey of UK teens who spend an astonishing 31 hours a week online – a majority of online time is spent on homework and researching items of personal interest. It is important, then, that students of all ages are able to recognize reliable sites, verify information, and understand what they are reading.
While online reading material tends to differ a great deal from book or even magazine text, students need online reading comprehension practice to navigate the online world as well because as adults, this is likely where they will get the bulk of their information.
Dr. Donald Leu, the leading guru in online reading comprehension, has two books that are a must read. Teaching with the Internet, K-12: New Literacies for New Times and Handbook of Research on New Literacies.
Improving online reading comprehension is very closely tied to the quality of the websites themselves.
Online reading comprehension practice is greatly influenced by the visual aspect of the website, which includes background and text colors, font, graphics, animations, and ads on the page. For instance, a student may easily read a webpage that features a light background with dark type. Information is easily accessible – depending on the quality of the writing! – because students do not have to struggle to make visual sense of it. On the other hand, a black page with yellow text, for instance, can be extremely difficult to read. It can strain the eyes, and the student will not be able to retain as much, if they make it through the text at all.
When a site uses formatting which includes bold text, hyperlinks, bullets, and supporting graphics, it can lead to better comprehension, in the same way a well-designed textbook can. Teachers can help students determine this and other factors that impact their comprehension, helping them choose sites with better quality visuals and format when looking for information.
Another important feature of online reading comprehension is being able to recognize the reliability of a site.
Teachers should discuss with students that just because an article, blog post, or story has been published online, does not make it true. Exercises aimed at examining reliability will help students determine the quality of the information. Well-written posts are more conducive to comprehension. On the web, anyone can publish anything, and it can be very difficult for students to comprehend some material, through no fault of their own. Teachers should reinforce lessons in website quality and reliability.
Most of all, exposure to quality online writing as well as activities that reinforce learning are essential to improving online reading comprehension practice. Sites like The Reading Matrix and LiteracyNet provide teachers with great ideas and exercises that will help students take what they read and be able to analyze and evaluate it. This helps students develop online reading comprehension practice that they can use online or on paper and that will help them be better readers throughout life.