Unit 3: Keeping the Focus on Reading


Performance Objective

  • Synthesizing knowledge from Units 1 and 2, participants will create a plan for navigating reading features unique to digital formats, including media, ads, hyperlinks, etc… for improved reading focus.

Driving Question

How can readers maintain focus when digital formats often present so many "clickable" resources, both related and unrelated to the text?

The Voices of Experience

Why is it challenging to keep digital readers focused?

The digital reading environment presents navigational challenges that are unique to the format. When reading online, the text is often only part of what is available onscreen. Students conducting research through websites or engaging in a digital textbook are presented with additional "clickable" options that can enhance or distract from the learning experience. Advertisements, videos, pop-ups, and hyperlinks can affect the mindset of digital readers.

Linked resources are meant to help readers dive deeper into subject matter, but they can just as easily interrupt comprehension and fragment the reading experience. As stated in How People Learn, “For example, e-textbook developers highlight possibilities for making information available in side-boxes or through embedded links as desirable features that allow students to click out of the reading to pursue learning about certain topics… [however], the links can affect fluid reading of narrative and increase the learner’s cognitive load.” (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999, p.188). Engaging a hyperlink instantly removes the reader from the text and sends him/her to a new reading location, often one with additional hyperlink possibilities. "[T]he ability to hyperlink to related content makes the experience feel more like stream of consciousness than like a linear reading experience. It takes more self-control to stay focused when reading digitally, a challenge for many students used to quickly navigating around the Web" (Schwartz, 2016). This can lead to reinforcing the "surfing" mindset rather than encouraging the academic, close reading mindset.

Digital readers must consciously focus their attention for deep reading. "One of the skills that is needed when reading a digital text is the self-control to manage the distractions of online reading" (Julian, 2018). Having multiple tabs open on a browser to check emails, instant messages and social media create disruptions to the active reading process and focus. Websites with valuable research information, like the Encyclopedia Britannica site from Unit 1, also flash distracting ads and videos that can affect the focus of young readers. Even accidentally clicking on an ad can divert the reading experience and cause frustration.

For these reasons, teachers should take the time to give students tools and strategies for minimizing and navigating online distractions so that learners can maintain focus. "A proven online reading strategy employed in classrooms is to eliminate unwanted content which diverts the attention of readers" (Edsys, 2017).

Let's Take a Look

There are a number of ways to eliminate or minimize unwanted distractions for the digital reader. Begin by encouraging habits that manage personal distractions:

  • Find a quiet environment in which to read and silence other technology that may interfere with concentration
  • Close all open tabs on a web browser that are not directly related to the reading
  • When choosing to engage a hyperlink, open it in a new tab so that it does not override the current reading selection (which may otherwise get lost)

There are online applications, much like the annotation sites from Unit 2, that specialize in streamlining the reading experience for a more focused mindset:

To disable distracting content from websites, review Mercury Reader. It can transform a "busy" website to a standard text document!

Speed reading apps, can also be used to help eliminate distractions and assist students in focusing on the text. By limiting or controlling displayed text, readers are actively monitoring their reading engagement. Review the following applications and their demo videos for possible ways to focus eye movement onscreen.

Link to BeeLine Reader

Link to Spritzlet

Give It A Try!

If you like, sign up for one of these apps and revisit the Harper Lee research from Unit 1.

Journal Your Thinking

For this activity, you can keep a personal journal document or become part of the online KNILT learning community by posting your reflections and/or questions of your own.

Here are a few considerations when evaluating the focused reading experience:

Have you been distracted by these features of digital reading in the past?

How can you help students to acknowledge and address these challenges when reading online?

Does employing active reading and focusing strategies narrow the discrepancies between print and screen reading?

How can teaching digital reading practices change the mindset for online readers?

Join the conversation and learn about the experiences of other readers by reviewing:

Talk:Unit 3: Keeping the Focus on Reading


Etap 623

Carrie Kagan Portfolio

Digital Reading for Comprehension

Unit 1: What's the Difference Between Paper and Screen_Reading?

Unit 2: Active Reading for Comprehension

Unit 3: Keeping the Focus on Reading


6 Digital Strategies which Support Student’s Reading Skills. (2017). [Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.edsys.in/students-reading-skills/

Bransford, J., Brown, & Cocking. (1999). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Acad. Press.

Julian, Suzanne. Association of College and Research Libraries. 2018. Digital Texts and Reading Strategies [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://acrl.ala.org/IS/wp-content/uploads/Tips-and-Trends-Sp18.pdf

Schwartz, K. (2016). Strategies to Help Students 'Go Deep' When Reading Digitally. Retrieved 23 November 2019, from https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/46426/strategies-to-help-students-go-deep-when-reading-digitally