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Decreasing font size enhances reading comprehension among children who have already developed proficient reading skills

10.07.2014

The study found that for fifth-grade students who have already developed proficient reading skills, decreasing the font size enhanced their reading comprehension, whereas for second-grade students who are still acquiring reading skills, decreasing the font size actually impaired their comprehension

A new study performed by Haifa University shows that decreasing the font size helps to improve reading comprehension among fifth graders who have mastered the technical skills of reading.

“Adding cognitive perpetual load in reading actually seems to improve comprehension,” said Prof. Tami Katzir, Head of the Department of Learning Disabilities at Haifa University and a researcher at the Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities at the university, who led the study. 

There is a psychological-cognitive approach that claims that imposing difficulties that form cognitive load - such as deleting letters from words, may enhance performance on subsequent performance such as recall.

In the domain of reading, the hypothesis was that creating  a "desirable" difficulty by decreasing the font size, reducing line spacing and increasing line length - may actually enhances the ability to learn.

Few studies have been performed in this area, and these focused specifically on adults, yielding contradictory results.

In this study, performed by Prof. Katzir with Shirley Hershko and Dr. Vered Halamish, the researchers sought to determine whether introducing difficulties in text presentation may improves comprehension in second as well as fifth graders.

According to Prof. Katzir, it is important to test these two age groups because second graders are still acquiring the technical skills of reading, whereas fifth graders can already read fluently.

Each group consisted of forty-five children. The children were asked to read texts, and they were later asked related reading comprehension questions. Font size, line spacing and line length were manipulated.

The findings showed the decreasing font size and line length parameters impaired comprehension of second graders who are still learning to read and thus not fluent readers in standard form (the change in spacing had no effect) - whereas comprehension among fifth graders actually improved when the font size was significantly decreased (changes to line length and line spacing had no effect).

According to the researchers, a possible explanation is that the difficulty, which requires the reader to concentrate and read slowly — even to reread the same line several times — is what ultimately improves their reading comprehension. 

“This study demonstrates the difference between children at different stages of reading proficiency, and it is important to understand that difficulty impairs comprehension at one stage, while at another it actually facilitates comprehension. After mastering reading skills, an effective way to improve comprehension could be to decrease the text’s font size. In the age of digital media this findings have important applied applications Prof.. Katzir concluded.

 

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