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By Lisa Wahl, M.A.
The key to changing the appearance of electronic text is to determine which modifications enhance readability for your child. Readability refers to a level of comfort and ease in recognizing letters and words that goes beyond mere legibility. Readability does not mean comprehension but (by reducing the decoding load), it can increase reading comprehension for some students.1
For a student who struggles with reading, you may want to experiment with different font (typeface) styles and sizes to find combinations that make reading electronic text easier for the child.
Research has revealed contradictory findings regarding the use of fonts for reading on the computer. One debate hinges on the use of font styles that contain serifs, which are the little horizontal lines at the tops and bottoms of characters or letters. (A "sans serif" font does not include serifs.) Some students find a serif font (such as Times Roman) easier to read on screen because the serifs provide additional visual clues and eliminate confusion. Other surveys show more people prefer a sans serif font for reading onscreen text.2 Your child may prefer serif on paper and non-serif on the screen and may also prefer reading one size font on paper and a different size font onscreen.
TIP: Lexia is a free sans serif font that includes a non-symmetrical b and d (i.e., the b does not look like a backwards d), and handwritten forms of a and g, which readers may recognize more easily.
Font color or background color may be changed to enhance readability. Research indicates the preferred color combinations, both in print and on the web, vary by the individual. Hill & Scharff (1997) found that while the majority of a large audience of Internet users preferred reading black text on a white or gray background, or blue text on a white background, some users reported that white on blue, or red on white were clearest for them.
Your child may benefit from experimenting with different combinations.
Some students are able to read more easily with fewer words on the screen or page. Increasing the width of the margins and double spacing are two methods you can easily try. If you are going to print the text because your child prefers working from a hard copy, leaving a lot of room on one side for notes, diagrams, or drawings can be helpful.
As you and your child experiment with different combinations of font, size, color, and line spacing, remember that what reads best to you may not be what reads best for your child . Once you discover modifications that help your child, make note of them and remind your child to use them. If your child works on a computer at school, you'll also want to share this information with his teachers.
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