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March 26, 2020
Vol. 15
No. 14

How Large Print Books Improve Students' Reading Confidence

      One of the most frequent comments I hear from students in my library these days is: "I hate reading." It's hard to spark these students' interest in books, because they have clearly decided for some reason that reading isn't for them.
      As educators, motivating students to read can be challenging. In many cases, they have given up on finding even one book they might like to read. They either find that the words are too difficult to comprehend, lack the attention span to concentrate, or have never read a book before. The reasons are as diverse as our students.
      When I talk with students who struggle to find books they like, I go into my arsenal of possibilities and ask them questions like: What about graphic novels? What about a high interest/low reading-level book? What about an audio book? But more often these days, I find myself asking: "Have you ever read a large print book?"
      As a former young adult public librarian, it was common to have large print books on hand for patrons. Research shows large print books can provide benefits to striving readers. A 2019 study by the education nonprofit Project Tomorrow surveyed nearly 1,700 students in grades 3 to 12 and 56 teachers and librarians about their perspectives on large print vs. traditional print.
      More than two-thirds of teachers reported that large print text increases student confidence, minimizes reading distractions, and creates less anxiety for students than traditional text. The practice can also increase comprehension and retention for students who read below grade level. (Full disclosure: Thorndike Press, a big publisher of large print, was involved in the study.)
      Most often, I think we overlook large print in school libraries because we think of it as something for older people or those who have trouble reading smaller print. A few years ago, I participated in a webinar for striving readers about the benefits of large print books, and it clicked: I was neglecting students by not providing this avenue. We did have some large print titles, but only a few. I began a large print collection to make sure we offered a diversity of formats as well as content. We keep large print books in their own section for easy access, and I booktalk large print with regular print and created a podcast that lets listeners know which books are available in large print.
      Overwhelmingly, students of all reading abilities were drawn to the large print books. I had anticipated students who had trouble with reading might find these titles helpful, and they did. Students would frequently remark how much easier it was to read books with larger text. What came as a shock was how many students reading at grade level enjoyed the larger format. I began to document students' opinions about large print in a survey.
      To date, more than 225 7th and 8th graders at my school have shared their feelings about large print:
      • 75 percent had a positive experience with the format.
      • 52 percent would pick a large print title over a regular print.
      • 67 percent reported being able to locate their place when returning to a book faster than normal.
      • 52 percent remembered more of the story.
      • 53 percent enjoyed the reading process more when compared to regular print.
      Based on these results, the 7th grade language arts teachers at my school and I decided we wanted all students to have experience with at least one large print book. We tested this new format during an annual nonfiction and historical fiction comparison unit, which was not a favorite of either the teachers or the students. Most of the students didn't enjoy reading historical fiction titles and would take three to four weeks to finish them.
      This time around, I curated 12 titles available in large print. I divided the titles into three reading levels and the teachers used winter MAP test scores to place students into a level with four book choices. I recorded booktalks of the titles in a podcast, so students could make an informed decision about their reading material.
      After the first week, teachers reported the students were DONE reading their texts. Many students read more than two historical fiction titles when the requirement was to read one. This had never happened in the past two years—it had been a struggle to get the students to finish the one required text.
      Teachers also reported the following:
      • Students had a better understanding of the time period they read about as compared to previous years.
      • Students read for longer periods in class without needing reminding/redirection and even forgot to watch the clock.
      • Students expressed an enjoyment of the historical fiction genre in a year-end survey which previously was virtually unheard of.
      One 7th grade student, Evie, told me that with normal books, she had to hold the pages close to her face, which gave her a headache and caused her to stop reading sooner.
      "I started to not like reading as much because I didn't feel like I was getting anywhere in a book," she said. "When I found out about large print, I was so happy because I could finish a book so much faster [and] was more excited to read it."
      With that endorsement, how could we not continue to expand our use of large print? My school's collection is now 160 books and counting. If large print isn't part of your answer for the students who "hate" reading, it needs to be.

      AThorndike Press and Project Tomorrow. "Advancing literacy with large print: Results from a nationwide study about the efficacy of large print books on student reading skills and mindsets." (2019). Retrieved from:

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