Large print books have a legacy of supporting reading engagement and proficiency in older adults, leading to a narrow – and inaccurate – view of the format’s usefulness.
A 2019 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that the average eighth-grade reading score has declined, indicating a dire need for new solutions to support student reading efforts – large print text is one easy-to-implement option.
As a former librarian, I’ve seen the positive difference that large print text can make for young readers – but don’t just take my word for it. A 2019 study conducted by Project Tomorrow and Thorndike Press examined the impact of large print text on student reading ability and confidence. The research shows that large print text can help increase reading ability in students while also changing their mindset and habits.
“Two things made this particular study so significant. First, the enthusiasm of the students and teachers for large print was unparalleled. And then second, the academic results of the study indicate that this is a very viable literacy intervention resource that everyone should investigate more fully.” – Dr. Julie Evans, Ed.D, Chief Executive Officer, Project Tomorrow
To help spread the word about the benefits of large print text for readers of every age, we’re busting five myths to dispel misconceptions and break the stigma. Only when we have a broader understanding of the impact of large print can we can fully leverage it to increase student reading ability.
Myth #1: Large print is only for senior citizens.
Large print is not just a bigger font size that makes reading accessible for older, visually impaired readers. Larger text is proven to improve letter and word recognition, aid reading comprehension and increase feelings of confidence and satisfaction when reading.
The Project Tomorrow study found that the ability to read large print titles changed student perceptions about previous challenges they’ve faced with reading for schoolwork.
“I liked that the larger size font seemed much more interesting. When you look at a billboard the first thing you see is the larger print. When you look at a book that has all large print it seems like it’s calling to you.”
– 8th grade study participant, Young Women’s Leadership Academy
The simplicity of large print text removes barriers, such as having too many words on a page. The clarity of large print books makes it an ideal solution for beginning or reluctant readers. It’s also a good option for English language learner (ELL) students; Project Tomorrow reported that almost two-thirds of teacher participants with ELL students said that large print text resulted in faster acquisition of English.
Myth #2: Large print is only for striving readers.
Though large print is a helpful resource in supporting striving readers, Project Tomorrow’s study also found a positive effect on students reading at grade level. Seventy-three percent of teachers recognized that large print text enhanced the overall reading fluency of students at grade level. Similarly, 67 percent of the teachers noted that the large print text reduced stress and anxiety in reading with their students below grade level as well as at grade level.
“I honestly believe that if teachers/students don’t know about the awesomeness that is large print text it’s because they haven’t had any experiences with it just yet. It’s incredibly important for people to know that large print books are available and that ALL students/people can benefit from reading them. I feel very fortunate to have a school librarian who was able to introduce our building to large print books.”
–Reading and Language Arts Teacher, O’Neill Middle School
Myth #3: Large print books are embarrassing to read.
You might think it’s easy to know when someone is ready a large print book, but it’s not. Large print titles are often the same size or smaller than their hardcover or trade paperback counterparts and weigh about the same as a traditional hardcover book.
The common reaction to this fact is: “Well, to be the same size or smaller, they must be abridged.” This is also false. The magic lies in the combination of printing on a thinner, higher-quality paper and laying out the text to maximize the use of white space.
After seeing that the large print book looked “normal,” study participants had no hesitation reading them inside and outside of the classroom, and even expressed the desire for their school to purchase additional large print titles for classmates.
“The better you can focus on a book, the better you understand it. With the large print you can focus better and spend less time trying to find where you are and more time reading and understanding the book. It is really about being an efficient reader.”
–9th grade student, Young Women’s Leadership Academy (TX)
After experiencing the benefits first-hand, 67 percent of students stated that they should be able to read large print books for schoolwork if they want, and that availability for large print titles should be natural.
“I really love the large size words. If kids do get a chance to read more they should read books with larger font sizes.”
–7th grade student, West Feliciana Middle School (LA)
The desire is there. It’s about making large print books accessible by adding them to classrooms and libraries.
Myth #4: The selection of titles available in large print is limited.
The idea that large print titles are limited is totally false. Thorndike Press alone has published more than 4,000 titles, with 200+ new titles added annually.
Study participants were able to choose from popular titles, including: The Outsiders, I am Malala, Salt to the Sea and Hatchet. Teachers incorporated the books into regular instructional practices, such as literature circles and student self-paced reading.
“The title of the book that I was reading was The Sun is Also a Star. It had unusually large print, but this made it much easier to read. I think that the best thing about reading books with large text is that it makes it easier to focus and not lose your spot. Losing spots when reading can make it not fun for the reader, or even difficult. I think that we should have more books with bigger text because they are simply much more enjoyable.”
–10th grade student, O’Fallon Township High School (IL)
Educators should integrate large print copies with regular format titles, and shelve large print near literacy centers to make it easier for beginning and reluctant readers to find. And, most importantly, we must let students know that large print books are an option – it can be life changing for a struggling reader.
Myth #5: It’s not easy to implement large print books.
While technology is helpful in increasing literacy achievement, increasing student access to large print books is a low-cost, easy-to-implement literacy solution that does not require changes to instructional plans or special training.
As a school librarian in Illinois, Tasha Squires has a natural love and appreciation for literature. To ensure that every student has the opportunity to discover the joy that can come from reading, she began introducing large print books to striving readers in her school.
Squires shared that when she provided a large print version of The Outsiders to one of her striving readers, he said that:
“It was easier to read, and I didn’t lose my place as much as I usually do, especially reading and then looking up, and then going back – it was easier to find my place in the large print text book than the small text book.”
After this positive feedback, Squires embarked on a mission to build a large print collection in her school library. The process was simple; she purchased large print versions of titles, asked her students where they’d prefer to have the books displayed in the library and, most importantly, let students know that they had the option of a traditional print or large print book.
“My suggestion is to jump right in with large print titles, we’ve only found positives associated with the new direction we’ve taken with this format.”
–Tasha Squires, School Librarian at O’Neill Middle School (IL)
Teachers and librarians who participated in the Project Tomorrow study shared similar sentiments, including this feedback from a middle school English teacher:
“I want other teachers to know that giving students choices of books is a great strategy, especially when the book looks like any other book, but is larger print! Now, I will always use these types of books in my classroom because I found them extremely successful at engaging my reluctant readers.”
–English teacher, Marco Forster Middle School (CA)
I urge educators to use what they’ve learned in this article to stimulate new discussions in their school communities. By bringing awareness to new solutions to support student readers, greater emphasis is placed on innovative ways to support literacy and the development of lifelong reading habits.
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