The Benefits of Large Print Books
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, January/February 2020 Issue
By Tasha Squires
As a librarian, there are certain moments that stick with me. When one of my students unexpectedly gave me a mutinous look, I knew it was the start of one of them. Bobby had always been an affable student, but one day when I asked him to return the book he had been reading, he gave me the look. At first, I didn’t understand. It was a small ask after all. The book was brand new, one I hadn’t catalogued or even stamped with the school’s name yet. It was not ready to be loaned out.
It turns out, I had inadvertently stumbled upon something special. Bobby, like all the 8th grade students in our school that year, was reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. I’d just received several copies of the title in large print and had asked Bobby to switch from reading his regular print to the larger text. I was curious to see if he would notice any difference between the two formats. Bobby obliged and spent the rest of the period quietly reading, but when the bell rang and it was time to return the book—that’s when he gave me the look.
So I relented and let him keep the book. The next day when I asked Bobby why he didn’t want to return it, he responded that he didn’t want to stop reading. “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 text book than the small text book.”
Bobby also commented that he noticed the page color in the large print book (bright white) made reading easier than regular print (grayish). His comment about looking up and getting back into his book faster led me to capture video of students reading large and regular print titles. I wanted to know what they thought and if I could see an actual difference with their reading between the texts. The numerous improvements with large print shocked me.
A student who was referred to me because he stuttered when reading aloud, suddenly stopped. Another girl, who was a proficient reader, slowed down and began reading with expression. Several other students displayed physical differences; they often held books to their faces, but now sat back in a relaxed position. One student no longer needed to use her as a finger as a visual guide. All of the students were also able to find their places faster when interrupted.
National Literacy Study Echoes Classroom Experiences
Project Tomorrow, an education nonprofit, recently released a national literacy study examining the impact of large print texts on students in grades 3-12. The findings reflect what I’ve seen in my own school. A 7th grade boy I interviewed said: “I read the book faster and I could understand it better.” An 8th grade girl reported after her first experience with large print: “…felt like I was accomplishing more and I wanted to keep reading.” I created a survey for my students to take after reading a large print text. To date, 226 students in 7th and 8th grades over the last two years have completed the survey.
When reading large print books, students have reported being able to:
- Read for a longer period of time
- Focus and stay connected to the text more
- Remember and comprehend more of what they are reading
- Enjoy the reading process (perhaps for the first time)
- Read with greater fluency
How to Build a Large Print Collection
Soon after, I decided to create a large print collection in my school library. Here are five steps I used that can be duplicated in virtually any school to successfully launch your own adventure with large print:
Step 1: Awareness. I started my career as a librarian in a public library and purchased large print books for teens there. It wasn’t until two years ago that I thought to put them into the school library. Even if you’ve looked at large print in the past, be aware that new titles are coming out all the time. You might have an outdated perception of what is available.
Step 2: Accessibility. If a student is unable to access a text, it’s very hard for that student to be productive. As a teacher mentioned in the Project Tomorrow study, giving students the freedom of choice is vitally important. As a school librarian, it is imperative that I provide a variety for students, so they can find what they are comfortable with and be successful. I look at large print as another piece in fulfilling the accessibility puzzle.
Step 3: Ditch Preconceived Notions. Overcome any biased ideas you might have about large print books because the students don’t have them. I thought they would be good for students with visual impairments and some of our struggling and striving readers. I had no idea how many regular education students would enjoy and appreciate large print titles.
Step 4: Organize & Display. I asked the students in my survey where they wanted the books in the library. Overwhelmingly, they wanted all the large titles pulled out and put in their own section. This immediately made sense to me. Many times, it’s the format that is driving the consumption, so I created a spot in the library for the large print collection. In the online catalog, the books can be searched easily by large print, and I’ve created a large print call number by simply using the letters “LP.” Many of our classroom libraries have large print collections, including one of our special education teachers and our reading specialist.
Step 5: Spotlight. Highlighting large print titles is a must. For example, when I do a booktalk in classrooms, I’ll mention if the book is also in large print format. I also currently host a booktalk podcast just for middle school books, where I make sure to let listeners know if a book is available in large print.
My suggestion is to jump right in with large print titles. We have only found positives associated with the new direction we’ve taken with this format. If I see a title is out in large print that I know students will enjoy, I will purchase it. I know I’m making a choice to make that book title accessible to a wider range of students than in the past.
Tasha Squires is the School Librarian at O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, IL. Follow her on Twitter at @tasquires.