Does font choice make any difference to teaching and learning, and students’ literacy?
As with print, computer-based text has certain features that may influence a child’s reading performance and attraction to the text, such as the size, shape and weight of a particular letterform…
Considering dual coding, cognitive load and the principles of gestalt theory, teachers should factor in these principles when designing classroom resources, alongside font selection.
In a research paper from 2002, Examining children’s reading performance and preference for different computer-displayed text, researchers sought to test “how common online texts affect the reading performance of school-age children by examining the actual and perceived readability of four computer-displayed typefaces at 12- and 14-point sizes.”
Twenty-seven children, ages 9 to 11, were asked to read eight children’s passages and identify substituted words while reading.
The fonts selected were: Comic Sans MS, Arial and Times New Roman typefaces.
Considering when this research was published, researchers reported that pupils were already “reading considerable amounts of text on computer screens, either in the classroom in the form of online lectures and tests or for general leisure.”
Fast-forward to a world of social media, more fonts choices, and in a pandemic era where the majority of teaching has been online behind a screen, almost two decades later, I wonder how the research findings may have changed.
How often do young people read online?
The UK Council for Child Internet Safety, a group of more than 200 organisations drawn from across government, industry, law, academia and charity sectors that work in partnership to help keep children safe online, published a literature review in 2017; Children’s online activities, risks and safety
As far as I can tell, I believe it is the only study of its kind – with no update.
On page 12 there is an interesting overview of what young people spend their time doing, and how long for. Even in 2017, the study reported that 3 to 4-year-olds were online 8 hours and 18 minutes every week! Twelve to 15-year-olds spent, on average, 20 hours and 6 minutes only, largely listening to music.
Considering that all of our young people are more online as a result of COVID-19, with the imminent Online Harms bill to be ratified in parliament, surely we need more up to date information?
Which font do you prefer?
The need for text presentation to be readable and appealing may be particularly true for children who are inexperienced with reading from computer screens. Teachers are increasingly familiar with dual coding, a theory of cognition and how we think – uses the idea that the formation of mental images aids in learning.
How often do we as teachers have time to factor in font selection when designing worksheets and slides? I’ve done a little sample for you below for comparisons, including my (current) website font choices:
Every website font choice I make on this website, every space between each line is a conscious decision. I don’t always get it right, if at all, and in a world where anyone of any age, language or ability can access this site, writing blogs for teachers without knowing their needs will always be a haphazard decision.
For teachers in the classroom, knowing the students in front of them helps them stay one step ahead; they can determine what to do with their resources to help make their students progress. This is what makes teaching so important, and what makes the thousands of idiosyncratic decisions made by teachers, so critical to learning.
Methodology and Conclusions
In this study, researchers tested the students “in a quiet room with dimmed lighting. Each participant was initially positioned at a distance of approximately 57 cm from the computer screen before reading.” They were asked to read eight passages “as accurately and as quickly as possible” and were told there would be “substitution words that were randomly presented throughout the passages.”
In summary, the students were asked to “identify the substitution words as they saw them by stating the substituted words aloud”. Analysing the students’ perceptions and reading speed for a particular size or typeface revealed interesting conclusions which today, should still give teachers something to consider.
Regardless of size, Comic Sans, Arial and Times New Roman typefaces were found to be more readable than Courier New. The 14-point size was perceived as being one of the “easiest to read, fastest, most attractive, and most desirable for school-related material. In addition, participants significantly preferred Comic Sans and 14-point Arial to 12-point Courier.”
Given that there are more fonts available today, plus more young people using online tools to read, and for longer, ‘font choice’ is a small everyday decision that needs to be consciously selected to support rather than hinder literacy development…