Juan C. Ripoll (juancruzripoll@maristaspampona.es).

Santa María la Real Marist School ÷ University of Navarre
Gerardo Aguado (gaguado@unav.es). Santa María la Real Marist School ÷ University of Navarre
ont eadability in lementary chool irst raders
The reading of 115 Spanish first graders was assessed using texts written with a cursive
handscript font, two seriff fonts and three sans seriff fonts. Significant differences were found
in the number of decoding errors, but not in fluency problems or number of words correctly
read per minute. The handscript font was perceived as the easiest to read, but it was not read
significantly better than Comic Sans font.
The typeface with which students learn to read and with which school texts and other reading
materials are written is a very often neglected issue in educational practice and research.
Most studies on readability of fonts have been carried out with adults. Research with
elementary school students (De Lange, Esterhuizen and Beatty 1993; Bernard, Mills, Frank
and McKown 2001; Wilkins, Cleave, Grayson and Wilson 2009 and Tetrick 2010) has not
evaluated under 7 year-olds and their results are inconclusive since in those studies the same
typefaces are almost never compared, and different variables like reading speed, accuracy,
comprehension, pauses, omission of words, or preference of the reader by some font are
evaluated.
Lack of evidence leads to recommend that decisions on fonts for instructional texts must be
based on best practices and common sense (Hartley 2004). There are style guides such as
that of British Dyslexia Association (2012) which consider that the texts can be more readable
using fonts like Arial, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic or Trebuchet, with a
minimum body of 12 points. These typefaces have in common the proportional spacing and
belonging to the sans seriff family. Recently some fonts supposedly suitable for people with
reading difficulties have been designed. Among those typefaces we can highlight Lexia
Readable (K-Type 2012) because it is free for educational use.
The fypefoces
Fluency: words correct per minute
Accuracy: decoding mistakes
No significant differences were found in a one-way
repeated measures Anova of the number of words
correctly read per minute F = 0.38, p = 0.835.
No significant differences were found in the
number of decoding errors F
5,570
= 2.22, p = 0.051
(Greenhouse-Geisser correction used).
A series of T tests revealed that the number
decoding errors in texts written with Escolar was
significantly lower than errors with Arial (p = 0.006),
Times (p = 0.008) and Sylfaen (p = 0.017).
Wilcoxon tests revealed that the number of
rotation mistakes in texts written with Escolar
font was significantly lower than errors in texts
written with Arial, Sylfaen, Comic and Times.
The number of rotation mistakes in texts
written with Lexia was only significantly lower
than errores in texts written with Arial.
Rotation mistakes
Fonts considered easier to read
The results agree with those of De Lange et al. (1993) who found no difference in speed or accuracy reading with
a seriff font (Times New Roman) or with a sans seriff one (Helvetica). However, differences were found in other
studies. Ìn Wilkins et al. (2009) 4
th
grade elementary students read faster and made fewer errors with Verdana
font (sans seriff) than with the Sassoon Primary (cursive handscript), and in Tetrick (2010) students with special
educational needs made more errors reading with Comic Sans (sans seriff) than with Times (seriff). These
discrepancies may be caused by the age difference of the participants in the studies or because the present study
was conducted in Spanish, a language with a more transparent orthography than English. Ìn Bernard et al (2001)
students aged 9 to 11 felt that Comic Sans and Arial (sans seriff) were easier to read than Courier New (seriff and
non proportional) or Times New Roman. Ìn the present study children were not asked to rank their preferences,
but to choose the font that had resulted easier to read. Comic, Times and Arial fonts were chosen by between 8
and 10% of students.
The results of this study indicate that the more familiar fonts do not imply necessarily best reading by beginner
readers. There were no differencies in legibility of cursive handscript (Escolar), seriff (Times and Sylfaen) and
sans seriff (Arial, Lexia, and Comic) fonts. And as a practical conclusion, it is not necessary to use typefaces
similar to handwriting in school texts for elementary students who have already started to read. Considering
accuracy, fluency problems, line skipping and the number of words correctly read per minute, Comic Sans is a
good candidate as a transitional font from cursive handscript typefaces to print fonts.
Bernard, M., Mills, M., Frank, T., & McKown, J. (2001). Which fonts do children prefer
to read online? Usability News, 3(1).
British Dislexia Association (2012). Dislexia Style Guide. Retrieved from
www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/about-dyslexia/further-information/dyslexia-style-guide.html
De Lange, R., Esterhuizen, H.L. & Beatty, D. (1993). Performance differences between
Times and Helvetica in a reading task. Electronic Publishing, 6(3), 241-248.
Hartley, J. (2004). Designing instructional and informational text. Ìn D. H. Jonassen
(Ed.) Handbook of Research in Educational Communications and Technology (2nd
ed.). Mahwah, N.J.: Erlbaum (pp. 917-947).
K-Type (2012). Lexia Readable. Retrieved from www.k-type.com/?p=520
Tetrick, T. (2010). Seeking visual clarity. An examination of font legibility and visual
presentation for elementary-level special education students. Unpublished doctoral
dissertation. University of Minnesota, EUA.
Wilkins, A, Cleave, R, Grayson, N. & Wilson, L. (2009), Typography for children may
be inappropriately designed. Journal of Research in Reading, 32(4), 402-412.
The present study follows a quantitative approach. The reading of 115 Spanish first grade
students, aged 6;9-7;10, was assessed during the first term. All of them had started learning
to read during the previous course using materials written with a font similar to Escolar,
which is the predominant font in their current texts, though texts are also written with Arial
font, and an unidentified font very similar to Sylfaen.
Each student read six texts. The texts were similar in content, number of words, and number
of characters, and all contained every letter of the Spanish alphabet except the two least
frequently used: "k" and "w". Each of the texts was written with a different font: Escolar, Arial,
Sylfaen, Lexia, Times New Roman and Comic Sans. The body of the typefaces was
adjusted so that x-height (height of lowercase letters without ascenders or descenders) of
the six fonts was the same as the x-height of Arial 14. Six different typeface distributions
were prepared following a Latin Square matrix. For each student, results were recorded of
the time taken to read each text, the number of decoding errors, the number of repetitions
and rectifications, the number of times a line was skipped, and the font they considered
easiest to read. Readings of 10 children were recorded for analysis by a specialist in reading
problems in order to test the fidelity of the evaluator.

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