This study examined font and layout alternatives for mild special education children in third through sixth grade. Of this group, twelve were boys and two were girls, seven were suburban students and seven were urban students. During the first phase, the students were observed reading four different fonts, then the participant named the easiest font to read and the preferred font. During the second phase, an alternative math assignment format was designed by applying universal design guidelines. The student was then observed solving math problems on a traditional and an alternative format to see if format appeared to enhance the educational focus and performance of the special education student being observed.
The data was analyzed in three ways: student reading behavior, student performance, and student perception and preference. Reading behavior was measured by noting behavior such as enthusiasm, boredom, restlessness, frustration, and engagement. Overall the following results were found. Participants were more restless while reading Comic Sans and Times. Incorrect words were evenly distributed across all of the fonts, however the students skipped more words while reading serif fonts. Times had the most skipped words but, curiously, the fewest misread words. Participants paused before words more often with the san serif fonts yet skipped entire words less often. Participants had read two sentences together more often while reading sans serifs, most noted with Comic Sans.
Twelve out of 13 students chose a san serif as their favorite font from the group of four fonts. Of those 12, eight students chose Comic Sans as their favorite. Only four of fourteen participants said the easiest font was indeed the font where they missed the least number of words, sat the least restless, or appeared to be the most engaged. Of interest is whether the students' preference for san serifs is partially because many of their electronic devices such as game systems, iPods, computers, and cell phones feature san serif fonts. Perhaps students feel good about the font style featured on pleasurable devices and experiences.
The curriculum format study showed a minimal difference in performance (an average of 9.5/12 for the traditional layout and 10/12 for the alternative layout) but a clear difference in preference. Ten out of 12 students (the two pilot study students were not given both format options) stated that they preferred the alternative curriculum design. This format featured less problems on a page to decrease distraction and integrated workspace for each problem. Students who worked out problems on the worksheet had more problems correct than the students who did most of the work in their heads, regardless of the curriculum format design. This alternative format has promise if teachers encourage students to work out problems using the workspace provided.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. February 2010. Major: Design. Advisor: Dr. Barbara Martinson. 1 computer file (PDF); xvii, 202 pages, appendices A-C.
Haugen, Theresa Tetrick.
Seeking visual clarity: An examination of font legibility and visual presentation for elementary-level special education students..
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