I recently enjoyed a webinar by Katie Paciga, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Education, Columbia College Chicago on E-Books and Digital Stories through NAEYC’s Technology and Young Children Interest Forum. I have been known to compare technology in early childhood to food. When people suggest that young children get too much technology at home so we should not use it at school, I remind them they may overeat at home as well, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feed them at school, and more importantly, teach them healthy eating habits. So, I really related to the quote she began the webinar with: “What we owe our kids is a rich and diverse experience...our focus should be on living well with media rather than opposing or restricting it” (Michael Rich, Director, Center on Media and Child Health, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School Member, Fred Rogers Center Advisory Council).
We live in new educational landscape. Over 80% of administrators say they are using digital content in their K-12 classrooms. That is not surprising, as most textbooks offer a digital component and some no longer offer a print copy of the textbook in the standard adoption package. Most schools get a class set of print textbooks that are shared and students use the online versions at home. If we are expecting our students to learn from digital content, doesn’t it make sense that we expose our youngest learners to high quality eBooks, showing them that iPads and the internet are sources for learning and knowledge and not just entertainment?
Dr. Paciga shared some research by Korat & Shamir (2012) and Smeets & Bus (2012) that determined that kids (even those at-risk) can learn new vocabulary and some early literacy skills like sight word recognition through e-book reading experiences, especially when the media are designed intentionally. This research was based on students interacting with the eBook independently! Think of the increased outcomes if they have adult support while interacting with the eBook!
It really makes sense though. Many early literacy skills are supported through eBooks. Let me share an example. I recently gave a training on oral language development, and one of the strategies we discussed was gesturing. When teachers use meaningful gestures to demonstrate word meaning as new words are introduced, students are more likely to understand and retain the new word. With eBooks, oftentimes the animations act as those gestures. If the eBook shows a leaf shaking back and forth on a branch as the text audio reads The leaf fluttered in the wind, a child will more likely understand the meaning of the word fluttered.
As educators, we need to review eBooks for quality, just as we would a print book before sharing it with our class. We need to provide opportunities for children to develop concepts of print for both print and digital books. We need to use projection devices with eBooks as often as possible to not only allow students to see the images in the book more clearly, but to encourage story sharing and discussion while reading. Effective read-aloud strategies work with eBooks, just as with print books, in developing reading comprehension.
Think about how often you read from a device throughout the day. Do you get your news, a new recipe, or the latest novel from your favorite author from a device? Think of the differences (and the ease) of finding books and resources digitally. If we, as adults, need digital content to perform our daily tasks, then digital book options need to be present in our classrooms to prepare our students to learn from digital sources. Ensuring this addition means we will be providing that rich and diverse experience our students deserve, as well as providing the tools so we can teach them to live well with media in this media rich world. Our students need us to be engaged adults in their literacy learning. When we interact with them and the media, we will be able to ensure they are receiving a rich experience and learning how to learn with digital content.
Korat, O., & Shamir, A. (2012). Direct and Indirect Teaching: Using e-Books for supporting vocabulary, word reading, and story comprehension for young children. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 46(2), 135–152. hSps://doi.org/10.2190/EC.46.2.b
Smeets, D. J. H., & Bus, A. G. (2012). Interactive electronic storybooks for kindergartners to promote vocabulary growth. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 112(1), 36–55.