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Boys and Girls Learning from Digital Story Books
Poster Presentation, 31st World Congress of the Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics, Innovations in Supporting Communication Participation, Taipei, Taiwan, August 19 – 22, 2019
Background and Additional Details for the Poster Presentation
Literacy is essential for adequate functioning in the modern world, especially with the ubiquity of digital technologies. At the individual level, literacy is an important determinant of mental and physical health, school completion and vocational attainment. At the society level, the literacy level of the population is associated with economic output, quality of life and social cohesion. The literacy skills of children, teenagers and adults are tracked closely around the world and gaps in literacy skills between and within countries raise alarm and calls for policy solutions. One literacy gap that is especially widespread and longstanding is the gender gap favouring girls, as reported for 15-year-old students by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the gap being equivalent to one year of schooling (OECD, 2015). In Quebec, Canada a gap in writing skills has been observed in the results from the province-wide literacy test administered repeatedly, starting in fourth grade and continuing through high school; this gap favouring the girls (especially in the areas of spelling, morphology and syntax) has persisted despite successful efforts to raise the mean scores overall.
Many hypotheses have been put forward to explain the disadvantage to boys with respect to the acquisition of literacy skills. We explored these different hypotheses in a series of blog posts that discuss the possibility that boys differ from girls with respect to: (1) acquisition of early language skills and (2) emergent literacy precursors; (3) executive function skills; (4) motivation to read; and/or (5) social-environmental influences. Although these hypotheses are well motivated, the research evidence remains inconsistent and inconclusive. Therefore this research program aims to further explore the issues underlying the gender gap in boys’ versus girls’ literacy acquisition in the context of French-language schools in Quebec.
In the first study reported, the relationship between boys’ oral language and emergent literacy skills at school entry was examined in relation to their spelling abilities at the end of second grade. It was hypothesized that language and phonological awareness skills at school entry would predict spelling skills at the end of second grade. Furthermore, it was predicted that any gender differences in spelling abilities would be reflected in weaker oral language and emergent literacy skills by boys compared to girls at school entry.
Method. In Study 1 children’s oral language and emergent literacy skills were assessed with an iPad-based app that was developed specifically for the Quebec-French environment (Rvachew, Royle, et al., 2017). The app assesses speech perception, speech production accuracy, phonological awareness using a rhyme matching test, and past tense morpheme production (PHOPHLO: Prédiction des Habilités Orthographiques par des Habilités Langage Oral). At the end of second grade the children completed the BELO (Batterie d’évaluation de lecture et d’orthographe), a standardized dictation test that includes nonwords, real words and sentences (Georges & Pech-Georgel, 2006). Further information about these measures is available in previous open access papers (Kolne, Gonnerman, Marquis, Royle, & Rvachew, 2016; Rvachew, Royle, et al., 2017). The participants were 92 children (56 girls, 36 boys) who were attending a French-language kindergarten in a suburban school located in a middle-class neighborhood. In second grade, 78 children returned for follow-up assessment of their spelling abilities.
Results. The first finding was that there were no significant gender differences in performance on any of the PHOPHLO subtests as shown in Figure 1. As predicted however PHOPHLO performance was significantly associated with BELO performance in second grade. However, the boys obtained significantly worse BELO scores than the girls, despite obtaining equivalent language screen scores at the earlier time point. The advantage to girls for second grade spelling performance was seen for those that passed the PHOPHLO screen and those that failed it, as shown in Figure 2.
The results of Study 1 suggest that gender differences in emergent literacy skills at school entry do not explain the gender gap in literacy skills that is already apparent by the end of second grade. Therefore we conducted a study to observe boys and girls literacy learning in real time, using a shared reading paradigm involving a digital book that we had previously implemented in English-language schools (Rvachew, Rees, Carolan, & Nadig, 2017).
Toward the end of the kindergarten year, 10 adult readers shared a book from the iRead With series with 16 small groups of boys or 17 small groups of girls; the book was shared 3 times in a week (totalling 105 reading sessions in all) and then the children were tested to obtain measures of learning from the book at the end of the week. The shared reading transcripts were carefully examined to identify differences in the adult-child interactions when the dyad or triad of children included boys versus girls. The methods used to analyze these reading transcripts are described in a forthcoming paper along with examples from the transcripts that exemplify the boys’ and girls’ behavior during the shared reading intervention (Rvachew, Thompson Forrester, and Dey, accepted).
Prior to the shared reading intervention the girls and boys in study 2 obtained similar PHOPHLO total scores. Post-tests revealed that the boy groups and girl groups learned similarly from the shared reading sessions as measured by story retell, story comprehension, phonological awareness and word recognition tasks that were linked to the book that the children experienced. We also observed that boys and girls were similarly engaged by the books, both during the shared reading interactions and during post-reading sessions in which the small groups shared the books with no adult present The similar learning outcomes for boys and girls may have occurred because the children received similar literacy inputs from the adult readers regardless of gender: that is, the adults produced the same number of comments about the story, vocabulary and print concepts, as shown in Figure 3. However, adult readers directed significantly more comments about behavior to boys compared to girls. A more detailed examination of these comments revealed that adults intervened to redirect the boys’ attention twice as often compared to the girls (a nonsignificant difference, as shown in Figure 4, left); of greater interest, the adult readers intervened to help the boys regulate their emotions and behavior three times more often compared to the girls (a significant difference, as shown in Figure 4, right).
Discussion and Conclusion
Although boys learned as well as the girls from a shared reading intervention in kindergarten, there was evidence to suggest that some boys behaved differently or that their behavior was perceived differently by the adult reader, when compared to the girls. Interventions to regulate impulsive behavior or emotional outbursts were significantly more common among boys than among girls. Our analysis suggested that these episodes might be related to specific differences in boys’ executive functions but might also be related to the social environment in which the readings occurred. More specifically, the boys may have been experiencing stereotype threat in the context of these small group interactions.
Teacher interventions to regulate boys’ emotions and behavior distract from learning because they interrupt teaching and sometimes result in exclusions (e.g., time-outs or suspensions). Repeated episodes such as these over the primary school grades may contribute to a cumulative deficit in literacy learning. Self-regulation may be the key to literacy achievement for boys over the long term.
Future work within our lab will include a particular focus on strategies that best support self-regulation in boys, specifically within a literacy learning environment so that they can maximise their language learning outcomes.
Georges, F., & Pech-Georgel, C. (2006). BELO – Batterie d’évaluation de lecture et d’orthographe: Éditions Solal.
Kolne, K., Gonnerman, L., Marquis, A., Royle, P., & Rvachew, S. (2016). Teacher predictions of children’s spelling ability: What are they based on and how good are they? . Language and Literacy, 18(1), 71-98. Retrieved from https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/langandlit/index.php/langandlit/article/viewFile/22994/20260
OECD. (2015). The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behavior, Confidence, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Rvachew, S., Rees, K., Carolan, E., & Nadig, A. (2017). Improving emergent literacy with school-based shared reading: Paper versus ebooks. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, 12, 24-29.
Rvachew, S., Royle, P., Gonnerman, L., Stanké, B., Marquis, A., & Herbay, A. (2017). Development of a Tool to Screen Risk of Literacy Delays in French-Speaking Children: PHOPHLO. Canadian Journal of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, 41(3), 321-340. Retrieved from https://cjslpa.ca/files/2017_CJSLPA_Vol_41/No_03/CJSLPA_Vol_41_No_3_2017_Rvachew_et_al_321-340.pdf
Rvachew, S. & Herbery, A. (2017). PHOPHLO: Prédiction des Habilités Orthographiques par des Habilités Langage Oral. www.DIALspeech.com
Thompson, D. & Rvachew, S. (April 19, 2019). Boys and literacy acquisition: Introduction. https://digitalmediaprojectforchildren.wordpress.com/2019/04/19/boys-and-literacy-acquisition-introduction/
Rvachew, S. & Thompson Forrester, D. (accepted). A description of boys and girls nonnverbal and verbal engagement with electronic and paper books. Journal of Cognitive Education and Psychology.
Rvachew, S., Thompson Forrester, D., & Dey, R. (accepted). Can technology help close the gender gap in literacy achievement? Evidence from boys and girls sharing ebooks. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.
Emergent Literacy Precursors
by Ying Ying Liu
Literacy is an important and complex ability for educational achievement across age groups.13,17,21,22,28 As early as in the first and second grades, children acquire skills related to decoding (sounding out and recognizing written words), spelling and composition (writing words and sentences correctly), reading comprehension (understanding the meaning of what is read), and reading fluency (reading quickly without mistakes).2,3,5,7,17,26,27 Research shows that girls often outperform boys in terms of general literacy as assessed in terms of data from national standardized tests2,7 across age groups. Girls also show better performance in spelling, vocabulary use, as well as compositional organization and fluency.2,7 In addition, reading diagnostic tests also reveal that boys also tend to have higher rates of dyslexia.11,5 However, the reasons leading to this persistent gender gap in reading and writing achievement remain ambiguous.
Research has shown that the most important precursors to the acquisition of literacy skills are in the oral language domain and in the code-related domain.29 Particularly, preschool vocabulary (oral language domain; comprehension and verbal), letter knowledge (code-related domain; letter-sound correspondences, letter recognition/writing) and phonological awareness (code-related domain; especially implicit phonological awareness of rime and alliteration) skills, which constitute the building blocks for literacy acquisition, are strongly correlated with actual literacy related performance in later grades.29 In addition, these skills are not all acquired in the same manner. Skills such as vocabulary and letter knowledge are highly dependent on environmental factors24,30 and need explicit instruction while phonological skills seem to be genetic and developmental.8,23
The Gender Literacy Gap – Recommendations for Speech-Language Pathologists
by Hope Anderson and Rebecca Nishimura
Reading is an essential skill for lifelong achievement. Being a proficient reader is beneficial in educational, vocational, and socioemotional spheres of life.1 This places the onus on teachers and other school personnel, including speech-language pathologists (S-LPs), to ensure they are providing high quality, evidence based reading instruction.
Girls are better readers than boys. This gender reading gap has been observed to persist into high school on a global scale.2 As reading is a critical skill for long-term success, instruction and intervention must address this achievement gap to ensure that both boys and girls are equipped to fulfill their potential.
As stated by Speech-Language & Audiology Canada (SAC), “speech-language pathologists (S-LPs) are essential members of educational teams supporting students of all ages with speech, language and communication challenges to achieve their academic and personal potential.” S-LPs play a central role in providing direct literacy intervention, recommending instructional methods to teachers, and designing literacy programs. Because boys have greater difficulty with reading than girls, the majority of S-LP clientele for reading intervention are boys. However, S-LPs must select intervention approaches that are effective and engaging for both boys and girls.
Designing Apps for Joint Media Engagement
by Elizabeth Carolan and Susan Rvachew
The market for educational apps and e-books is exploding, with no controls for quality or assurances of effectiveness. How are parents and educators to find apps to suit the needs of their children among the tens of thousands of apps available in this “Digital Wild West”? The Joan Ganz Cooney Center examined apps in order to gain insight on what information is available to parents and educators as they pan for technological gold in this new frontier. Specifically, the researchers analyzed a sample of 170 apps from lists like “Top 50 Paid”, “Top 50 Free”, and “Awarded” from various marketplaces, such as Google Play and the Apple App Store. They looked at the app descriptions and content to find out what is available for children and to develop recommendations for parents, teachers and industry. Their report coupled with our own research from the Digital Media Project for Children have inspired this post on what makes a quality app.
The Joan Ganz Cooney Center report identified many characteristics of a quality app but two in particular overlap with our own research so we highlight them here. First, they stress the importance of “purposeful design” which requires that the design team include experts and that the design process be guided by theory and research. The authors report that less than half of the apps in their sample describe the development team in their marketplace description; only 2% of the sample note research that has been conducted on the learning outcomes of the app.
Using Constructive Apps to Develop Digital Literary Skills in Early Childhood Education
The second presentation in Theme IV: Teaching with eBooks in the Classroom was submitted by Monika Tavernier from the German Swiss International School of Hong Kong. However, she was ultimately unable to attend the conference and therefore her slides were presented by Jeremy Brueck. found the slides and the associated videos to be very interesting because the action research that was described in some ways addressed the issue of digital literacy more directly than the other presentations at the conference that were often more concerned with learning literacy from digital tools such as ebooks. Monika’s presentation described the children’s progress as they constructed various products using multimedia apps with less and less teacher support as the year went on. It was interesting to see the children gradually adopt strategies to organize multimedia objects both within and across pages. It’s hard to know how to interpret the progression in the children’s use of the digital media however. Clearly the children became more skilled in the use of the tools so that, whereas they initially piled print (often random letters) on top of graphics, they eventually learned to organize meaningful words under pictures in a conventional style and they further learned to organize material onto separate pages. In addition to technical skills these advances may reflect cognitive advances in the ability to organize information into meaningful groups and to adapt to the needs of the audience or reader. At the same time, do these adaptations reflect pressure by adults to adopt a ‘book’ based style that is not actually necessary or well suited to the digital medium? Must there be pages for example? Personally, I find these observational studies to be fascinating and valuable contributions to the literature at this stage of our understanding of how digital media impact on children’s learning.
Conference Abstract: Early childhood educators can make use of applications such as the Book Creator to foster an interest in experimenting with written and verbal language to create original content.
Conference handout: Using constructive apps.
School Based Shared Reading with iRead with Books Improves Emergent Literacy Skills
The third and final presentation for Theme IV: Teaching with eBooks in the Classroom was presented by Susan Rvachew (with co-authors from the Digital Media Project Susan Rvachew, Kathrin Rees, Aparna Nadig, Elizabeth Carolan & Elizabeth Christe). This study was conducted in the context of a community reader program designed to support the oral language and emergent literacy skills of kindergarten children attending English-language schools in low-income neighborhoods in the Montreal region. The iReadWith books were developed by Tribal Nova in consultation with our research team to prompt the adult reader to use a dialogic reading style while sharing the book with the child. The books are also designed, via the linking of ‘living words’ with story congruent animations, to promote word recognition skills. A randomized within-student design was implemented to compare language and literacy outcomes after exposure to equivalent paper and iReadwith versions of two ‘Caillou’ stories in counterbalanced order. Stories were read three times in one week before outcome measures were administered. We did not find any disadvantage to the iReadwith book for story retell or story comprehension scores. We did find a significant advantage to iReadwith exposure for emergent literacy skills, and an interaction with the children’s letter knowledge skills such that children with the poorest letter knowledge skills showed the greatest advantage of exposure to the iReadwith books. Furthermore, analysis of the transcripts of reading interactions showed that adult comments and questions related to emergent literacy (i.e., print concepts, printed words, sound structure of words, and sound-letter correspondences) increased five times during iReadwith sharing in comparison to paper book sharing. When combined with the outcome of the studies described by Julia Parish-Morris, Mary Courage and Gabrielle Strouse, the conference findings in general confirm that children’s outcomes are determined by the intersection of ebook design and adult scaffolding during shared reading.
Conference abstract: We worked with Tribal Nova Inc. to develop ebooks that encourage a dialogic reading style by adults when sharing the book with a child and tested the efficacy of the books in the context of a community reader program for kindergarten children. Outcomes are described for story retell, story comprehension and emergent literacy skills as a function of the children’s letter knowledge at intake.
Conference handout: Rvachew DigLitMcGill Slide upload.
Early Reading Outcomes among Preschoolers: Digital vs. Print Media
The final presentation in Theme IV: Learning to Read with Digital Media was presented by Iva Son (PhD Candidate at Lancaster University, UK, and Lecturer at Parsons School of Design, US). She described a small study in which children were engaged with a program designed to improve early literacy skills (i.e., alphabet knowledge, alliteration, rhyming) either at home or at school with different media: paper and pencil tasks, PC computer or tablet. In the PC computer and tablet conditions the children experienced a web application called Aniland. One of the points raised, almost incidentally, intrigued many conference participants: when children show a connection between their “online and offline lives” is this evidence of engagement and learning? We were quite taken with the photo of the child spontaneously drawing a beautiful picture of one of the characters that appears in the web application for teaching about letters!
Conference abstract: The present research investigated the effectiveness of preschoolers’ reading skills on a regular basis by using digital media compared to print media in both home and school settings.
Conference handout: ivason diglitmcgill slide upload.