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School Based Shared Reading with iRead with Books Improves Emergent Literacy Skills

DSCF4616 RvachewThe 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.

DSCF4596 Christe Rees iReadwithConference 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.

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With Infants, E-Books and Traditional Books May Not Be So Different

The second presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?), by Gabrielle Strouse was entitled “With Infants, E-Books and Traditional Books May Not Be So Different” (Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea). Gabrielle described her study that involved 102 toddlers who shared a traditional book or electronic book with their parent. The books were very simple apps designed for infants (Happy Babies series by Penguin Books). Therefore, there were few ‘pages’ and no narrative — the app, upon tapping, simply exposes the infant to an animal, and then the animal’s baby, with a repetitive sentence frame for labeling the illustrations. In contrast to several prior studies involving preschoolers and story books, the study revealed no disadvantage to the ebook format in terms of the quality of language input provided by the parent reader. In fact, parents and infants both made more content-related comments with the electronic book compared to the paper version of the book. Interestingly, the toddlers were observed to be highly engaged with the electronic book — more attentive than with the paper book — in direct contrast to the parent’s responses on the pre-experiment survey about their infant’s behaviors during shared reading. This study raises many questions about the intersection of the child, the ebook features and parental behaviors that must be considered before we draw firm conclusions about the potential of ebooks to support learning by children. Gabrielle is a co-author of the well-known study “Can babies learn to read: A randomized trial of baby media” . We look forward to seeing this new study in print.

StrouseConference abstract: There is reason to believe that important differences exist in the way parents and children treat new technologies and traditional formats. In this presentation, we describe the results of a study in which parents of 102 infants aged 17 to 26 months were randomly assigned to read electronic or traditional format books with identical content with their infant.

Conference handout: Strouse DigLitMcGill slide upload.

Parent-Preschooler Interaction during Electronic and Traditional Book Reading

DSCF4404 Julia colourThe Key Note presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?) was presented by Julia Parish-Morris. Her presentation, Parent-Preschooler Interaction during Electronic and Traditional Book Reading (Julia Parish-Morris, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff & Brenna Hassinger-Das) perfectly covered the themes and issues that would reverberate throughout the two days of the conference. She began by illustrating the growing infiltration of digital technology into every aspect of our children’s lives, describing this situation as a “giant unplanned experiment” that produces a great deal of anxiety as reflected in popular news stories. Julia presented several experiments, including both published and unpublished work. These studies led to a common conclusion: interactive features such as hotspots and animations in electronic books increase “behavior-related” talk by parents and lead to a competition for control of the device during shared reading by parents and children. All these distractions hamper story comprehension by children. At the same time, the use of high quality dialogic reading prompts by parents (in particular “distancing prompts” that help the child relate story content to their own life experiences) promote story comprehension during reading with both traditional and electronic books. These findings stimulated a back and forth dialogue about alternative responses throughout the conference – do we redesign the electronic books or redesign parents’ reading strategies when using the books? Or more drastically, try to proscribe access to these digital tools altogether?

Conference Abstract: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents read to their children daily from birth. At the same time, the AAP suggests that parents avoid screen time for children under age 2. Given these recommendations, how do we as parents, educators, clinicians, and developmental scientists, deal with the case of electronic books? Should e-books be considered shared reading, or are they more accurately categorized as screen time? In this talk, I will review a recent study of dyadic reading between three- and five-year-olds and their parents in the context of electronic books and traditional paper books. I will talk about how parent language, child language, child story comprehension, and parent enjoyment of the shared reading interaction changes when parents and children read electronic books and traditional paper books. A new study using iPad apps will be described, and language implications of screen time for our youngest children will be outlined. Finally, I will present some new ideas for electronic applications that may be beneficial in certain early childhood contexts (but not all).

Conference slides: Parish-Morris DigLitMcGill slide upload.

The Complexities and Learning Opportunities of Personalisation in Children’s Digital Books

The second talk in Theme II: Learning Language from Shared Reading with eBooks, presented by Natalia Kucirkova, was a refreshing change from many of the other presentations during the morning conference: there was no comparison of paper and ebooks with the implication that one had to be ‘better’ than the other. Rather, Natalia presented software that she created to take full advantage of the potential of digitization to completely transform the ‘book’. Her app, Our Story, allows children and their parents, teachers or peers to construct personalized multimedia stories. The presentation covered the functionality of the app and the advantages of personalization from the theoretical and empirical perspectives as outlined in more detail in Kucirkova’s prior publications.

DSCF4544 KucirkovaConference abstract: In this paper, I use the personalisation framework developed by Oulasvirta & Blom, (2008), to reflect on the various forms personalisation can take in children’s digital reading materials, paying close attention to the notions of agency, aesthetics and bidirectionality in multimedia.

Conference handout: Kucirkova DigLitMcGill slide upload.

Story-Related Discourse by Parent-Child Dyads: A Comparison of Typically Developing Children and Children with Language Impairments Reading Print Books and eBooks

DSCF4478 KathrinThe fourth and final presentation in Theme I (How do Parents and Children Engage with eBooks?) was the only talk to concern children with language impairment. The talk, presented by Kathrin Rees, described story-related discourse by parent-child dyads that were enrolled in a therapeutic program for children with language impairments, administered by Jackie Morrison-Visentin. The program was designed to teach parents, in small groups, how to use books to improve their children’s language skills in the home environment. The data that Kathrin presented was taken from video recordings collected during the pretreatment assessment. The assessment included a wordless picture book and an electronic picture book. Mean turn length (measured in number of words, as produced by children) was observed to decline for both children with language impairment and children with typically developing language in this study when the parents switched from the wordless picture book to the iReadwith ebook. The number of questions and comments produced by the parents increased markedly when the parents read the iReadwith book, compared to the wordless paper book. Consequently, the children with typical language increased the number of responses to their parents’ questions and comments. However, the children with language impairment actually reduced the number of responses to their parents’ bids for attention. Therefore it appeared that the animated features of the book that were designed to increase parental use of dialogic reading prompts were effective; at the same time, the animated features of the book that were designed to sustain child engagement interfered with verbal dialogue between parent and child in the dyads involving children with language impairment. This study reinforces the common theme that the outcome of shared reading with ebooks is determined by the intersection of child characteristics, book features and parental behaviors. The appropriate policy responses remain unclear. Should parents of children with language impairment be specifically advised to avoid ebooks? Should parents of children with language impairment be taught to use a different reading style (more parallel talk and fewer dialogic reading prompts)? Should parents of children with language impairment choose simpler ebooks (the infant style books described by Gabrielle Strouse for example?). Quite frankly, we do not know the answers to these questions. Clearly there are many more studies to conduct with this population!

Conference abstract: This presentation addresses the linguistic engagement apparent in the extratextual talk of two groups of parents and preschoolers reading a paper book and an interactive eBook (children with typical language development and children with impaired language).

Conference handout: Rees DigLitMcGill slide upload.

Digital Literacy for Preschoolers: #DigLitMcGill Day 1 Conference Outcomes

On June 26 and 27 we held a conference at McGill University to bring together a diverse group of speakers and participants for the conference “Digital Literacy for Preschoolers: Maximizing the Benefits of eBooks for Emergent Literacy”. We learned a lot about digital media for young children and were challenged in our thinking about how best to design and use ebooks and other digital media for the benefit of children’s literacy and digital literacy skills. We will be posting the direct outcome of the conference here by linking the speakers’ slides or guest posts that describe the speakers’ presentations to this page. Over the longer term will inform you about our progress toward the development of a new section of the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development that will bring together our collective knowledge on this topic.

The posting of these materials requires obtaining materials and permissions from the conference presenters. We are posting these mini-blog-posts as we receive the required information. We will note the date of posting below. We invite you to revisit from time to time to check for new postings.

Theme I: How do parents and children engage with ebooks?

1. Keynote presentation: Parent-Preschooler Interaction during Electronic and Traditional Book Reading (Julia Parish-Morris, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff & Brenna Hassinger-Das) POSTED ON JULY 8, 2015

2. With Infants, E-Books and Traditional Books May Not Be So Different (Gabrielle Strouse and Patricia Ganea) POSTED ON JULY 22, 2015

3. Adult Supports for Children’s Understanding of Interactive eBooks: A Cross-sectional Case Study (Kathleen Paciga) POSTED ON JULY 14, 2015

4. Story-Related Discourse by Parent-Child Dyads: A Comparison of Typically Developing Children and Children with Language Impairments Reading Print Books and eBooks (Kathrin Rees, Susan Rvachew, and Aparna Nadig) POSTED ON JULY 6, 2015

Theme II: Learning language from shared reading with ebooks

1. Keynote Presentation: Preschoolers in the Digital Age: How do E-storybooks and Paper Storybooks Compare? (Mary Courage and Anna Richter) POSTED ON OCTOBER 22, 2015

2. The Complexities and Learning Opportunities of Personalisation in Children’s Digital Books (Natalia Kucirkova) POSTED ON JULY 7, 2015

3. Parental Co-Viewing and Language Learning from Digital Media (Georgene Troseth, Gabrielle Strouse and Colleen Russo) POSTED ON OCTOBER 22, 2015

Theme III: Teaching with ebooks in the classroom

1. Keynote Presentation: Teaching with ebooks in the classroom: Emerging practices (Kathleen Roskos and Jeremy Brueck) POSTED ON JULY 10, 2015

2. Using Constructive Apps to Develop Digital Literary Skills in Early Childhood Education (Monika Tavernier and Jeremy Brueck) POSTED ON OCTOBER 22, 2015

3.School Based Shared Reading with iRead with Books Improves Emergent Literacy Skills (Susan Rvachew, Kathrin Rees, Aparna Nadig, Elizabeth Carolan & Elizabeth Christe) POSTED ON AUGUST 9, 2015

Theme IV: Learning to read with digital media

1. Keynote presentation: A Cluster Randomized Control Field Trial of the ABRACADABRA Web-based Reading Technology: Replication and Extension of Basic Findings Noella Piquette, Robert Savage and Philip C. Abrami) POSTED ON JULY 17, 2015

2. The e-Book as a Facilitator of Language and Literacy among Hebrew-Speaking Children (Ofra Korat) POSTED ON OCTOBER 22, 2015

3. Early Reading Outcomes among Preschoolers: Digital vs. Print Media (Iva Son) POSTED ON AUGUST 1, 2015

Shared e-reading is better e-reading: an uncertain certainty

by Kathrin Rees, Doctoral Candidate, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Mobile media continue to increase rapidly in popularity. A report put together by Victoria Rideout (2013) for Common Sense Media found a decrease in average daily use of “traditional” screen media such as television or computers for the group of 0 to 8 year-old children, whereas the time per day this group spent with mobile media (e.g., smartphones, tablets) had tripled within the same two-year period. E-books in particular are popular with children, although parents are ambivalent about these devices. They have many questions reflecting multifaceted concerns such as tradeoffs between excessive screen time and the potential academic benefits of some digital products. For professionals working with families, it is a challenge to adequately answer parent’s questions because the research evidence remains fragmentary and often contradictory.

For instance, it is not quite clear whether e-books should generally be recommended for shared reading with children, i.e. an adult and child (or several children) reading e-books together on a screen. This is a fundamental question that has been settled in the case of print books: it is well established that children learn important language skills from shared reading. Family literacy groups expend considerable resources promoting this practice by providing books to families and teaching families shared reading techniques. In the case of e-books however the research is unclear. Some studies (e.g., Segal-Drori et al., 2013) suggest that preschoolers, especially children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, learn more from e-books when they are shared with an adult. Other studies, including a recent meta-analysis (Takacs et al., 2014), have found that carefully placed features such as motion pictures, sound, and music can scaffold children’s learning to a similar degree as the comments adults provide during shared reading of print books. Surveys such as the one by Vaala and Takeuchi (2012) reveal that some parents do not enjoy reading e-books with their children: given this finding, perhaps we can conclude that solitary reading of e-books by children is a beneficial practice in some families.

Given this scant and conflicting research base, how have experts in children’s media use been responding to families’ e-book-related questions? Three non-profit organizations, two American and one Canadian, have recently published guidelines for parents regarding e-books. Interestingly, they appear unified in the core assumption that for young children, shared e-reading is generally better e-reading. Upon closer examination it turns out that all three organizations infer this insight from available research. The reader needs to be critically aware that a majority of the research underlying these guidelines is only partially related to e-reading; often the research is concerned with joint (paper) book reading and television co-viewing rather than shared reading with digital tablets directly.

One example of a guideline that is firmly rooted in research on television and DVD co-viewing is Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight by Lerner and Barr (2014). These guidelines target parents of children in the youngest age group and early childhood professionals. The white paper’s bottom line: While the type of medium and its content are influential, parent-child interaction is key for learning, notably in relation to the youngest age group. Resembling a research report in format, this document clearly succeeds in integrating pertinent research findings on the wider issue of screen use and learning by the youngest children in a language accessible to many. Another strength, practical implications are presented in note form at the end of each paragraph. Following a thorough review of research on how young children may learn from TV programming and DVD’s, the authors just briefly touch upon e-books in a paragraph entitled The danger of too much interactivity, citing two selected studies which yielded contrary findings about e-books and children’s story comprehension. Regardless of the medium (TV, apps, and touchscreens), the authors generally advise parents to prioritize content-focused conversations with their child over interactions about tech features. Yet a certain amount of tech talk seems inevitable dependent on how much previous experience each member of the dyad has with digital technology in general and the sharing of e-books more specifically. From a digital literacy perspective it might even be that some of this tech talk is quite useful—an issue that research to date simply has not addressed. On a more fundamental level, one may ask whether the TV viewing and e-book reading contexts are sufficiently similar that we may treat the research base as one.

To address a second example, the NYC-based Cooney Center chose to deploy the medium of interest itself for communicating their advice to families, an e-book app named Family Time with Apps  (available for free from Apple’s iBook store). This source similarly highlights the importance of “using apps together” (p.3), but has a comparably higher emphasis on opportunities for learning that occur in this process for both children and adults. Core content is packaged in carefully designed graphics, more precisely eight comic strips featuring interactive use of diverse apps by children and adults. Although the book app does not contain direct references to research, these may be found on the Center’s website and reveal a strong theoretical foundation in TV co-viewing as well as joint media engagement in general. The section “Reading together every day” (p.7) shows a friendly grandfather and a little girl looking at an e-book together: Acting in the best tradition of dialogic reading practices, the grandfather engages the child in talk about the story through a number of carefully formulated prompts while looking at the e-book. The girl is portrayed as very responsive, even initiating a few of the interactions herself. A box to be found in a bottom corner of the screen highlights the quintessential recommendation to read e-books just like traditional paperbooks. In other words, parents are advised to revert to strategies they have experienced as effective in a related context (i.e., reading paper books). It is not clear how parents would receive or implement this advice however: parents report that they find shared reading with print books and e-books to be quite different experiences.

To turn to a third and last example, the Canadian Hanen Centre  provides tips on e-book use for parents and professionals in the technology corner of its website. A short article by Lauren Lowry lists possible advantageous and less advantageous aspects of e-books (making reference to selected studies) and identifies quality criteria for selecting them. The article ends with a loosely connected sequence of tips under the subheading, “It takes two to read an e-book”. This claim, and one could question the certainty with which it is presented, is in fact a playful variation of one of Hanen’s traditional program titles: “It takes two to talk”. It is important to note that the latter program was originally developed for contexts such as parent-child toy play and print book reading: it is not clear that the generalization to e-books is justified. That said, this last part further lists some useful ideas like manipulating the reading medium itself, e.g. by selectively turning off specific interactive features (read in read-only mode first), followed by the hint to give the child the lead in the interaction. However, what specific purpose a strategy like “giving the child the lead” might fulfill in the context of shared e-book reading remains largely unexplained.

When we look at e-books through our old glasses mainly—i.e., what is known regarding paper book reading and TV co-viewing–we risk ignoring very specific characteristics (positive or negative) of a novel context such as shared reading with e-books. In future blogs we will explore what our own research in the context of the “digital media project” has brought about in relation to some of the recommendations reported above.