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The e-Book as a Facilitator of Language and Literacy among Hebrew-Speaking Children

DSCF4501 KoratThe second presentation in Theme IV: Learning to Read with Digital Media was presented by Ofra Korat . Ofra demonstrated two delightful books that she has been using in her research on the use of digital media for facilitating the acquisition of oral and written language skills by Hebrew-speaking children.  The books are carefully designed with elements shown to improve children’s learning such as animated dictionary pop-ups. Ofra’s research program  is remarkable for its depth and breadth, involving children with variations in language skills and social class and book reading conditions that include print versus electronic versions of the stories presented with and without adult support. Ofra is convinced that if ebooks are sufficiently well designed children will learn language and literacy skills from them even without adult scaffolding; this outcome has been observed in some although not all of her studies. If the design elements that promote this outcome can be identified, such books could benefit children who have less access to high quality adult supports or who, due to language disability or differences, require additional language inputs in order to achieve adequate success in school.

Conference abstract: In this presentation, we will present a series of studies performed in the last decade that examined the contribution of e-book reading to the language and literacy of young Hebrew-speaking children.

Conference handout: Please contact Dr. Korat directly for more information about her presentation.

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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.

A Cluster Randomized Control Field Trial of ABRACADABRA

The Key Note presentation in Theme IV: Learning to Read with Digital Media was presented by Rob Savage (“A Cluster Randomized Control Field Trial of the ABRACADABRA Web-based Reading Technology: Replication and Extension of Basic Findings”, Noella Piquette, Rob Savage and Philip C. Abrami). The presentation was largely concerned with ABRACADABRA, free, interactive web-based literacy program designed for early elementary school-aged students. The presentation covered a lot of research with a primary focus on two recent studies. The efficacy and effectiveness of ABRACADABRA for reading outcomes has previously been established in well controlled trials. A new study was presented that demonstrates effectiveness given a district wide implementation in Northern Alberta with implementation largely handled by local personnel in order to establish external validity. Subsequently Rob turned to the conflicting reports of the efficacy of computer based reading interventions in the scientific literature. A review study examined the inclusion of detailed descriptions of the methods used to implement the trial interventions and the methods used for ensuring fidelity to those procedures in trial reports in relation to outcomes. The results supported the conclusion that computer based reading interventions are most likely to be effective when there is evidence of good quality training and support for teachers in the implementation of the intervention. This finding was a recurring theme during the afternoon sessions and during the second day of the conference.

DSCF4651 SavageConference abstract: The present paper reports a cluster randomized control trial evaluation of teaching using ABRACADABRA (ABRA), an evidence-based and web-based literacy intervention (http://abralite.concordia.ca) with 107 kindergarten and 96 grade 1 children in 24 classes (12 intervention 12 control classes) from all 12 elementary schools in one school district in Canada. Children in the intervention condition received 10-12 hours of whole class instruction using ABRA between pre- and post-test. Hierarchical linear modeling of post-test results showed significant gains in letter-sound knowledge for intervention classrooms over control classrooms. In addition, medium effect sizes were evident for three of five outcome measures favoring the intervention: letter-sound knowledge (d = +.66), phonological blending (d = +.52), and word reading (d = +.52), over effect sizes for regular teaching. It is concluded that regular teaching with ABRA technology adds significantly to literacy in the early elementary years. We discuss these findings and those of our previous work against wider literature on the effectiveness of educational technologies.

Conference handout: Savage 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.

The impact of multi-sensory experiences on reading storybooks and e-books

By Christina Tausch, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Digital Media Partnership

We are very interested in finding out if the use of digital media changes reading and reading interactions between caregivers and children when compared to reading traditional storybooks. As we recounted in a previous blog post, survey data reveals conflicted views by parents on the use of digital media with their children. Parents prefer traditional storybooks most of the time but will allow their children to use ebooks in specific contexts such as when commuting (Takeuchi & Vaala, 2012). The child’s perspective has been less well explored in research however. How do children experience ebooks in comparison to traditional paper books?  Children are sensory-motor learners and it is clear that they will receive very different kinds of sensory-motor feedback when turning the pages of traditional storybooks in comparison to swiping the virtual pages of e-books (Mangen, 2008).  What do we know?

In printed storybooks, the content of the story cannot be separated from the material (Morineau, Blanche, Tobin & Guenguen, 2005).  What are the implications? Children can touch the book and every single page, feel its weight, its texture and perceive the thickness of a book. Thus, children begin to understand the concept of where a book begins and ends. They experience flipping through pages of different books and explore page numbers. This direct sensory-motor experience leads to the creation of a mental map of the entire text and has a direct impact on children’s reading comprehension, according to Mangen et al., 2013. The text and the smooth glass cover of an e-reader or iPad cannot be perceived as a tangible unit, so that the book content is detached from its material. This spatial orientation is not provided in ebooks, but other motivational and built-in features may facilitate reading comprehension as effectively although in different ways.  For example, in some ebooks, story content can be changed with a mouse click to provide the child with direct experience with narrative structure and problem solving. Hotspots are a common tool to aid vocabulary learning. Interactive features to support story comprehension are becoming increasingly innovative entertaining and entertaining and entertaining.  There is a concern however that clicking on hot spots or scrawling down a page in ebooks might lead to very different text comprehension and caregiver-child interactions, especially if the attention is too focused on the device and its features instead of the story content (Chiong, Ree, Takeuchi, & Erickson, 2012; Parish-Morris & Collins, 2006; Mangen, 2008).

Another way in which the interactive features of ebooks change the caregiver-child interaction is related to their ease of use, even for children as young as two. In his exploratory study Geist (2012) observed that very young children can master digital tablet applications because the sensory motor interface is intuitive and provides few cognitive barriers.  According to the Sesame Workshop: Best Practice Report, 2012 actions such as tapping, drawing and moving their fingers, swiping, dragging and sliding are mastered by toddlers in a very natural way without assistance. Certain gestures are less intuitive (e.g., multi-touch actions such as pinching, tilting/shaking, flicking/flinging). Although the adult might need to step in and help the child when these movements are required, toddlers can use a large number of books, games and apps without much parental assistance. Therefore it is legitimate to ask whether this technology will reduce the frequency of meaningful caregiver-child interactions. It is well known that language development is most strongly impacted by the amount and quality the language input the child receives from adults in the context of “helpful interactions” (Weizman & Snow, 2001). Will the use of these devices reduce the child’s access to this kind of input?

What are your experiences – do you feel that you interact differently with your child when you read e-books as compared to standard paper books? How do you feel these differences in sensory-motor experience impact on your child’s learning?