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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.
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.
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.
Conference 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.
Teaching with eBooks: Emerging Practices
The Key Note presentation for Theme IV: Teaching with eBooks in the Classroom was presented by Jeremy Brueck . Regrettably his co-author Kathleen Roskos was unable to join us but Jeremy’s presentation, attached below, was a perfect introduction to the Theme. The presentation was visually gorgeous, immensely practical and intellectually stimulating since it reminded us (again) that children’s learning from ebooks is not just about the design of the technology. Teachers’ knowledge, skills and experiences play a very important role. Jeremy reviewed best practices related to five key points: (1) Know your device; (2) Know your ebook; (3) Establish routines; (4) Link apps together; and (5) Be persistent. Jeremy also introduced us to some tools for evaluating and rating the quality of ebooks for teaching, including his own eBook Quality Rating Tool. Jeremy has discussed this tool in more detail on his blog and he and his colleagues have published data collected with the tool in journals such as The Journal of Interactive On-line Learning. I invite readers to download the conference handout because a brief blogpost cannot do justice to the presentation. However, as Jeremy stressed during the presentation, professional development helps but supported and persistence exploration and practice with devices and apps is the key to successful integration of these technologies into the classroom.
Conference abstract: The surge of eBooks and storybook apps into the early childhood world is rapidly changing the traditional early book experience and thereby the way literacy is promoted in early education. As eBooks increasingly replace print books on an array of devices, the need to understand their impact not only on children’s engagement and learning, but also early literacy teaching grows more urgent. How do adults help young children learn to read and write in an electronic reading environment? Our session focuses on emerging e-reading practices that appear promising for promoting children’s early literacy knowledge, skills and motivation. Drawing on a series of field studies in early childhood classrooms, we describe hybrid pedagogies teachers are using to support early literacy experience with eBooks and apps. We also report both the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” when implementing eBook reading instruction in mobile learning environments. Finally we discuss the supports that teachers need when adapting their existing practices to eBook enriched classrooms.
Conference handout: Brueck DigLitMcGill slide upload.