Digital Technologies for Literacy in Early Years Classrooms

A post from Bernadette

There is considerable evidence that young children (aged from 0 to 6) are immersed in a digital world from birth. For example, surveys conducted in the U.K. revealed that young children were active users of digital technologies engaging in a range of multimodal experiences (Marsh, 2005).

However, recent research has highlighted a dissonance between technology use in the home and at school and indeed a general under-utilisation of digital technologies in early years classrooms (Aubrey & Dahl, 2008).

Given that young children are engaging with digital technologies and digital practices in the home the possibilities afforded by these early digital experiences need to be more fully explored and accommodated within the classroom curriculum.

So how can we utilise digital technologies in ways that support children as readers, writers and thinkers? How can we use technologies to support the development of essential early literacy skills and increase motivation and engagement with literacy and learning?

I have been reflecting about this recently and here are some tentative musings and suggestions.

• Young children should engage with digital literacies in ways that encourage “playfulness, agency and creativity” (Burnett, 2010). Indeed, research has shown that children can draw on narratives and characters from their use of multimedia in their own play (Pahl, 2005).

• Digital technologies should not replace ‘busy’ workbook type activities in the classroom in drill-and-practice type scenarios. Freddy Hiebert noted, in her Frankly Freddy column, that “tricked out rote exercises will not support children’s love of language and literacy in the long run” (Hiebert, 2012).

• Digital technologies and multimodal texts offer the potential to support the development of early literacy skills. They present multiple means of representation, provide robust supports to meet the diverse needs of pupils in the classroom, and reduce the barriers to text (e.g. decoding difficulties) through embedded supports.
BookBuilder from CAST (CAST.org ) is a particular favourite of mine and I have previously blogged about how BookBuilder can enhance the Language Experience Approach

• Digital technologies should complement or supplement teacher read aloud. For example, children can listen to or re-read favourite class room texts though storyline online, developed by the screen actors guild (http://www.storylineonline.net/) or through apps such as, a Story Before Bed-Personalized Children’s Picture books.

• Digital technologies should build on the creativity of children, provide opportunities for engagement and response and encourage children to become authors and producers of text. In addition digital technologies should encourage experimentation and expression with regard to the generation and construction of a story or message. Apps such as, Sock Puppets allow child to create a story, choose a background and record their voices. The sock puppets then automatically lip-synch to the child’s recorded voice. Other examples include Strip designer, for creating comics; Book Creator for Ipad and Story kit for creating stories to share with an audience outside the classroom walls.

• Digital technologies can supplement the development of fine motor skills for handwriting. Apps such as, Dexteria, which was developed for children with special needs, develops fine motor skills e.g pincer movements, finger strength and hand movements and letter formation. Watch the You tube video and you’ll see how appealing this app is. I would caution, however, that to my mind, nothing replaces concrete materials, like pegs and peg boards, sand trays, and making letters with plasticine for the development of fine motor skills for handwriting.

Would love to hear your views on ways to embed and integrate digital technologies to support literacy development in the early years classroom. Jill has recently blogged on Expressive Learning: Encouraging Students’ Multimodal Expression to Enhance Content Learning and using apps for education so do read her blog here.

References
Aubrey, C. and Dahl, S. (2008). A review of the evidence on the use of ICT in the Early Years Foundation Stage. BECTA. Accessed online May 2009 at: http://partners.becta.org.uk/uploaddir/downloads/page_documents/research/review_early_years_foundation.pdf

Burnett, C. (2010). Technology and literacy in early childhood educational settings: A review of research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(3), 247-270.

Hiebert, E.H. (2012) Children’s literacy learning and screen time accessed June 2012 at http://textproject.org/frankly-freddy/children-s-literacy-learning-and-screen-time/

Marsh, J., Brook, G., Hughes, J., Ritchie, L., Roberts, S. Wright, K.(2005). Digital beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies. Literacy Research Centre, Sheffield

Pahl, K. (2005). ‘Narrative spaces and multiple identities: Children’s textual explorations of console games in home settings’ In: J. Marsh (2005) (Ed.), Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood, pp. 126-143.London: Routledge.

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