How e-books support children’s language | Dr Susan Rvachew

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Most of what we know about how children learn language comes from studies in which the researchers observe children talking with adults and a lot of different situations so for example this book which is called beginning literacy with language the editor David Dickinson and other researchers who went with him Catherine Snow for example they went into preschool classrooms and into homes and they watched children learning language, and they found that the most powerful context for language learning and children is shared reading and part of the reason for that is that storybooks present children with language that’s a little bit more complex than they’ll be hearing through the rest of the day and the input that children hear is like the most important thing for language learning so during shared reading children are hearing complex language and they are they’re relating that language to their everyday lives and they’re able to use it for abstract thinking. How does technology play a role in this we see a lot more technology in early childhood In the early childhood settings and you brought a couple Yes, so maybe you could share with us how technology supports language development Well the shared reading context with print books is so powerful for language learning that it’s reasonable to ask why you would even bring electronic books into the preschool classroom? But I think that there’s a couple of important ways in which ebooks can augment the potential of the standard print book. And the first one is that ebooks are usually designed to draw the child’s attention to print so for example in this book there’s a couple of different reading modes for the book, so one is that the book can be read by the child alone, in that there’s a self narration function so the book can narrate the story to the child and when it does that most of these books have a highlighting function so that while the narration is happening the words will be highlighted along with the narration and this draws the child’s attention to print and the thing is that with paper books children don’t look at the print! And people didn’t realize this for a long time, but some really cool research was done in Canada by Marian Evans and they used eye tracking equipment, and they found out the children are looking at the pictures they’re listening to the words that the adult is reading but they don’t connect the print to the words that they hear or the pictures that they see. So ebooks are designed to draw children’s attention to print. This book has another feature that they call living words so the word shadows is highlighted here to draw the child’s attention to it And if you touch it then the word actually looks like a shadow and then it triggers this animation so the shadows come on and off the bed as the blind goes up and down up and down and so you get this linking of the text shadows and the concept shadows. So ebooks do a lot of special things to really draw children’s attention to text and the way that text is linked to meaning. The other thing that ebooks increasingly ebooks are being designed for co-reading instead of solo reading by the child so here when you touch the word shadows you get this little pop-up, which suggests that the parent might want to ask the children what makes the shadows on the bed so it supports adult adults use of what are called dialogic reading prompts and I think that’s really cool because the other thing about language learning is simply repetition. I talked about Catherine Snow one of the important things she found out is that language learning and especially vocabulary learning is a function of the number of times that a child hears a word in a helpful context and the preschool teacher can only read the story so many times to the children. How can you promote this repetition? Well, ebooks can do that you can put the ebooks in the reading corner and then the children can experience those books over and over again by themselves or you can have volunteer reading programs where you bring Grandmother’s or parents or high school teachers in from the community to reread the books to children and those volunteer readers may not be as skilled as a preschool teacher in terms of having those rich conversations with children so these kinds of books provide supports to those volunteer readers by suggesting these kinds of conversation prompts, which is a really cool way of enhancing or augmenting the print book reading and experience for the children. I think there’s a lot of ways that ebooks can augment the reading experience in the classroom. What about this one? Well, it’s another example. This is another example and and the reason I wanted to show this is that the other thing that’s interesting about classrooms these days is that it’s very very common to have many children speaking all different kinds of languages so in your classroom you could have half the class coming into the classroom speaking not only did they not speak the majority language in the class, but the home languages are all different you know one child is speaking Arabic at home another one Cantonese another one French another one Spanish and so on so you have all these different language backgrounds that you have to deal with and then they’re learning the majority language in the classroom and so it’s really it’s really important to have different ways of of helping those children learn the majority language and also keep their home language and support this what we call the home-school interface. So ebooks can help with that in two ways first of all looks like the one that I just showed you which is It’s called the I read with series those books and also a lot of the ebooks on the market are made for multiple languages. So they have options you can ask the how to ask to read them in English or Spanish or French or Cantonese or something like that so the child can experience the book in the school language and in the home language and this really boosts their language learning in both languages. And then the other thing is there’s many many apps that allow children to make their own story. So this one is called ‘My Story’ I think and so the children can import their own pictures they can take pictures of things and then add their own text and also this is really the important thing they can add oral narration so if the school the classroom goes on a trip to the zoo or something like this they can take their own pictures and then add narration and text of the story, or if at home they have a new pet or there’s a new baby at home their parents can help the children add narration and they can have two different versions of the story one in the home language and one in the school language and in this way connect their vocabulary learning in the two languages and it will well this will grow their languages their language ability in both languages and I think that’s a really really interesting way to use technology. Is there a big emphasis on that relationship with the adult and the child in terms of reading together like you were mentioning before? Yes you do have to read them a little bit different way because with paper books kids have had a lot of experience with paper books adults have often been reading paper books to their kids since they were babies and they’ve developed a kind of routine with the paper books where the adult is really taking the lead and the kids let them do that because they know that it’s the adults who knows how to read so we videotaped lots and lots of adults reading to kids and we’re often surprised at how passive the children are in that situation the adult reads the book and the child sits quietly and lets them and then if the adult tries to take control and be the leader with iPad books It doesn’t work because most iPad books are developed for solo reading by the child and the children see iPad apps is being toys that they can take control of and play with and sometimes there’s a real like tug-of-war you know the child is trying to get the iPad and the parent is trying to get it back as they want to take control. With iPad books you have to let the child take the lead a bit more and you need to negotiate a turn taking routine with the child and it can be as simple as just saying how about if I read the story first and then you can play in the picture and when it’s the child’s turn to play in the picture you have to really let them do that let them do what they want in the picture and for language learning the best technique is what we call parallel talk Talk about what the child is doing about what they see and the effects that they’re creating as they touch the screen. If you ask the child a question, and you should continue with the same dialogic prompts that you would use with normal storybook reading but don’t ask too many questions, and when you ask a question they might prefer to respond Non-verbally by you know touching the app instead of answering with a sentence you should just let that let that go allow it and follow the child’s lead then you’ll both have fun you’ll both be learning. For more tips about how to use ebooks for teaching I would suggest going to the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development and look up the topic that I edited, it’s called ‘Technology in Early Childhood Education’.

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