Technology Literacy Strategies Support Reading Research Recommendations

by Linda Robinson

The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood has promoted emergent literacy for young children with disabilities through its model development, outreach training, and research projects. The Interactive Technology Literacy Curriculum (ITLC) model and the curriculum, eMERGing Literacy and Technology: Working Together (Hutinger, Beard, Bell, Bond, Robinson, Schneider, & Terry, 2001) are the direct products of the Center’s literacy efforts over the years. ITLC model practices have proven effective for young children with disabilities, their families, and teachers at 6 model sites, 20 outreach sites, and 16 research sites . A review of our practices also shows direct correlation to the reading research recommendations for early childhood professionals published by the National Research Council (1998). This article summarizes the ITLC emergent literacy strategies that relate to each of the nine recommendations.

1. Provide rich conceptual experiences that promote growth in vocabulary and reasoning skills. ITLC site staff design literacy-rich environments which include a reading center with books of different sizes, different types, books with content related to a theme, fiction and non-fiction books and other reading materials. Teachers label objects and centers throughout the classroom and display posters and pictures with words at children’s level.

Technology is used as a tool for emergent literacy in all of the ITLC sites. Teachers and families use interactive software which provides children with opportunities to explore, problem solve, and learn early print concepts. Interactive software promotes both vocabulary growth and increased reasoning skills. Living Books software contains text that is highlighted and read to children to reinforce spoken to written word correspondence and left to right reading. Children tend to talk to each other about characters and actions in the software. ITLC classrooms also use KidDesk, a desktop management program, which encourages independence and literacy skills. Children send messages to each other both in written and verbal form through the software. Teachers also use HyperStudio, an authoring program, to create stories with children’s help that relate to classroom experiences, field trips, or a particular theme. Children use planning and reasoning skills as they contribute words and artwork to the stories.

2. Encourage lexical development, from early referential (naming) abilities to relational and abstract terms and finer-shaded meanings. ITLC teachers provide meaningful experiences to children related to words and their meanings. Children learn the written word that represents their name as they sign-up to use the computer or sign their artwork. Children also learn their classmates’ names as they relate photos to names during circle time activities. They also learn that everything has a name as they see written labels on objects throughout the classroom. They know that the written word represents the object.

Interactive software offers opportunities for children to socialize and discuss objects found in stories. They also name objects and talk about their purposes in the story. Living Books software with its familiar Mercer Mayer characters is a favorite among children. They are anxious to answer any questions related to the characters and actions they experience in the software.

3. Encourage development of listening comprehension skills and the kinds of syntactic and prose structures that preschool children may not yet have mastered. All of the ITLC site teachers read to children during circletime. They encourage comprehension skills by questioning children about the story and asking children to predict what will happen next. Children are also invited to participate as a group in repeating phrases or sentences from a story. Songs are also sung on a routine basis in the classrooms. Some teachers use music tapes or records for musical accompaniment, while one ITLC teacher is a songwriter who creates her own songs and guitar music for sing-alongs.

Children enjoy hearing stories read on the computer. With Stellaluna, children will listen, follow along with the text, and sing along with songs in the software. Other programs, such as Green Eggs and Ham help children experience rhyming patterns along with a story. Children enjoy Chicka Chicka Boom Boom for its rhyming and playfulness with words. Off-computer activities which support the software help children understand story content and structure. Children in one classroom acted out Green Eggs and Ham with all of the rhyming props including real eggs colored green for snack.

4. Encourage development of children’s sense of story. ITLC teachers use print and electronic books to introduce children to story concepts. Children learn that stories have a beginning, middle, and end, and that characters, settings and conflict are part of a story. Children participate in planning and acting out stories during dramatic play activities. They work on characters, settings, costumes, and plot sequences as they act out their version of a story which was read in print form or on the computer. After children at one ITLC site read about Stellaluna, they became bats and birds and recreated the story using paper wings as costumes and a cardboard box as a cave for the setting.

Children tell stories through their drawings. When ITLC children were asked at the end of the year to draw what they liked best about the computer, most children drew a favorite character from the software and then talked about the related story. Children’s drawings are also used as part of a group project. With teachers’ help, the drawings are placed in HyperStudio as part of a class book based on a story the children want to tell. HyperStudio creations have also been based on children’s favorite books, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear or Look Out, Patrick!. When creating their own interactive stories on the computer, children learn sequence and characters, along with words.

5. Encourage children’s sensitivity to the sounds of language. Singing and rhyming related to books is a common activity in ITLC classrooms. Children play with language sounds as they participate in these activities. Stories which are read on the computer also help children’s sensitivity to sounds. Programs, such as Just Me and My Grandpa or the The Smelly Mystery, contain features that highlight words and read words over and over to children. The use of interactive software also gives children opportunities to predict events in stories. The Smelly Mystery is a good example, since children need to decide which character is stealing smells as they go through the story. Children become aware of clues to use in the story to help them predict which character is guilty and what will happen next.

HyperStudio is a good tool to help children become more aware of the sounds of language. Children can record their own voices and replay them in HyperStudio. They can hear their own voices telling the story and saying words which appear as text in the story.

6. Encourage development of children’s concepts of print. The print-rich environment in the ITLC classroom promotes print concepts for children. Children become aware of labels on objects and environmental print which is displayed. Children look at books in the reading center which shows pictures relating to a story, text read top to bottom and left to right, a sequence to the story, and words having meaning. Each ITLC classroom has a writing center with a variety of tools and materials to encourage children to draw and write their thoughts.

Use of the sign-up sheet at the computer center also promotes development of print concepts. They learn that the list of names starts at the top and progresses from left to right. Letters which they write have meaning and purpose, since they are signing up for a turn on the computer. Children also interact with software which encourages print concepts. Living Books software and other story programs have text which is read left to right and top to bottom. Pictures on each page relate to the words on the page. When a child clicks on a word in Green Eggs and Ham, the word changes into a picture. For example, a picture of an egg appears when the word, “egg” is clicked. Children learn that words have meaning and pictures relate to words.

7. Encourage development of children’s concepts of space, including directionality. As children turn the pages in a software story program, they learn directionality. They know that moving the mouse to the lower right corner of the page means they will go forward in the story. Children learn quickly that a mouse click in the opposite corner of the page will take them back to the previous page. The text on the screen also shows spaces between words and as the words are read and highlighted by the computer, children learn the direction in which text is read. They also learn that the spaces separate the words. Children with physical disabilities use adaptive input to move the cursor on the screen to click on words or activate page turning.

8. Encourage development of children’s fine motor skills. Since books are easily accessible in the ITLC classrooms for children to explore and read, children progress in fine motor skills as they handle books and turn pages. Adapted books with thicker pages or special page-turning aids give children with physical disabilities opportunities to handle books on their own. As children use the computer with either a mouse or adaptive input device, they develop eye-hand coordination as they move the cursor to a desired word or character on the screen. Movement of objects across the screen or highlighting of text encourages visual tracking.

ITLC sites encourage expressive arts activities which include drawing and writing. Children have opportunities at all centers to write or draw. Children enjoy making grocery lists, writing other children’s names, and sending messages to each other and in the process develop critical skills in literacy and fine motor. The computer sign-up sheet is another technique which encourages fine motor skills. As children write their name on the sheet they develop a variety of skills, including eye-hand coordination.

9. Motivate children to read. ITLC teachers design their environment and activities to promote children’s desire to read. Children have access to a variety of books and software. Teachers read aloud to the children daily. They have designed reading and writing centers which are inviting and comfortable for children. Children who have difficulty handling books have adapted books available for them. Through use of interactive software, children are encouraged to read along with a book.

The ITLC model promotes family literacy by encouraging children to take books home to share with family members. Printed copies of HyperStudio books created by the children are sent home for sharing. Children are also asked to bring favorite books from home to share with others. To further promote children’s desire to read, teachers provide props for use at home and in the classroom that support children’s favorite books. Children enjoy acting out a story or creating their own story with the props.

Summary

The Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood has developed a variety of technology literacy strategies to promote emergent literacy for young children with disabilities. The ITLC model practices and curriculum correlate directly to the National Research Council’s nine recommendations for early childhood professionals. With a literacy-rich environment, developmentally appropriate curriculum activities both on and off computer, and adaptations, all young children are insured opportunities to develop emergent literacy skills.

References

Hutinger, P., Beard, M., Bell, C., Bond, J., Robinson, L., Schneider, C., & Terry, C. (2001). eMERGing literacy and technology: working together. Macomb, IL: Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood.
National Research Council. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


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