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How to teach young children in the digital age


A new report recommends how to integrate digital media effectively into young children's education.

As research suggests more than half of children ages 5-8 have used a mobile device such as a smart phone, iPod touch, or iPad, a new report offers recommendations for how policy makers and education leaders can take a more robust and modern approach to helping young students learn and develop in the digital age.

Take a Giant Step,” from the Digital Age Teacher Preparation Council, finds that the integration of innovative, research-based training models for early childhood educators is a key element missing in the design of high-quality early learning programs.

The Digital Age Teacher Preparation Council, established by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and co-chaired by Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond and Cooney Center Executive Director Michael H. Levine, reviewed research from foundations and government agencies and discovered that fewer than half of all early learning programs in the U.S. are considered high quality and promote significant learning among underserved students.

In light of recent reports—such as Common Sense Media’s “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America“—revealing that today’s children consume up to 7 hours of media daily, some organizations, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children, are updating their professional practices to guide learning and development for today’s digital-age children.

“Take a Giant Step” says policy makers can learn from these efforts, and it calls on teacher preparation programs to integrate into their curricula more research on how young children learn. It also recommends that early learning programs take more advantage of free digital assets created by public media (such as PBS) to reach a new generation of digital-savvy learners.

In the report, the council identifies several goals for the nation to meet by 2020 to integrate digital media into early learning programs and help the nation’s underserved students become current with 21st-century skills.

Those goals include:

  • Advance technology integration and infrastructure: The Digital Age Teacher Preparation Council recommends that President Obama and Congress expand broadband policies and technology integration efforts to cover publicly supported preschool programs.
  • Modernize professional learning programs and models: The report urges states, local districts, Head Start programs, and other early learning programs to develop curricula and training resources for teachers and parents on the appropriate use of technologies with young children. It also recommends specific reforms to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to integrate the use of technology in both preparation and ongoing training programs for early childhood educators.
  • Expand public media use as a cost-effective asset for teachers: Given the low cost, research-based development, but currently limited use of public media assets in early childhood education settings, the council recommends the creation of more public-private partnerships to create and distribute public media assets more widely.
  • Create a Digital Teacher Corps: The council recommends a new public-private partnership be designed to support a corps of teachers whose goal is to integrate digital learning, modern technologies, and best teaching practices to address the “fourth grade reading slump” that afflicts over one million young children annually.

The challenges facing education today mean that teachers must come up with new and creative approaches to engage their students, especially younger students, Darling-Hammond said.

“Quality early learning programs in our digital age will be led by highly prepared, flexible teachers who can effectively integrate what they know about healthy child development with the resources of an always-connected, thoroughly modern environment,” she said, noting that the report demonstrates how educators can design new pathways for their youngest students.

The report also highlights current best practices in integrating technology into early learning programs, including online professional development courses, statewide technology innovations such as the Maine One-to-One Laptop program, and technology integration through applications such as Building Blocks software and university-based programs introduced by Tufts University.

If teachers of children ages 3-8 can integrate emerging digital technology into their own professional development, the nation can move toward “a cost-effective and productive pathway for learning in the 21st century,” the authors wrote.

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