How to promote literacy skills in the digital age

Apps that claim to teach deep literacy skills can be misleading.

Digital apps that claim to teach children important reading and literacy skills do not always impart higher-level abilities that children need to develop strong reading skills, according to a report from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Most of the skills these apps target are very basic, and parents and educators often do not have in-depth—or any—knowledge of how the apps work or if they work at all, claims the report, “Pioneering Literacy in the Digital Wild West.”

This past spring, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading asked the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the New America Foundation to conduct a nationwide scan of technology-based products aimed at improving the early literacy skills of children from birth through age 8.

The researchers did not intend to evaluate product and program effectiveness, but instead focused on gathering information about what is currently available to parents, children, and educators.

The market for children’s apps is booming, the report notes—though it calls this market a “digital Wild West.” In a recent examination of Apple’s App Store, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that 72 percent of the top-selling apps in the Education category target preschool-age children.

(Next page: What the research reveals)

Laura Ascione

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