How to promote literacy skills in the digital age

Engagement between adults and children when using digital media is especially important, the report says, because children tend to build strong language and literacy skills through what it describes as a “cascading” effect.

“With so much competing for the attention of today’s children, and so much of their future riding on the ability to learn to read, schools and community leaders have a responsibility to assess how technology fits into the lives of the children they are trying to help — and how it might be used to further, not stymie, their language and literacy development,” the authors wrote.

They say that “communities committed to making a demonstrable impact on grade-level reading” will have to prioritize four key areas:

  1. Promoting personal connection among parents and educators via social media, cell phones, texting, and the development of hybrid (online and offline) learning communities.
  2. Reinforcing basic skills by vetting and making available to parents and educators apps, literacy-supportive eBooks, and on- and offline games to play with their children.
  3. Building background knowledge by providing new routes for taking advantage of content-rich library materials, museum offerings, eBook services, immersive games, and multimedia “field trips.”
  4. Improving the workforce by connecting educators (including librarians and family child care providers) to each other, to new resources for literacy instruction and active learning, and to professional development opportunities.

Recommendations for parents, teachers, communities, and policy makers include:

  • Conduct community audits to “determine who has access to what” digital resources. This opens up the opportunity to “curate materials for families,” the report says.
  • Create public engagement initiatives on the need for critical thinking about media.
  • Create a place in every community where children, parents and educators can experiment together with online and offline literacy materials. Encourage parents to use digital media to learn together with their children.
  • Support sound research on how both technology content and contexts are affecting reading development.
  • Create partnerships for innovation.

“Media use by preschool children is not by itself the critical concern,” the report concludes, “but … technology’s potential to be a game changer will not be reached unless vital new supports for parents and educators are established. In the digital age, it is these caring adults who still matter most.”

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Laura Ascione

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