Reflections on Learning to Read in a Digital Age

In reading the first two sections of Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Micheal H. Levine, I am impressed by the premise of this book. As a parent educator, I am often asked about the use of screens with young children and I spend a lot of time sifting through research, articles, and books on the subject. As the authors of Tap, Click, Read point out, there are a lot of negative perceptions, especially among early childhood educators, regarding the use of screens with young children and how it affects their ability to learn to read. Rather than feed these fears, Tap, Click, Read presents a balanced approach where screens are embraced as a part of emergent literacy while still emphasizing the importance of adult guidance and interpersonal connections necessary in language acquisition.

I am very aware of my own biases on this topic. Being a staunch advocate of rich early literacy environments, I spend a lot of time talking about the need for books and reading in young children’s lives. I tend to bristle when educators suggest we bring screens into a reading experience for young children because I believe that preschoolers and toddlers learn best from physical interactions with their worlds, and this includes physical books. The authors remind us that new technologies have often been met with skepticism, such as television and even novels, which were considered unsophisticated and full of fantasy.

Tap, Click, Read proposes a hybrid approach to reading that embraces reading and technology with parents supporting children’s language and literacy development, and most importantly, putting devices away when they begin to distract children. The important aspect is that adults would “recognize and limit situations in which technologies are impeding children’s learning.” While the authors admit this is the ideal, it does make me wonder how practical this approach would be. Parents would certainly need to be well-versed in which technologies to use, and able to recognize when they are impeding children’s learning. To do this, parents would also need to have a strong understanding of how children learn, something that not all parents truly understand.

One issue raised in Tap, Click, Read was the ways in which research has been done with screen use and children. First, many early studies looked at screen use without taking into account the content of the screen time. More recent research has shown that content matters and that educational content does have some positive effects on children’s learning. Also, parental support while engaging with digital media has a positive effect on children’ learning. Second, decades of research has been done on samples of children from white, middle-income families. These same families were well-educated with exposure to language and books from an early age. The context of how people engage with technology and digital media is just as important as the content. We need to accept how families use technology and media in their homes without making parents feel guilty or patronized. Moreover, if we truly want to close the achievement gap for young students, we need to support the ways in which families can use technology to their advantage.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Learning to Read in a Digital Age

  1. This is a really strong and succinct analysis of where we likely are. It’s easy for forget that after decades of print (and much more recent widespread, easy access to books in most homes), these digital tools are barely a decade old and they have evolved so rapidly within those ten years. We’ll figure it out, and you’re a long way towards clarifying the questions that we should be asking as we figure it out.

    The (what now feels like) hundreds of phonics worksheets I did in my early schooling were not supportive of my literacy development. I am avid reader anyway. Your closing paragraph should be put on a poster!

    Liked by 1 person

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