With the proliferation of tablets, smartphones, and other mobile devices, the number of games, apps, and software to help students learn to read and increase their literacy skills is growing fast. And as technology continues to evolve, those tools are becoming more interactive, animated, and sophisticated. Digital Directions has examined some of the major trends in digital reading media to help you make smart decisions about what your schools should use.
Games and multimedia in e-books—Companies are making major strides in incorporating interactive multimedia into e-books for students of all ages. A new study by the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading—a collaborative effort by nonprofit organizations, foundations, and state and local education officials to increase the number of low-income students who read at grade level—found that in a scan of 137 e-books available from iTunes, almost all (95 percent) provided audio narration. About a quarter of them allowed students to record their own voices, and about half highlighted the words while the story was being narrated so students could follow along. Sixty-five percent of e-books had games and activities embedded within the games. One example is FableVision’s Our Books By Us, created in partnership with Reading Is Fundamental, for preschool children. The child follows a character named SugarLoaf, who models ways that family members can incorporate literacy into everyday life. Students can use their fingers to draw their own stories along with SugarLoaf throughout the e-book.
Personalized learning environments—Games, apps, and software that automatically scaffold instruction to meet students’ ability levels are becoming increasingly common. For example, Lexia Learning’s Reading Core5, which is aligned with Common Core State Standards, scaffolds comprehension questions at the end of each activity. Each level of the game has an animated background, such as an undersea scene with sea anemones swaying in the ocean current. When students are asked the first question, it appears against the same background as the rest of the game; if they do not answer correctly, the screen removes the sea anemones and reduces the number of choices. If they still do not answer correctly, the game further simplifies the background and reads the question and answers aloud to the student and provides additional instruction. Similarly, in the Journeys Common Core Assessment App, created by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, students are presented with a daily quiz, a question of the day, and practice questions to reinforce concepts aligned to the common standards. If students miss a certain number of questions, determined by the teacher, they receive a digital lesson—a video or game—on the subject they are struggling with.
Story creation—Using voice recordings, animations, and libraries of photos and drawings, numerous apps now allow students to create and tell their own stories in digital formats. Applications like Toontastic, created by Stanford University’s graduate school of education and Zeum, San Francisco’s Children’s Museum, allow students to choose from a set of different scenes to craft a story with a conflict, challenge, climax, and resolution. The PlayTime Theater app, created by a company called Make Believe Worlds, allows students to create a virtual puppet show while recording their voices as the dialogue. The app records the show so that it can be saved and played back.
Parent engagement through texting—Research supports the idea that engaging both children and their parents in reading can increase the amount of learning a child takes away from a book, and the same holds true for e-books and other electronic media. Several resources are helping increase those moments of connection for parents and students in a variety of ways, including the Pocket Literacy Coach, which sends text messages with ideas for literacy activities to parents’ phones. Wonderopolis, a website built by the Louisville, Ky.-based National Center for Family Literacy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving family literacy, posts “Wonders of the Day” designed to spark curiosity and exploration between parents and students as well as literacy skills such as vocabulary building. “Parents need to be co-engaged and not just use these devices like a babysitter in order to maximize the educational benefits,” says Rosemarie T. Truglio, the vice president of education and research at the Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind “Sesame Street.”
Opportunities for co-reading—Some e-books are also making it possible for children and parents to read and view digital books together, even if they’re miles apart. The Story Before Bed website allows parents, relatives, and teachers to record themselves through a webcam reading digital e-books chosen from the site’s library. Parents or teachers can purchase the recording and send it to a child or student; it can be played on tablets and mobile devices as many times as desired.
A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2013 edition of Digital Directions as Reading in the Age of Devices