Practitioners Must Blend Digital and Nondigital Resources

I’ll be presenting in three sessions on digital resources in early literacy development at the upcoming conference of the International Literacy Association [ILA]. These presentations stem from the work of the ILA’s Early Literacy Committee in authoring a recent research brief and position statement. I already introduced the statement and discussed one of the four recommendations for practitioners, selecting high quality digital resources. In this post, I’ll elaborate some on what it means to blend digital and nondigital resources.

Retain printed books, pencils and paper, and even old technologies like overhead projectors in early education contexts

There are myriad ways to construct meaning in our world. Young children need to understand the tools we use–how they function and what they can and cannot do, as well as the cultural applications for such use–before they can begin to represent their meanings. We know from the studies of language development that meaning is created with gaze and gesture generally before babbling and words. We know from studies of writing development that scribbles and random strings of letters emerge before illustration + text combinations. We provide ample play-based, exploratory opportunities for young children with a range of tools for writing and representing meaning. There is no doubt that in today’s world we still use books, pencils, and paper. We need to continue to offer these to children so that they can become literate! Exploring how older technologies work will help youngsters begin to develop schema for understanding more complex principles and concepts that under gird their emerging digital literacies: for example, “what I place or compose or draw on a writing surface under this lens can be projected and shared with a larger audience.”

Examine why you want to select a digital versus nondigital resource

Have you ever heard the idiomatic expression “horses for courses”? This expression suggests that people and things possess different skills and strengths that render them more or less suitable, useful, or appropriate in specific contexts. If the digital resource is simply a substitute for a nondigital one, then you must carefully weigh the use of the digital. If the digital tool alters the end product or the process of creating or composing significantly, and it relates to your learning objective, then perhaps the digital tool is well suited for that particular lesson.

In the video below (Fondazione Reggio Children, 2019) children are simultaneously exploring objects, representing meaning with traditional tools, playing hide and seek, and researching how several technologies factor into the ways they are composing meaning. Here, the adult has intentionally chosen to offer one digital resource, and is actively providing the young children support and scaffolding for their emerging understandings and meaning making.

What are the digital and nondigital resources you see in the above? What literacy learning did you observe taking place? Could the same all have been learned without the digital tools?

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About the author

Katie Paciga

Katie A. Paciga, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Education at Columbia College Chicago. She studies early language and literacy development and children's media.

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