I keep hearing that iPads are on school reading lists from a very early age so I am very interested in how often children realistically use smart devices. To try and understand this, I interviewed a good friend of mine (whose name I’m not willing to publish on the internet!) who is a primary school teacher. She teaches Early Childhood, so she is responsible for teaching the next generation of children to read. Here’s what she had to say on all things children’s books/apps:
Is it really true that iPads are in all primary school classrooms?
Sort of. iPads are being looked at to be used in schools, and embracing technology is something that most schools are aiming for. The games that are available as apps provide the opportunity for children to play and learn at the same time. This is so beneficial to us teachers as it keeps the child on task — which is 90% of the hardest part of teaching. The use of such technology, however, does have draw backs as most of the tasks are for individuals. In Early Childhood when we teach we aim to be holistic so lessons that may be teaching about letter recognition or blending and segmenting the children are also developing social skills. So playing a game of Bingo, were there is turn taking and the need to talk develops these skills, or the simple practice of cutting and glueing helps the kids to develop their fine motor skills.
Are children developing these skills when using these apps, where a simple swipe is all they need?
One thing that has surprised me recently is that children are increasingly coming to school without the necessary gross and fine motor skills and social skills that are required and I think it’s because of the increasing us of [Nintendo] DS’s and iPads to play with instead of going outside.
Do iPads/gaming devices have educational value?
Anything that engages children will generally have a level of educational value. We have a smartboard in our class which is a projection of a huge computer that is interactive and you can write on it and it is then put on the computer. They are pretty cool. They can be used so that children have to work together and take turns when using it.
So what about the types of books that your children are learning to read at the moment?
The types of books that we use vary depending on the skill that we are wanting to develop. If we want the children to develop their decoding skills then we use books that have word patterns which are easy to decode, for example sat, frog, etc. They are then relying on their letter recognition. There are books where pictures can be covered up to stop the children guessing the word using the picture. This is a skill we teach to problem solve if they can’t work out the word. We aim for 90 – 95% fluency before increasing the difficulty in the book.
Repetition in books is another style of books that we use to develop confidence in the children so you know, “The house is red” “The dog is red”, “The ball is red” etc.
And do you use printed or digital books?
We still use hard books rather than ones on the computer or smartboards. They are tactile, the kids can touch them and read them. More than this, we teach them how to read and use books — so for example, the front, the back, what is text, what is illustration, what is an author. These are skills that are necessary in most aspects of life.
We also look at different types of texts and where we might find writing. Teaching reading begins with teaching the letters and then blending and segmenting words. This is mostly oral to start with as syllables and rhyming are vital to being able to read as ways of decoding language and text.
Are children coming to school with experiences of reading?
We hope with our fingers crossed that children are exposed to books before they come to school! The sooner children become exposed to language, the sooner they will start learning. The difference between children who have had lots of help at home and those that haven’t is quite obvious.
Do you ever use iPad apps for children who haven’t started learning to read?
No, we use printed books in our school. The set up of an Early Childhood classroom always includes a reading corner which is an area that has a book case of sorts and either seats or cushions. We want to introduce reading as a welcoming concept.
There were some really interesting points that my friend made in this interview that I hadn’t even considered. Children coming to school without the necessary motor skills was particularly worrying. Although developing a children’s book app is a very chic thing to do, and it may be commercially viable in the real world, I also think there needs to be some form of social conscience for app developers if it starts to be acknowledged that apps are having a big impact on children learning to read. Like it or not, smart devices are becoming part of children’s lives and are going to have an influence on the way they read as well as the way they interact with other children. I believe a Shakespeare app especially has a responsibility to be somewhat educational. It was also interesting that my interviewee stressed the importance of rhyme! The only trouble is, my poetry skills are definitely lacking and I don’t think I have enough time or finesse to convert my texts into rhyming copy!