Research Time, Part 4: iPads in Early Childhood Literacy Teaching

For today’s post, I am exploring the use of technology as a teaching tool.

An assumption…

I think the more I study children and technology this semester, the more I am realizing that the question I asked weeks ago – is technology a help or a hindrance? – perhaps is no longer all that useful a question. To an extent, now, I think that ship has sailed, and I think we have to assume that children are using technology whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing or somewhere in between. I think this is coming out in the research too.

This article, from a 2010 STEM journal, bypasses the question of help or hindrance altogether and studies how iPads were used for emerging literacy with pre-K aged children.



iPads in the study classroom…

…developed print awareness in child users, by encouraging those users to understand the use of and meaning of visual cues in print on their screens.

…developed users’ understanding of situational print to connect icons to apps.

…allowed children to express themselves in pre-writing and writing activities, including drawing, scribbling, and arranging letters to form their own names as well as classmates’ names.

…gave children an opportunity to type letters before they could write them by hand, creating early letter awareness skills.

…created opportunities to talk about the functions of writing, such as writing for someone else to read it.

…connected reading, writing, listening, and seeing in one app setting.

…allowed children to manipulate text and layout of stories.

…created opportunities for social learning and interaction.

The conclusion

Preschool teachers have traditionally given children experiences, pathways to print, with traditional print-based texts and tools to prepare children for more formal reading and writing instruction in subsequent years of schooling. However, as digital technology becomes more important, the conceptions of literacy and instruction students will receive may be changing to include the integration of technology. The iPad, in particular, is one tool that young children can navigate and use independently. This case study indicates that children can develop emerging knowledge about print in digital contexts using an iPad, or a similar tablet, and that it offers unique ways to employ reading, writing, listening, and speaking within one context. (p. 23)

Implications for early literacy professionals

The use of technology in early literacy learning in school settings is still being worked out, so it stands to reason that the use of technology in library settings is also to be worked out as time progresses.

But what this study does is it illuminates the ways in which technology can be used to promote literacy learning, which in turn provides some benchmarks against which we can evaluate how different apps and platforms go about promoting literacy learning. It paints an excellent picture of how technology actually can benefit young learners.

To that end, it provides a foundation for evaluation of tools. In a prior post, I explored early literacy apps for the purpose of making parent-side recommendations, and in a future post, I plan to explore early literacy tools for the purpose of making library-side recommendations.


Beschorner, B. & Hutchison, A. (2013). iPads as a literacy teaching tool in early childhood. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology, 1(1), 16-24.


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