Guest Lecture: Claudia Haines, Media Mentorship

So last night we had a guest lecture on media mentorship that I want to make sure to spend some time on here in this blog, to keep a record of what was said. It was a terrific and useful lecture that has implications for lots of us in many different jobs.

In short, media mentorship encompasses understanding what people do with technology and what technology is available for people’s use. Media mentorship is bringing together those concepts by helping children, families, adults, and others learn and understand how to use technology in a way that promotes their learning, development, and relationship.

I find with my preschool families that they don’t want to be told about digital media use with their kids. We are the first generation of parents to have these tools so immediately available in front of us and our kids – we are the first smartphone adopters and our kids the first generation of smartphone kids. I, like many in my preschool cohort, weary desperately of hearing that smartphones are basically going to rot our kids’ brains and turn them into little zombies.

It doesn’t keep our parents from posting endless anti-smartphone memes on facebook… from their smartphones… but that is a story for another time.


The point that I’m making is that we have to figure out how to talk to families about media in a way that actually fits the existing conversation. If we don’t engage the culture, we lose the culture. And I say that full well knowing that I have in this very blog talked about managing screen time with little kids.

This is actually why the concept of media mentorship – which is new to me – is so resonant with what I’m seeing in my daily work. Screen time guidelines like the ones I linked above are part of the conversation, but they are only part of the conversation.

Here’s more of the conversation.

There’s a huge difference between using digital media as a babysitter and using digital media as a tool for learning in a purposeful way – and that difference matters.

Understanding the needs of the child and the needs of the family is part of understanding media use in families. It’s okay to individualize our recommendations a bit – what works for one family may not work for another.

There’s also a huge difference between passive consumption of media and active participation in a media experience. Most people I know understand and embrace the value of vegging out with a Netflix video and a cup of hot cocoa when your brain is just on overload and what you really want is passive consumption of media. That’s okay. And I would venture that that’s okay for kids too – sometimes, when we choose it as a conscious option and not as the default position. Even more, we can help parents select apps for kids that are fun and entertaining but also contain an element of using their cognitive abilities. We can find digital tools that not only entertain but provide opportunities for creativity, problem-solving, learning developmental or academic skills, developing strategy or coordination or any other developmental characteristic. And something parents need to know is how to balance out the passive by reinforcing the active – by making conscious choices with their families.

We can model co-consumption of digital media for families who might want to know what that looks like. My 8-year-old loves cat videos and something that makes her endlessly happy is to sit on the couch with me and watch cat videos. Is a cat video developmentally enriching? No. Is the experience of watching a cat video together developmentally enriching? YES. Also enriching is the experience of her creating a story in a story creator app and sharing it with me, or her emailing a piece of digital artwork she’s proud of to a relative who lives far away, or her connecting with a friend over a game they play together. Digital media does not need to be isolating – it can actually be used to enrich relationships when we know how to make it do that.

Something I often think about is – you never, ever know what a family has going on at home and why they make the choices they do. Touchpoints would remind us yet again to assume that parents are doing the best they can by their children and that their children’s development and growth is important to parents. So I am realizing more and more that if my media recommendation doesn’t take into account the needs of the single mom who just needs her kid to be entertained for twenty minutes while she gets dinner on the table just as well as it takes into account the needs of the stay-at-home mom with a well developed home literacy environment, then I’ve missed out on an opportunity to connect with a segment of my patron base.

Just like everything else we do, we have to take into account the diverse needs of the people who are receiving information from us. But we have to do that from a position of assuming the best of people, and I think that’s one of the places that the conversation around digital media has previously fallen flat, and subsequently one of the places that the idea of media mentorship is especially strong. I’m excited to learn more about it and am actually sorry that I only learned about it now – I will continue learning about media mentorship after this semester is over for sure!


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.

Kids and Tech: The Downside

babyphone(Baby with phone. Image

In a couple of previous posts, I’ve explored some of the ways that technology can support literacy development, and I explored some early literacy apps that I’ve used and liked.

Today I want to talk about the potential down sides of using tech with kids, and look at some of the expert opinions that detail some of the negative effects of kids and tech.

Starting with this article from Psychology Today: This Is What Screen Time Really Does To Kids’ Brains. The researchers cited identified the following effects of screen time on developing brains:

  • Smartphones, tablets, and other touchscreen devices deliver multimedia, rich content directly to the child. Sounds good, right? But it doesn’t force the child to engage or interpret the information in it – it doesn’t strengthen the child’s creative or cognitive ability.
  • Screen time replaces face-to-face interactions with other people and can reduce their sense of empathy and ability to read other people’s emotions. (The research backs this up: a study from UCLA showed that students who took a five-day break from electronic media and spent a lot of time in face-to-face interaction with peers were more able to read social cues than those who had not taken that break.)
  • It trains the brain to look for immediate gratification – the process in the brain is similar to the process in the body of a substance addict.

As if that isn’t enough, other research-identified impacts of technology include…

  • Says Harvard: The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese.
  • Says Pediatrics: Kids who have access to screens in the pre-bedtime hours, especially small ones, get less sleep than those who don’t. But this isn’t just behavioral – the blue light of a device’s screen interferes with the brain-body signal that indicates it’s time to sleep, says a pediatric neurologist.
  • And says Psychology Today: screen time is impacting children’s mood and behavior too – by disrupting sleep, affecting the dopamine balance in the brain, exposing the child to light-at-night, causing stress response, contributes to sensory overload, and reducing physical activity.

So what on earth is a parent to do?

  1. Make a screen time plan and stick to it. Common Sense Media studies media use, and has some great resources for managing screen time, determining good sites for children to use, and understanding how technology is useful for learning.
  2. Prioritize other essential means of learning. As much as is possible, we need to make sure we are providing quality face-to-face interactions with other people, engaging with non-electronic toys and games, and getting outside.
  3. Mediate children’s media use. The reality is that parents still need to guide their children’s media use as is appropriate for the age and the child – violence, sex, drug use, and other content needs to be considered carefully. We need to know what our children are doing on their screens and help guide healthy choices.

Literacy apps for kids

In my last post, I looked at some of the ways that technology can support literacy learning for children. For this post, I’ve rounded up a variety of apps that I’ve used and enjoyed, and I offer them here for your enjoyment too. This is my shortlist – see the end of this post for links to lots more choices.

Reading Rainbow
This is a favorite app for my family – we gladly paid the subscription fee for a long time because we loved this app so much. (You can check it out and read a smaller selection of books for free though.) This app has fun games, videos just like the old Reading Rainbow videos from the original television series, and lots of books on a variety of topics, which are read aloud while the words appear on the screen. It’s fun, visually interesting, and intuitive to navigate. This is really a story app, but has lots of rich features in it.

BOB Books
This app has simple interactive books for children to read, plus a variety of decoding activities and activities that promote comprehension and word sense. Children look at illustrations and interact with the display, and receive encouraging little animations when they complete an activity. This app has the same look as the little books that children may read, reinforcing the print book with the digital activity.

Endless Alphabet
This app has more than just the basic words – it brings in fun and more advanced words to diversify the child’s vocabulary. Learn words like “juggle” and “stupendous” with adorable animations of each.

Letters A to Z
This is a cute app that links letter knowledge with beginning vocabulary. Each letter has a word and an illustration to go with it that the child can interact with. Tap the frog and it flicks its tongue at you. Simple, engaging, and sweet.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC App
In the inimitable style of Dr. Seuss, children can play with letters and sounds. The child can choose to read the story himself or have the book read to him. Tap a word to hear the word spoken aloud, or tap on the picture for a cute animation.

More links below:

Can technology actually help children learn to read? The case for computers in the classroom

Child on Computer
Child in a school library

An untold amount of writing has been dedicated to the use of technology with young children. Can it help the development of young children? Does it get in the way? What does it look like to overuse technology? What about this “digital divide” we keep hearing about? How do we make sense of children’s use of technology as parents and as educators?

Today I am going to summarize for you one case for using technology to help children learn to read, by a set of authors who specifically studied the use of technology in elementary school classrooms. I’ll look at technology with younger children in another post.

If you would like to read the full report which I am discussing in this post, click here: Technology and Teaching Children How to Read. This article is from 2004 and is still cited as a useful guide to understanding the uses of technology in reading instruction.

There is no doubt that interaction between children and parents or teachers is an essential component of any reading instruction program. But to support independent self-instruction or exploration on the child’s part, computers can do a few things to help out. Here are the things the authors cite as capabilities of computers in reading instruction.

  • Present information and activities to students
  • Assess students’ work
  • Respond to students’ work
  • Provide scaffolds, such as access to word pronunciation and definitions, that help students read successfully.

But what does this mean? It means that computers can help students do a variety of things. Students can…

Look at a word and hear it said at the same time, or see a picture, and develop vocabulary. Listen to text read aloud while reading it on the screen, and develop a sense of reading fluency. Respond to a question on the screen by selecting a picture, and develop conceptual associations. Respond to comprehension questions and receive immediate feedback. Use an online dictionary to get the definition for a word they don’t know. Play games that stimulate literacy development through play and visual effects.

Is it true? Well, the authors of the article cite a variety of scientific studies that show that technology in the classroom can help improve the skills that make up the foundation of early literacy, reinforce the instruction of the teacher, develop vocabulary, and improve word identification skills.

But the jury is still out on the best ways to use computers in the classroom. The technology has to be used in conjunction with classroom literacy instruction to be effective, so teachers and technology specialists need to work together to find the right solutions.

So what does that mean for librarians and our patrons? I think it means that we could identify and use apps on our in-house computers and tablets that might benefit all kinds of literacy development, and that this might be a great support for students who receive after-school tutoring or who are homeschooled.

And for parents? Be encouraged if your child’s school is using reading software in the classroom, because there actually are ways the computer can support learning.

At home, if your child likes games on your computer or device, look for apps that build actual literacy skills, like awareness of words or vocabulary, or that read stories to them with words on the screen. I’ll look at literacy apps and their reviews in another post.

Photo source: