Sunday, October 30, 2011

AAP vs. App Gap

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a press release warning parents and caregivers that babies and toddlers should learn from play, not screens. While I appreciate the pro-play stance, the AAP continues to frame children's interactions with media as "exposure"--a term that connotes radiation. However, the research cited in an AAP press presentation shows their concern is not medical but educational, focusing on potential harm to language and literacy development.


The AAP's pathologization of children's media consumption links to a narrow definition of early literacy that devolves to that which can be easily counted or measured. For example, in the AAP's statement, the quality of language interaction is defined by "talk time", measured by counting the number of words spoken between parent and child. In this view, language = words only. There is a zero sum game going on here where language/literacy development depends on attending to auditory information but making sense of visual information on a screen is a distraction. No semiotic value is attached to a child's reading of screen animation in this very passive view of children as language and literacy learners, media consumers, and technology users. P. David Pearson and Richard Allington, noted early literacy scholars, discuss the impact of similar constrained views of children's reading in a podcast on the Casualties of Policy on Early Literacy Development.

In contrast, educational research on new literacies now recognizes an expanded view of language and literacy. We've moved on from Back to Basics (Literacy 1.0 such as video flash cards) to New Basics (Literacy 2.0 such as interactive social media). Recent research on Literacy 2.0 shows that texts are moving from primarily verbal messages on a page to complex assemblages on screens that use many modes, including verbal, image, gesture, animation, etc. In fact, Apple is exploring gesture-based controls for technology devices (via CNN).


The AAP targets television only, taking an agnostic position on apps and iPads, citing a lack of research: "We just don't know yet." However, TV is the dominant (maybe the only) screen for most low income children according to 0 to 8 research by Victoria Rideout. This produces an "app gap" when young children in affluent families have 24/7 access to interactive apps where they can not only consume but more important, produce and share their own media texts while low-income families with young children are urged to turn off their primary source of media, including PBS and educational programming.

If affluent households provide abundant apps and low-income households are screen-deprived, it will once again fall to the schools to provide some sort of technological equity for young children. However, few preschool and kindergarten teachers currently have the resources to do this. Even innovative teachers who find resources face filters, firewalls, and no Facebook policies that discourage rather than encourage young children's use of new media.

To see a kindergarten that shows the possibilities of teaching with screens, check out the Precious Moments blog in my Blog List on the right. You'll notice that this classroom is not located in the U.S. Another indication that it's time for American policymakers to move beyond guilty-until-proven-innocent approaches to technology use in early childhood?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Think of play as a 21st century literacy

The definition of literacy is evolving to include multiple ways of interacting with, transmitting on, and navigating across screens and other media, including films, video games, and smart phone applications. We don’t just read and write printed words on a page of paper; we now blog, podcast, text message, video-record, photo-edit, and otherwise manage complex combinations of print, sound, image, and animation as we send texts across vast social networks. These digital texts are not individually-authored manuscripts, rather they are multimedia co-productions shared with an interactive and collaborative audience. We tweet for 140 characters but in larger conversations that reply, build upon, and echo each other in order to create shared understandings.

Play creates the same kind of shared and interactive text as children work together to create and maintain a cohesive play narrative. Whether playing house or playing school, all the players contribute to the emerging script. The ideas here are openly under construction as children work together to make a played text. Our kindergartners will be 21st century citizens who very likely will need to be experts at collaborating and inventing together...with literacies we cannot yet imagine.

In Playing Their Way into Literacies, I argue that we need early literacy policies that encourage children to play into their future literacies rather than policies that play it safe by shrinking the curriculum to fit the tiny bubbles on standardized tests.