Three-fourths of U.S. families with young children now have
mobile devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets). These accessible digital tools are
equipped with touchscreens that respond instantly to a fingertip swipe and are
just the right size for young children to handle, carry, and operate. However,
the icon-based interface of touchscreens organizes space and image very
differently than books. It's time to expand Marie Clay's familiar book-based Concepts About Print: the understandings that help readers move front to back, left to right, and top to bottom through a book or to focus on the black and white lines of print rather than the images when reading.
A child with a tablet balanced on her lap is learning that the touchscreen is organized by a grid of colorful squarish icons that
represent software applications, and importantly with little or no print.
Each icon opens an app
at the touch of a finger and reading involves more taps…on arrows, “x”, checkmark,
trashcan, pencil, plus signs and so on. These icons are not arranged in the
orderly rows of print on a page but are scattered along the top, bottom, or
corners of the screen.
I argue that touchscreen technologies operate with an expanded set of
conventions for interactive modes including finger swipes, icon recognition,
and voice controls; in other words Concepts Beyond Print. (For more details, see a forthcoming chapter in the book Reclaiming Early Literacy edited by Kathryn Whitmore and Rick Meyer.)
Today’s young children are learning printless ways of reading—one finger swipe at a time. With each tap, our
emergent readers are learning interactive and flexible
orientations to digital reading: recognizing icons as activators or portals,
expecting a finger action to produce a screen change, and persisting when
nothing happens, knowing that an area of the screen might contain an invisible
icon that may appear when pressed. And accordingly, our teaching must change to recognize all that children already know.