By Michael Hilkemeijer
This is an excerpt from our online pd for early childhood teachers based on how ICT supports children's learning in early childhood. You will find it as one of the 80 other online teacher workshops in our ICT in Education Teacher Academy. Become a member now and gain instant access to this course and many others for just $20 per month (Cancel anytime!).
There has been widespread evidence that young children have been immersed from a very young age in digital practices by the time they attend an early learning setting for the first time. In a time of digital dominance in our society, it is uncommon that they are not competent with a digital device in some form. They are, in fact, competent with a range of technologies.
It is, therefore, important that you as the educator enable them to develop further their critical skills in relation to media so that they become as skillful at navigating media texts as many appear to be in relation to print-based texts (Marsh, 2006).
Known as media literacy education or literacy, there are many skills, knowledge and understanding, developed in relation to various media such as moving image, the Internet, radio, newspapers, and magazines. The integration of digital technology into media literacy has also shaped media literacy in the following ways:
- Digital devices give us easy access to a nearly an unlimited amount of information.
- In the digital world, even traditional “print” sources routinely combine text with images and audio.
- In the digital world, media are converged. Television against computers, books against screens etc are irrelevant in a world where smartphones, laptops and tablet computers function as music and video players. Those who have access to one have access to others.
- Unlike their analog predecessors, digital cameras are cheap, provide immediate results and make it easy to create, reproduce, modify, and share pictures.
- Important aspects of our lives now take place in the digital commons.
Competencies that apply across technologies
Media literacy can help develop new skills that a person needs to be literate in the digital world. Digital technology changes so rapidly which is why it is important to promote evergreen core competencies that apply across technologies. These include:
- Access – having physical access to high quality media technologies and content and knowing how to use those resources effectively.
- Understanding – comprehending basic, explicit media messages.
- Awareness – taking note of the presence of media messages and their roe in one’s life.
- Analysis – decoding media messages in order to think critically and independently about them.
- Evaluation - making informed, reasoned judgements about the value or unity of media for specific purposes.
- Creation – making media messages for particular purposes using multiple media formats.
- Reflection – contemplating how personal experiences and values influence reactions to and production of media messages; assessing the full range of potential effects of one’s production choices on oneself and others.
- Participation - initiating or joining in collaborative activities that are enabled by interactive media technologies.
- Action – taking meaningful steps to act on one’s insights about media messages.
(Rogow, 2015, pp. 92-3)
Each of these competencies is infused in the spirit of inquiry and extends beyond equipping children to use digital technology. Instead, they prepare young children to succeed as lifelong learners in a technology-rich world.
Additionally, as Rogow (2015) states they also extend beyond nominal ‘media literacy’ initiatives or early learning activities that are designed for the purpose of reducing screen time, reforming media, or mitigating negative media effects.
What can children achieve through media literacy?
The following six outcomes are developmentally appropriate and what Rogow (2015) states is achievable for young children with media and technology. Each of these outcomes defines what a 5 year old can do.
- Routinely ask relevant questions about ideas and information and use at least two different strategies for finding credible answers.
- Exhibit the habit of linking answers to specific evidence.
- Demonstrate knowledge that media are made by people who make choices about what to include and what to leave out.
- Choose appropriate pictures to accompany a story or report that have created and provide a basic explanation for their choice.
- Create and share original stories and reports using images, sounds and words.
- Identify media technologies as tools that people use for learning, communication, and persuasion, and that (with permission) they can use too.
(Rogow, 2015, p. 94)
Examples of Teaching strategies to apply
The early childhood pedagogies that you can use to guide children towards these outcomes include the following. They are taken from an example that Rogow (2015) provided in relation to ‘children noticing an interesting bird outside the window and wanting to know more’. The four pillars of this practice include:
Modeling – this is an especially important strategy in infant and toddler care when you are paying attention to what children see us do with media technologies.
If you are applying media literacy education method then you would probably start the inquiry process by making a list of questions about the bird and then asking:
“How would we find out the answers to our questions?”
Prompt the children to come up with a number of options such as asking a parent, for example, and then helping them to pursue as many of their ideas as possible.
At a later time you could discuss with them which sources were the most helpful for them finding out the answers and why.
The Internet is a source of technology where they can find more information. What happens if they don’t include it?
You could say, for example….
“We can also use the Internet to find out more about that bird.”
Then you can describe what you do as you do it.
“I’ll use my laptop to log on. What questions should I type up into the search engine?”
What would you say?
Another strategy is to use verbal play-by-play that introduces key vocabulary and helps children see tablets and computers as tools designed for a specific purpose. This provides opportunities for you as the educator to engage the children in the practice of asking relevant questions.
Following on from the bird example, once you have keyed in a question or search term, you can explain the criteria you use to choose a particular source. Then when you scroll down the list of results, you might point out and say:
“Look at all the places that have answers! I’m going to look at the Audubon Society’s answer because they have been bird experts for a long time and their scientists work to protect birds.”
Questioning (creating a culture of inquiry) – Rogow (2015) makes the connection between media literacy education and children’s natural curiosity as it encourages them to ask questions, helps them to learn to find credible answers, and expands the types of questions that they might ask. It is important to engage children in asking questions about all types of media including books.
One way that you can add inquiry to situations that involve read-alouds without taking a lot of extra time is by following predictive questions with a question about evidence.
So after you have asked “What do you think is going to happen next?” , you could say. “How do you know?” or “What makes you say that?”
Additionally, you can also add vocabulary-distinguishing types of evidence. For example, you might point out to a child who provides a prediction based on previously read a book, “You’re using evidence based on your experience.”
The more that you model asking probative questions, the more likely that they will begin to copy us and ask questions themselves.
Decision-making – this mostly matches the developmental stages of 4-8 years old. When you carefully scaffold opportunities for young children to create media they will see digital technology as a tool that can help them accomplish specific objectives.
It is essential that young children understand that all media are ‘constructed’ and for this to occur you need to “pair the use of technology with decision-making opportunities” such as following provided by Rogow (2015):
Invite children to label their own cubbies by asking “What kind of picture would tell everyone that is your cubby?”
When children make their own stories into books, help them reflect on their choices for the cover. You could ask them “Why did you pick this picture (or title)?”, “How does it help people know what’s in your book?” It would also be necessary to help them connect the lessons from making their own media to the media they use. You could say for example, “Just like you made choices about what to include on your book cover, the person who made this video made choices. Why do you think they chose ……?”
You can help children better remember the details of their experiences and engage in perspective taking by providing cameras to document a special event, field trip or neighbourhood walk. It would be a good idea to add a decision-making component by providing a prompt like “Take pictures of anything you find interesting and also one picture of something that would be interesting to ……..”
Another idea would be to encourage family conversations by making a camera available to children so they can take photos at will about something important or interesting they did that day.
Rogow (2015) also suggests involving the children in making short videos about what happens on a typical day. Engage them in conversations about what to shoot, as well as whether it is more truthful to simply record what happens on a given day.
Combine language development with a lesson on production choices and diversity by having children record a retelling of a familiar story. Then invite them to think about what various characters sound like. Is a mouse’s voice higher pitched than an elephant’s voice. It is possible to do this kind of storytelling without technology, but as Rogow (2015) points out, using technology makes it a richer learning experience as it provides motivation and makes it easier to share the finished product.
Similarly, you can use an image search to gather diverse pictures related to a topic that children are exploring. Then have the group choose one that would be the best illustration for a summary of their work and ask them to explain their choice.
Finally, you can teach media production vocabulary and concepts by engaging children in conversations about their drawings. Asking questions like “If I was standing in your picture, what would I see if I looked up or to the side?” can make a real difference in learning.
Early childhood pedagogies such as this suggested by Rogow (2015) can help facilitate young children to make informed decisions about their technology use.
Integration – the best early childhood education pedagogy to achieve this would be as simple as requiring the children to articulate their plans for using a tablet before handing it over during choice time or providing access to digital resources and tools like cameras. Rogow (2015) believes that the best type of media literacy education is when both inquiry and digital technology are seamlessly integrated into a child’s play.
The following early childhood pedagogies are recommended by Rogow (2015, p. 102):
- Develop effective media literacy lessons and methods that help children develop the “habits of inquiry” and “skills of expression” they need to succeed in a digital world.
- Understanding that our culture surrounds us with media is precisely why we need to model healthy and productive ways to integrate digital media technologies into our lives.
- Model technology integration based on sound early childhood pedagogy rather than clock management.
- Give children opportunities to make media to help them internalize the notion that all media are ‘constructed’ – the concept from which all media analysis flows.
- Teach critical thinking by actively involving children in decision-making and reflection about the media they create and consume.
- Help children learn to ask questions for themselves by routinely modelling how to ask – and find answers to – relevant questions about the media you and the children use and create (not just about that media that adults find objectionable).