Literacy and Technology

The Digital Age brings a paradox: as workplaces become increasingly dependent on the exchange of information, good reading skills are more important than ever. And yet students and their families are increasingly surrounded by new tools and digital distractions that affect the act of reading and communication. How will young students ever learn to read?

This question has triggered new research in the field of early literacy, particularly around the use of apps and e-books. It has also prompted educators and community leaders throughout the United States (and the world) to try new approaches for promoting reading skills. For example, some libraries are hosting reading workshops with parents of young children that explain how to use digital media, apps, and e-books, often in conjunction with print books, to promote conversation and early literacy skill-building with their preschool-aged children. In another example, several school districts are employing the use of text-messaging to prompt parents to spend a few moments introducing children to new words or telling them stories.  (Between 2014 and 2016, New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center teamed up to track the emergence of these new initiatives and identify them on a free interactive map. See: Integrating Technology in Early Literacy, or InTEL.)

For more on the research of technology and its impact on how children learn to read, see Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens, by New America’s Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine, founding director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. The book envisions a future that is human-powered first and tech-assisted second. The authors describe it as a "third way," an approach driven by the urgent need for all children and parents to have access to the same 21st-century literacy opportunities already at the fingertips of today’s affluent families.