23 June 2017

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Research by Stichting Lezen, Netherlands

Stories read by the computer: a promising innovation in nursery classes

Daisy J.H. Smeets and Adriana G. Bus

Summary and Conclusions

The results of this study show that digital picture books are a good way to prepare children for learning how to read. Children become familiar with language that is essential for reading.

In eight sessions, each lasting quarter of an hour, pre-school children expand their vocabulary and learn new word combinations. This is the first study to demonstrate that digital picture books can be used to achieve significant learning effects in just a short period of time, even without the help of or monitoring by an adult. In contrast to our earlier experiments, an adult was only present in the background, which brought the situation closer to day-to-date practice in classrooms, where children usually use computer programs without an adult. Vocabulary improves significantly despite this and can reach 37%. This result shows that ‘computer picture books’ are an appropriate addition to the curriculum in pre-school classes and perhaps in later school years too. However, it is important that picture books on the computer are not read on a merely incidental basis, but is a routine activity. This underlines the importance of digital libraries for schools. At the current time, there are just several websites, including LevendeBoeken.nl and Bereslim.nl, with a limited range of digital picture books. Hopefully, this range will increase in the future (Van Dijken & Bus, 2008).

The study reported on here confirms that film-like images are a valuable addition to digital picture books. In the past, it has been demonstrated that animations can provide visual support (Paivio, 1986). However, we did not find any support for this hypothesis in the group with the lowest language level. These children learned just as much from static and animated picture books. What was striking was that more advanced children profited more from animated stories. Because of their bigger vocabulary, they had little difficulty understanding stories and became bored by the third or fourth time a static story was repeated. It would seem plausible that, in this group, animated illustrations continue to hold the children’s attention better than static illustrations even during the third or fourth repeat and, because of this, more new words were learned from animated stories.

To the best of our knowledge, the current study is the first experiment with digital books that is also interactive. It is indisputable that a great deal of progress has been made in comparison with the first generation of digital books, in which interactive elements were more likely to disturb story comprehension than strengthen it (De Jong & Bus, 2003; Shamir & Korat, 2008). No negative impact was found in the current study. On the contrary, interaction promotes language development, although one form of interaction is more effective than the other. Growth in vocabulary was promoted more by definitions than by multiple-choice questions. We suspect that definitions interrupt the story line less than multiple-choice questions do. Not only is the interruption shorter, it is more concise too. The word or sentence is repeated and explained. This could explain the better results achieved when using definitions. Although many questions still remain unanswered, we recommend the producers of interactive picture books to take this into consideration and, where it is necessary to explain difficult words, to include brief interruptions.