Guest Blog: Monica McGlynn Stewart — Tools or Toys?

I (Monica) and my colleague Tiffany MacKay are just starting a new research project exploring oral and visual literacy learning with iPads for 3-5 year olds. Our research will be situated in both childcare centres and public school kindergartens in Ontario. Here is a bit more about our project:

IPadYoung children, aged 3-5 years, are exposed to many forms of digital technology (DT) both inside and outside of their formal learning settings, yet there is little research to guide pedagogical practices for early years literacy teaching. Many registered early childhood educators (RECEs) working in childcare centres are reluctant to introduce DT into their programs, while many RECEs and teachers in Full-Day Kindergarten are using DT in a variety of ways.


This research study will introduce educators and students in childcare centres and public kindergarten classrooms to one of two i-Pad applications, 30 Hands or Explain Everything. Both of these applications allow children to easily photograph their work with an i-Pad (e.g., painting, block structure, sand table creation, etc.) and then record their voice explaining what they have created, how they created it, and what they plan to do next, etc. This digital visual and audio file can then be shared with classmates, teachers, or parents via email. Teachers can archive this documentation for assessment and planning purposes.


Our objectives include: a) to understand educators’ comfort level and experience using DT for literacy learning with young children; b) to understand children’s use of DT as a means of communicating their work and ideas; c) to explore the value of DT for supporting young children’s literacy development.


Our hypothesis is that educators will become more comfortable having their students use DT applications that allow for active, creative, and open-ended literacy learning. Furthermore, children will be more motivated to articulate and share their thinking with the i-Pad applications and will become more competent with both their digital technology and oral language skills.


We will be interviewing the educators before and after the implementation of the software to determine their comfort level and experience with using DT for literacy learning and teaching, their current practices, and in the post-implementation interview, any changes that they observed in their students’ interest and ability with respect to literacy learning. In addition, we will be observing the students in their classes as they use the applications to record and share their work.

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