Preschoolers as Digital Designers: Composing Dual Language eBooks Using Touchscreen Computer Tablets

Preschoolers as Digital Designers: Composing Dual Language eBooks Using Touchscreen Computer Tablets

Deborah Wells Rowe (Vanderbilt University, USA), Mary E. Miller (Vanderbilt University, USA) and Mark B. Pacheco (Vanderbilt University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5982-7.ch014
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This chapter examines how 19 emergent bilingual, 4-year-old students used digital composing skills to create dual language eBooks using touchscreen computer tablets (iPads) and digital photography, drawing, and eBook composing apps. The analyses focus on children's composing processes and products, adult supports, and participants' embodied interactions with the digital tools. Children approached eBook composing through naming, narrating, dramatic play and exploratory play. eBook texts were multimodal and included images, print, and oral recordings. Adult verbal scaffolding and gesture supported children's skills as digital composers. Children became active designers of digital content, independently navigating and experimenting with the multimodal functions of the iPad. Analyses showed how children used their heritage languages and English to compose dual language eBooks and support their emergent writing. The authors argue that children benefit from early opportunities to explore ways of combining print, images, sound, and multiple languages to create digital texts that effectively communicate across modalities and contexts.
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In this chapter, we examine how prekindergarten students developed digital composing skills using touchscreen tablets (iPads) and digital photography, drawing, writing, and eBook composing apps. The children with whom we worked were both emergent writers and emergent bilinguals beginning to learn English at school at the same time they were learning to write. We introduced dual language eBook composing activities to provide children with opportunities to use English and their heritage languages to support their literacy development as well as to build skills in using digital composing technologies. In this chapter we describe:

  • Children’s eBook composing processes and products;

  • Adult supports for composing dual language eBooks;

  • Adults’ and children’s embodied interactions with the digital tools.



New literacies scholars (Kress, 2003; Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; New London Group, 1996) have argued that writing is not the only, or even the most privileged, form of literacy. New digital technologies are making it easier for consumer-producers to create multimodal texts that combine print with images and audio-video recordings. Educators are increasingly aware of the importance of preparing students not only as writers, but also as twenty-first century digital designers. In the United States, this interest in digital technologies is strongly represented in the current discussion of national standards for student learning in the areas of the English language arts and use of technology (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2010; ISTE, 2007). While there has been some debate about the use of computers and other digital technologies for very young children, a recent position statement from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (2012) supports the classroom use of digital technologies when children are active composers and problem solvers, when there is co-participation with adults around the screen, and when new media are used to support creativity and pretend play. The key question for early childhood educators is not whether technology should be used in the classroom, but how it should be used (Couse & Chen, 2010).

In this section, we briefly review studies of preschoolers’ writing and drawing in page- and screen-based environments that have provided insights for our design of digital composing activities for young children. The 4-year-olds in our study were not only emergent writers, but also English learners. Because research has consistently shown the importance of continued development of children’s heritage languages as they learn English (Wiley & de Klerk, 2010), we also discuss the affordances of digital tools for supporting dual language composing.

In the area of early childhood literacy, there has been extensive research on young children’s page-based composing. Researchers working from an emergent literacy perspective (e.g., Teale & Sulzby, 1986) have concluded that even when young children’s products are unconventional, children are actively using them to express meaning or to explore how print works. Findings relevant to the current study have shown that young children’s composing is often multimodal. Young children are often less concerned about the conventional boundaries between art and writing (Kress, 1997) and express their meanings by weaving together writing, drawing, talk, and dramatic play (Dyson, 2002; Harste, Woodward, & Burke, 1984; Rowe, 1994; Siegel, Kontovourki, Schmier, & Enriquez, 2008). Research conducted from social and cultural perspectives on literacy (e.g., Barton & Hamilton, 2000; Bloome & Egan-Robertson, 1993; Gee, 2003) has found that young children’s participation in literacy events with adults and peers plays a key role in shaping what they learn about literacy, and the kinds of composing they do (Rowe, 2008; Wohlwend, 2007).

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