Using Talking Books to Support Early Reading Development

Using Talking Books to Support Early Reading Development

Clare Wood (Coventry University, UK), Karen Littleton (University of Jyväskylä, Finland) and Pav Chera (Sutherland Institute, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-120-9.ch022
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Abstract

This chapter explores the question of how interactive multimedia talking books can promote young children’s literacy development. Whilst commercially available talking books can motivate young children to read, there is little evidence that they are linked to the development of skills known to promote reading itself. The ‘Bangers and Mash’ talking books (Chera, 2000), were designed to address this issue, and we review studies that evaluated their effectiveness as classroom resources that could promote reading-related skills and abilities. We then consider the various barriers to collaborative learning in Early Years classrooms, and describe how resources like talking books could address some of those issues. The chapter concludes with a research agenda that emphasises the need for software designers to take into account the interpersonal aspects of classroom learning, as well as individual differences in children’s knowledge.
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Introduction

In the UK there has been a rapid increase in the availability and use of computers in the context of primary school children’s classroom activities (Hartley, 2007), which has developed in line with various corporate initiatives, the widespread use of interactive whiteboards (e.g. Martin, 2007), and most recently the recognition that young children’s informal experience with technology has the potential to positively impact on their school learning experiences (e.g. British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, 2007).

This chapter will explore the question of how interactive multimedia talking books can promote young children’s literacy development. The discussion of this question will centre on a review of the use and evaluations of the ‘Bangers and Mash’ talking books, developed by Chera (2000), which aimed to support the literacy development of beginning readers.

Early Evaluations of Commercially Available Talking Books

Interactive, multimedia talking books are software applications that present children with a storybook-type interface enhanced to enable the computer to ‘read aloud’ to the children on demand. They often also incorporate ‘hotspots’ on screen, which enable the children to interact with the illustrations of the book in order to trigger animations or additional activities. Commercially produced talking books have been available since the advent of CD Roms, but whether the use of these applications increases children’s reading skills has been debated in the academic literature. That is, whilst there is no doubt that use of such software improves children’s computer literacy and helps to develop their understanding of texts and narratives (Davies & O’Sullivan, 2002), there is little evidence that their potential to improve children’s reading attainment has been realised (Underwood, 2002).

One of the first attempts to evaluate commercially available talking books was that of Miller, Blackstock and Miller (1994), who compared four children on their repeated reading of both talking books and regular storybooks. Although they noted some benefits of the talking books in terms of reducing reading errors based on searching for meaning, they expressed some caution about children’s use of talking books, advising that their optimal use in the classroom may involve teachers observing the children’s use of the software and making notes for future instruction with the child.

A similar message emerges from the work of Jane Medwell (1996, 1998) who compared children’s use of commercial talking books and their paper equivalents, and also built in a comparison between talking books that were based on ‘real’ storybooks relative to ones based on books from reading schemes. Like Miller et al. (1994), she too concluded that best progress was made in the condition where the children were using the talking book with the support of a teacher. Moreover, Medwell reported that while the children who used talking books showed improved story recall relative to the paper storybooks, there was little evidence of improvement in the children’s word reading ability when the words were presented out of context. However, she speculated that talking books could have the potential to support young boys’ reading development given the observation from the 1996 study that the boys showed greater increases than the girls in their word reading accuracy following contact with the talking books: “it seems that any reading technology which is advantageous to boys might well be a welcome addition to classroom practice” (Medwell, 1996, p45).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collaborative Learning: Where participants are engaged in a coordinated, continuing attempt to solve a problem or in some other way construct common knowledge. Crucially, collaboration involves a co-ordinated joint commitment to a shared goal, reciprocity, mutuality and the continual (re)negotiation of meaning.

Phonological Awareness: The ability to isolate, identify and manipulate the individual sound units of language.

Reading Strategies: The approaches taken by a person to decode and /or comprehend a written text.

Literacy: Generally speaking, the activity of reading and / or writing effectively.

Reading: The ability to decode and comprehend written text.

Talking Book: A computer-based story book in which children can click areas of the screen to elicit animations or speech feedback.

Evaluation: A judgement of the relative strengths and weaknesses of something.

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