How to Model Reading For Children In the Digital Age


Nan (Parent) asks:

Parenting in Education: How do you model reading for children in the digital age?

Dr. Marion Blank (Founder of answers:

Modeling is a fabulous teaching technique. It represents the process by which a novice learns a skill through observing and copying someone who is proficient, or better yet, expert at the activity. In certain realms, such as those involving motor sequences, (e.g., fishing, dancing) it is a fabulous way to teach—and to learn.

The concept has been applied to reading where two types of modeling have been described: implicit and explicit. Implicit modeling occurs as part of the literacy experience–for example, reading a story aloud to children while also engaging them in the meaning of story and conveying a purpose for reading. Explicit modeling entails demonstrating to students how to approach a task–such as how to use a table of contents.

However, if you go beyond the words and examine what is happening, the modeling is significantly different from what happens in other realms. For example, in fishing or dancing, it is possible for the novice to view every element of the behavior. That is not true in reading. For example, hearing a story read aloud in no way enables the novice to know how to actually read the story. He or she may get some information from the experience—but that is quite different from being able to carry out that same activity (i.e., read the story) independently.

Other aspects of modeling also do not lend themselves to mastering the skill of reading. For example, a child may see a parent reading extensively and as a result, view reading as an important activity. That can be a key motivator and its significance should not be downplayed. Still it does not teach the child how to actually decode and comprehend the text.

Interestingly, the aspects of modeling cited in reading (implicit and explicit modeling) can, to a significant degree, be executed via the high tech world. For example, it is easy to create computer programs that teach a skill such as constructing and using tables. Similarly, the computer can, and does, read material aloud to the user and so that aspect of modeling is also available. In other words, many of the components associated with the modeling of reading skills can be conveyed via high tech devices.

Given these factors, it’s probably useful to reframe the question. Modeling is used to transform a novice into a skilled user. So perhaps the best way to state the question is: how can we best teach reading in the digital age?

The answer here is what it has always been—create a great curriculum! In this respect, the high tech era offers huge advantages. As but one example, in contrast to the silent worksheets that are ubiquitous in early instruction, the computer can offer the pronunciation associated with every word on the screen. This feature is of immense value to a novice reader. Instead of looking solely at the (visual) printed word, the child can link the word to its sound—a visual-auditory combination that is vital to reading.

Similarly, worksheets are marked by a total absence of immediate feedback. The child inputs an answer but, at least for a significant amount of time, gets no information as to whether it is correct or not. As a result, the child is not only frustrated, but his or her errors get firmly established, remaining in the repertoire to regularly interfere with learning.  The computer, on the other hand, can provide instant feedback and whatever other instruction might be needed to enable the child to handle the activity in a correct and efficient manner. At every step of the way, the Reading Kingdom program has been designed to offer these sorts of advantages to the children.

Admittedly, the overuse of high tech devices in the current period is a troublesome issue—and one with major ramifications for society. Also many programs do not take advantage of the tremendous capabilities that the computer offers in the teaching realm. Nevertheless, when programmed with the right components, the high tech world can be a boon to reading and reading achievement.