What Apps Do That I Can’t: Responses to Questions from #ala2013, by Angela Reynolds

At our Conversation Starter at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, an attendee posed the question, “What advantages do apps have over other traditional formats?” In response, I’d like to share one really good example from my own experience.

mzl.pgmshncs.480x480-75In my Milk & Cookies Storytime, I used the Rosemary Wells app “Bunny Fun: Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” Now, I know the song perfectly well in English, and so do the kids at storytime and all their parents. But I DO NOT know it in French (though some of our patrons did), nor do I know it in Spanish or Japanese (one little girl did know the Japanese! ). But in this storytime, because I had the app projected onto the screen, we learned the words for “head,” “shoulders,” “knees,” “toes,” “eyes,” “ears,” “mouth,” and “nose” in 3 other languages, and tried to sing the song in those languages, too. The kids loved it. The parents loved it. And it only took about 5 minutes total of storytime. Not only was it a language and cultural experience, it was physically active. We were singing and dancing the whole time, and all because of an app. Not the passive, sit and stare at a screen experience AT ALL.

These are the kind of app experiences I am looking for—the ones that add a richness to storytime and model for parents that there are fun learning opportunities on those little devices they are all so fond of. During storytime, I quickly tell the parents the name of the app and where they can find it on the iPads that they can use after storytime, so that they can explore it even more and decide if they want to download it for their own collection. Modeling, sharing fun educational experiences, and helping parents find and use early literacy apps for use at home are some of the great ways we can enrich the lives of the families that willingly step through our doors!

Angela J. Reynolds
Youth Services Manager
Annapolis Valley Regional Library
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About Amy Koester

I'm a youth services librarian with a penchant for exciting ideas and engaging programs. It's a sure bet that if you talk to me about STEAM, whimsy, and trying new things, we'll be best friends forever.

Posted on July 8, 2013, in Apps, Interactivity, Music and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Hi,

    The question you refer to was my question and it was this: “For child development and early literacy skill learning, what advantages do apps have?” I believe Chip Donahue is correct when he replied, “None.” I respect his honesty.

    Multi- or bi-lingualism is not an early literacy skill. Multi-lingualism is not necessary to a child’s healthy development. I realize that multi-lingualism has been shown to be powerful in cognitive development but this app does not represent multi- or bi-lingual learning or anything close to the benefits a child may receive growing up in a bi-lingual home. It seems to me that given the brevity, it was a time for playing with sounds (phonological awareness). We have many excellent ways to do that without apps. So I don’t think you have shown an app advantage here.

    I hope that our standards for assessing an app or any storytime materials can rise above the “Kids love it” declaration. Kids love candy. Kids love Dora. Isn’t our goal to effectively combine playful or focused enjoyment with early literacy skill and child development? When we can do that and articulate what is being learned and how, we are succeeding.

  2. I have to say I don’t agree with Chip Donohue. A cornerstone of developmentally appropriate practice, according to the experts at NAEYC, is responding to each child’s interests and needs. Rather than carrying a mountain of books, CDs, and musical instruments into every story hour or classroom, having one device to provide you with any story, music or language you might need will support that important goal. I think responding to the interest of the group in learning words in different languages is a DAP way to engage them, build metalinguistic skills, and enhance their understanding of the cultural components of vocabulary and context. Of course there are bad apps. And their are bad books. With so many apps out there, I think it’s better to explore ways to use them effectively. When Chip and I are writing or presenting together, he often emphasizes this quote that he wrote in the NAEYC/FRC technology and interactive media position statement: “Technology and interactive media are here to stay.
    Young children live in a world of interactive media.” Like Chip often says, the research is lagging far behind the technology and we can’t just ignore the apps while we wait for the research to catch up. Just as we count on librarians to help children and families find the good books, it’s also great to see children’s librarians taking the lead in exploring new ideas for using apps and other resources. Thanks, Angela!

  3. Hi Angela,
    I didn’t even know this app existed: I am a serious Rosemary Wells fan, so thanks for that tip! Anyway, one of the things that I believe we are able to provide in storytime that very few other experiences can offer is the collective and inclusive group language experience. Early literacy IS a cultural act: there is an entire body of sociocultural research from Vygotsky onwards that views all literacy as enmeshed within and inextricably linked to culture. I am not saying this app is the be-all end all – but as Angela stressed, it was a small portion of a group language experience, which is what storytime is. We want families to learn the value of rich language experiences so we provide them with the language repertoire to share with their children both within and outside of the storytime context. We want families to understand that what they do in terms of language with their children makes a huge impact. Whenever a storytime can provide an interactive, engaging experience where diverse families are included, I think our goals are met. Are apps essential to do that? No, I don’t think so, but they are, as Angela described, an incredibly easy and useful tool to wield in pursuit of our goals to support early language and literacy within our programs. As has been pointed out many times before, there is no black and white here and I don’t think we need to view the tools we use in our trade as better or best at all. An app is a tool, just like a book is a tool and a bouncy rhyme is a tool and five green and speckled frog finger puppets are tools: These tools are used in myriad ways get early language and literacy experiences into the lives of children.

  4. With several languages spoken in our community, I must disagree when Kathy says that that multi-lingual experiences are NOT early literacy skills. The Francophone families we serve most definitely appreciate hearing French spoken the correct way (rather than my terrible attempts) and the little girl who knew the Japanese was so proud to share her knowledge with the group. Fun with language? Trying new words? Learning about other cultures? I have to say that these ARE early literacy/early learning skills that I am proud to share. Kathy, it is obvious that we need to agree to disagree here, because my storytimes are all about having fun and sneaking in some learning while doing it. If adding ONE app to the other huge bag of tools I have makes it more enticing to even one family (and it has drawn in many more than that), then I am ok with it. I am not forcing technology on anyone and I am very mindful about talking with parents and teaching them to use technology well, because maybe in your neck of the woods people are not handing iPhones over to their 2 year olds, but around here, I see it all the time. I feel pretty good about the experiences that I am providing, and I am fine if you do not want to provide those same experiences. But I will not feel that what I am doing is damaging in any way. It is just another method of engagement with literacy. And that’s what the library is all about. Oh, and I also serve cookies and chocolate milk at storytime.

    • Hi Angela,
      Well, the early literacy skills (6) are well defined in the ECRR programs and they don’t include foreign language learning. In fact, it advises caregivers to speak to children in their own first language. Do you know of any sources that identify foreign language learning as an early literacy skill?
      Sure, we can agree to disagree, but as professionals who share a goal (promoting early literacy) shouldn’t we be looking to child development and early learning specialists to guide our choices? I think our professional standing and our ability to provide excellent services depends on us doing so.

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