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Freethinking Finger-Painters: Media Literacy for Early Learners

The truth is hard to come by, isn’t it? Even for adults, the line between truth and falsehood is often blurry. Social media, news sites, online publications – the access to information is limitless but so too is our exposure to misinformation. For every reputable news source, there is a fabulist publication fishing for clicks, shares and ad revenue.

In the age of information, it’s important to teach children to remain skeptical with an infinite wealth of knowledge always within arm’s reach. With blatant deceit being spewed from traditionally truthful sources and positions of authority, media literacy should be taught at a young age as most (if not all) early learners accept adult opinion as law.

Media Literacy for Early Learners 

As oral literacy is the framework for a child’s comprehension and understanding, it also lays the foundation for effective media literacy which appears to be a lost skillset. A Stanford study has shown that students at nearly all grade levels are unable to determine ‘fake news’ from real news. The study showed that while students absorbs media constantly, they often lack the critical thinking skills.

Early learners should focus on three areas of media literacy: identifying the storyteller, understanding stories and learning language.

A child who actively and passively participates during story time is more likely to excel in linguistic and print-related processes equating to better written and oral comprehension and awareness. To develop media literacy, early learners should be asked, “Who is telling this story?”. At this stage, they will likely answer with the most immediate and physical option – the individual reading the story. However, as the child ages, their answers will change to maybe a character in the book or even the author. The important part is to get them started early and build identifying the storyteller as a habit.

When it comes to understanding stories, early learners are often encouraged to analyze, retell, or reflect on what is being read. Asking them questions or to retell the story improves literacy skills, provides insight into their level of comprehension and encourages the habit of thinking and talking about media – an important aspect of media literacy. Keep in mind that the goal isn’t to replace story time with a pop quiz, it’s to foster an opportunity for early learners to discuss what they see and hear.

Learning language is not nearly as cut and dry as TV, games, books and film all affect the way early learners grasp language. Since language is developed through different media consumption, it’s important to recognize sight, sound and written word as opportunities to teach media literacy.

Just like letters and words influence perspective in print media, close-ups and zooms do so in image-based media. Having early learners occasionally identify what kind of shot they’re viewing on TV or in film will help them understand how shot selection affects perspective.

Surprisingly, it’s sound that is the easiest for early learners to understand. Occasionally asking how a song or sound effect makes them feel will foster understanding of how sounds influence how we feel and act. Ultimately, this aids in recognizing emotion and its influence in all media.

“4 out of 5 toddlers are watching movies, television shows, or online videos, and 85 percent of moms allow their preschooler to play with their phone.”

With students (including early learners) having access to more media than ever before, some suggest it’s beneficial to teach them to read like fact-checkers. Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University suggests students read laterally – moving from the original text, opening up a series of tabs to determine the credibility of the text’s author and the sources they cite.

Caulfield also suggests students to recognize emotion in writing. He says, “When you feel strong emotion – happiness, anger, pride, vindication – and that emotion pushes you to share a ‘fact’ with others, STOP.” That being said, reading like a fact-checker is better suited for an older academic audience as early learners have yet to develop proper literacy skills and emotional intelligence.

Media Literacy is Early Literacy

If the onslaught of ‘fake news’ has taught us anything, it’s that media consumption has changed. Staying informed requires a level of healthy skepticism in order to raise articulate, well-read youth for the betterment of society.

Some might argue teaching media literacy too early encourages distrust in the media we consume. However, media literacy is simply part of early literacy. A 2011 report found that poor ‘comprehenders’ in the fifth grade – those with poor reading comprehension despite adequate word-reading skills – showed weak language skills as early as 15 months of age (Justice, Mashburn, & Petscher, in press). The purpose of teaching media literacy is to grant students the ability to recognize misinformation and formulate well-founded opinions and the truth is, these are shared goals of early literacy.

In the age of information, media literacy is part of literacy itself. Students are struggling to make sense of the vast amount of information they have at their fingertips. The media landscape has become a worldwide shouting match and it’s up to the individual to discern which voice is telling the truth. Starting in early childhood education helps implant the notion that not everything you read on the Internet is fact.

For more information about a holistic approach to assessment or holistic education, send us an email at letstalk@spriglearning.com.

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Digital Literacy is Important, Early Literacy is Important-er

Coding, digital literacy, tech etiquette – these competencies are being squeezed into curriculums faster than you can say ‘growth mindset’. There is a justified reasoning behind this digital push, but let’s not forget the importance of early literacy.

Without developing digital skills, students will have trouble entering the workforce. Without developing early literacy, students will have trouble mastering digital skills. Herein lies the problem: failure to promote early literacy ripples through student learning as reading, writing and speaking are the foundation for success.

Why are oral language and early literacy skills so important?

Oral language and literacy are key components of early student learning and the greatest initial predictors of a child’s success in school. It is the bedrock on which literacy can build. Babies begin to acquire language within months of being born and by age five, they can master basic sound system structures and grammar. Children who do not develop the necessary language, reading and writing skills in their early years of schooling are at risk of developing further challenges in other areas of learning.

“Human beings are born to speak; they have an innate gift for figuring out the rules of the language used in their environment.

In addition, early language skills are predictive of later reading comprehension development. A 2011 report found that poor ‘comprehenders’ in the fifth grade – those with poor reading comprehension despite adequate word-reading skills – showed weak language skills as early as 15 months of age (Justice, Mashburn, &Petscher, in press). Oral Language is a skill practiced all the time with teachers, educators, parents, peers and members of the community and if supported properly, encourages reading and writing.

Regardless of a student’s language, nationality, culture or socioeconomic status, oral language development is of fundamental importance during a child’s formative years. That being said, cultural relevance can make a huge difference in strengthening student learning. Culturally enabling content means the student can see themselves in what they are learning. With relatable content, connections are made easier and learning happens fluidly.

What should your early literacy program look like?

As mentioned earlier, digital literacy is nothing to be discounted – it is a necessary competency that should be included in the early literacy discussion. The ideal early literacy program leverages digital tools to engage students with interactive, fun and personalized activities. If the content is culturally enabling that’s even more effective, but make sure there is a heavy focus on oral language. Children’s oral language skills are the foundation of reading and language comprehension.

Since few children entering kindergarten can read words, early literacy programs should look at oral language skills that develop word recognition and/or decoding ability. Knowledge of the alphabet and phonological awareness are strong predictors of decoding and comprehension and teaching both in combination shows a positive impact on improving the latter skills.

“As students explore language in classroom experiences, they begin to understand how to use their knowledge about language to communicate effectively in different ways, for a variety of purposes, including how to read and write.

Early learners should be exposed to oral language activities holistically, in all aspects of life. This is why it is important your early literacy program engages caregivers too. Students that have caregivers actively engaged in their learning have shown an average of .5 – .6 of a standard deviation for overall educational outcomes, grades and academic achievement.

Additionally, assessments of these early literacy skills are important to identify children who are likely to need more intensive instruction to achieve success with literacy. By identifying and working with students across all literacy levels early, educators can be proactive in ensuring that students meet or exceed academic expectations.

If children’s oral language skills are assessed early and often, educators and caregivers alike are painted a clearer picture of student learning. The key is getting all of a child’s stakeholders involved in early learning. When a child is educated holistically, magic happens.

____________________________________________________________________________
For more information about Sprig’s Learning’s Oral Language Program, send us an email at
letstalk@spriglearning.com.

Justice, L.M., Mashburn, A., & Petscher, Y. (in press). “Very early language skills
of fifth-grade poor comprehenders.” Journal of Research in Reading.
Trehearne, Miriam P., “Kindergarten Teacher’s Resource Book.” Nelson Thompson Learning,
Chapters 3 pgs 183-232, 2000

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