Michael Levine Talks the Evolution of Literacy in the Digital Age

The PreK-12 Learning Group's annual Content in Context (CIC) conference in Philadelphia from June 6 – 8 will host a number of impressive speakers from the education industry. One of those is Michael H. Levine, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and Co-author of Tap, Click, Read. He will speak during the session Screens Aren't the Issue – Understanding 21st Century Literacy about multimedia literacy. Registration for CIC is still open.

How can educational publishers help children develop the kind of multimedia literacy you talk about in your book?
Young children's developing brains are learning to follow the sequence of a narrative as well as develop the complex literacies that are demanded by our digital and global age. We point out in Tap, Click, Read that content creators and publishers can help foster new pathways to learning by creating "transmedia" offerings that allow "blended learning" experiences beginning in preschool. Young children will increasingly need to learn how to navigate between and print and digital images that are in their immediate surroundings. As e-books for the young become more popular, producers must think first about the best ways to incorporate interactivity to maximize learning. More optimistically, research has shown that e-books can provide young children the opportunity to feel more in control of a narrative experience.

Explain the literacy crisis you see forming in today's children and now explain your ideal reading landscape for 21st century learners.
An alarming number of children in the United States never become good readers. More than two-thirds of American fourth graders are not reading at grade level or "proficiently," according to the Nation's Report Card. Despite billions of dollars of interventions and new programs, that percentage has barely budged for more than two decades. That, to us, is a crisis.

Literacy experts have noted that the actual amount of reading and writing, especially short-form, is not necessarily on the decline, but that intentional, more complex skills-building needs a boost. We argue that literacy today depends not only on the basics but on a new set of competencies — including digital and second-language fluency.

What are ways in which educational content providers can use both digital and print resources? Or is one favored over the other when it comes to learning?
We think content publishers and content providers can help parents and educators move beyond the "screentime" debate: we need to worry a bit less about how much time kids spend online, and focus instead on ways to tap the potential of technology to encourage conversation between kids, parents and caregivers, and between peers.

How can content developers (publishers) help educators and students make the most of their limited time together, especially when many students don't have steady access to the technology at home?
In Tap, Click, Read, we provide examples of the power of "joint media engagement" the process in which children and adults view and interact with media together. Research has shown that the ongoing "give and take" and the extended learning that can be stimulated by a "co-viewing" educational television experience can have considerable benefits across settings. We now need to use this research to design media products for a digital age. One of the best examples of this sort of media design over the past four decades is Sesame Street. Given the lack of universal home access to the Internet for low-income families and the emerging "homework gap," developers and publishers should design more products to allow co-play and encourage mobile learning experiences that engage learners at home and in school.

Content in Context
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