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Collection: Early Childhood

purple arrowStorybooks on Computers: An Overview

Emergent literacy activity for all children

All children can benefit from having story books read aloud to them. The rewards are numerous: it is stimulating and fun, encourages the use of imagination, and provides information and knowledge. For the preschool child, listening to stories is a powerful emergent literacy activity which promotes the development of beginning language and interactive communication, and provides a platform for acquiring reading and writing skills. Listening to different kinds of stories helps the child learn new words, develop longer sentences, and combine information logically and sequentially. Currently we are experiencing exciting new developments in the availability of story books on computer, also described as computerized or electronic books. Stories read aloud by the computer, particularly those incorporating recently improved technologies in voice and sound, graphics, and memory capacity, provide a powerful experience for any child. Electronic story books are particularly effective examples of the use of technology to include children with disabilities in activities that occur naturally within their environment. With the support of assistive technology and adaptive access techniques, computerized story book reading also provides a powerful equalizer in the classroom. A child with a physical disability such as the loss of motor control due to cerebral palsy can independently enjoy "turning the pages" of a story book along with their typically developing peers. A child who is visually impaired can have the text enlarged or can listen to stories while turning pages. The development of alternative access methods has paralleled the evolution in electronic storybooks in general, and new techniques to overcome access issues are constantly becoming available.

Considerations when selecting computerized storybooks

By considering the range of software now available, it is possible to select products which support the many learning styles of children and accommodate a variety of abilities. Features to consider when selecting computerized storybooks include:

Speech and Audio Feedback: Story books on computers usually have some kind of speech that enables the books to be "read" to the student. The quality of speech will varying depending on the speech capability or synthesizer that the software utilizes. Most story books on more recent Macintosh or MS-DOS models use the speech capability that is built into the computer itself. Some story books integrate additional sound effects and music into the stories. Other speech features that will vary include: the rate at which text is spoken or read, which linguistic units will be simultaneously highlighted (words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs), types of voices (boy, girl, etc.). Some story books allow the user to control some or all of these features.

Graphics: Some story books on computers are simply that - a story classic such as The Ugly Duckling rewritten and presented as an illustrated story of about 16-20 pages (screens). Others include graphics that can be animated by clicking on them. For example, when a child clicks on a dog, it may bark and wag its tail. Some story books allow students to manipulate and re-configure graphics, or add written words to graphics. It's important to note that "more" is not always better in this regard. It depends on the child and the purpose of the task itself.

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Interactivity: Some story books provide opportunities for interactivity beyond graphics. For example, sometimes students are able to make choices during the story which can affect the direction of the story line. For example a student may be able to decide whether a character goes to the beach or calls a friend. Some story books enable the child to go beyond the story itself, i.e. the child can "click and explore," by opening up specified targets and accessing other levels of activities, such as games or puzzles. Some books enable students to click on the word to call up the written definition or a spoken explanation. With the proliferation of story books on CD-ROM, opportunities for interacting with the software have become considerably enhanced due to the increased storage space that CD-ROM offers. Some software programs enable students to record their own version of the story and play it back. Thus pre-readers and beginning readers can practice speaking, listening, singing, exploring, reading, and creating in the same multimedia environment. Accessibility: Simple storybooks on computer sometimes lend themselves to adaptive access. Many of the early simple "page" turning storybooks on IBM and Apple platforms can be programmed to work with a single switch, touch window or alternate keyboard, provided the appropriate adaptive interface (e.g. the Adaptive Firmware Card, K:ENX) is present. Switches can be placed anywhere, so that even a slight movement of the hand, foot, head, etc. activates the software. An expanded keyboard, such as the Unicorn (Unicorn Engineering) or Intellikeys (Intellitools), can be programmed to turn the page in response to a child touching a larger target drawn on a paper overlay. A touch window can sometimes provide enable students to activate targets or items by touching them directly in lieu of clicking the mouse. As the complexity of storybook programs evolve, access becomes more complicated and problematic. Teachers and parents can spend many frustrating hours attempting to program accessibility through an adaptive interface. Some developers are designing story books with built-in accessibility for students who use alternative access methods such as single switch or touch window. This is an exciting trend, albeit slow to catch on.

Age/developmental level: A range of early childhood early concepts software and storybooks is available, making it possible to select developmentally appropriate material. Some programs include pictures only, allowing children to move around in an environment, such as the zoo. There are no words to read, children simply select a picture or object and are "transported" to a different place or activity. Other books provide a first step towards reading with large graphics and simple stories (one line per page). Others provide more advanced reading experiences including more complex text, built in vocabulary development and/or opportunities to apply problem-solving skills.

Quality of Literature: Some story books include classic, time-honored stories or tales, while others include new stories designed to fit the story book format. The quality in this latter category can vary.

Relative Price: Price will vary depending on how many features the story book incorporates. Parents and teachers should weigh the purpose and ultimate on-going utility of a story book against the price. For example, simpler story books that provide accessibility at a low price may make more sense than an expensive, ornate story book which may only be read a few times. On the other hand, if a classroom of children will read the story individually, in groups, etc. the increased cost may well be worth it.

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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.