Great Literacy Beginnings: Enhancing Storytelling with Technology to Support Children’s Language Development

By Cindy Downend

In the past few weeks, I have been working with Patti, a Literacy Collaborative Coach, to explore how we can continue to expand children’s language development in pre-k and k.  Knowing that language is the foundation for all learning, we are constantly seeking ways to encourage those children who are hesitant to speak. Patti and I have been brainstorming ways that we could use to engage and support those children who are shy or who find it difficult to express their ideas orally.   We decided to try using storytelling through smart pens (more about those in a minute) to support the language development of these children.

Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe have helped us to think a lot about the role that storytelling plays in encouraging young children to speak and express themselves.  In Talking, Drawing and Writing, they state, “Inviting children to talk about themselves and about what they know honors them for who they are.” Resnick and Snow (2008) have also helped us to understand how there are many different kinds of story structures and we must be sure to honor each child’s familial and cultural backgrounds.

So with these big ideas in mind, Patti and I set out to try our hand at using smart pens as a tool for both encouraging and recording students’ oral storytelling with their drawings.  A Livescribe smart pen allows a writer to write or draw while recording his or her own voice.  The recording can then be played back to make it accessible to students anytime, anywhere.  The written/drawn text can even be uploaded to a computer and played back as a “pencast.”

After experimenting with the pens for a period of time, Patti reports that the use of the smart pens has proved beneficial in helping students to organize their thoughts for writing and also helpful in engaging students who are reticent to speak.  For example, a teacher may confer with a student while he is drawing and telling his story, working to both encourage and expand the child’s oral language.  Patti also mentioned that students who are often very shy when speaking to their classmates often love sharing their “pencasts.”  The pencasts might also be shared with parents and families.

In their new book, Literacy Beginnings, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell state, “Language is the most important cognitive tool for interpreting and explaining the information they [children] pick up as they explore and learn.“   We would love to hear from our blog readers about successes you have experienced in encouraging young children to speak and share their ideas.

One Child’s Livescribe Pen Story

 “That’s the battleship Kohl.  We got to go in the battleship.  We got to go inside it.  There was windows on each side.  There was a ton of staircases and there was one way over here.  Or you could go downstairs and I’ll make the submarine.  There’s an eye scope with a big eye looking through it and there were no girls in it back then.”

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