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Content not form predicts oral language comprehension: the influence of the medium on preschoolers’ story understanding

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Abstract

The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of digital and non- digital storybooks on low-income preschoolers’ oral language comprehension. Employing a within-subject design on 38 four-year-olds from a Head Start program, we compared the effect of medium on preschoolers’ target words and comprehension of stories. Four digital storybooks were adapted and printed for read-alouds. Children were randomly read two stories on the digital platform, and two by the assessors. Following the story, children completed vocabulary and comprehension tasks, and a brief motivation checklist. We found no significant differences across medium; children comprehended equally well regardless of whether the story was read digitally or in person. However, using repeated ANOVA measures, we found a significant main effect of the story read. This research indicates that the content of the book rather than its form predicts story comprehension. Implications for using digital media in the preschool years are discussed.
Content not form predicts oral language
comprehension: the influence of the medium
on preschoolers’ story understanding
Susan B. Neuman
1
Kevin M. Wong
1
Tanya Kaefer
2
Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
Abstract The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of digital and
non-digital storybooks on low-income preschoolers’ oral language comprehension.
Employing a within-subject design on 38 four-year-olds from a Head Start program,
we compared the effect of medium on preschoolers’ target words and compre-
hension of stories. Four digital storybooks were adapted and printed for read-alouds.
Children were randomly read two stories on the digital platform, and two by the
assessors. Following the story, children completed vocabulary and comprehension
tasks, and a brief motivation checklist. We found no significant differences across
medium; children comprehended equally well regardless of whether the story was
read digitally or in person. However, using repeated ANOVA measures, we found a
significant main effect of the story read. This research indicates that the content of
the book rather than its form predicts story comprehension. Implications for using
digital media in the preschool years are discussed.
Keywords Digital media Early literacy Within-subject design Preschoolers
Oral language comprehension
Introduction
Young children with limited oral language comprehension are at risk for
encountering difficulties in early literacy and throughout their schooling (Cunning-
ham & Stanovich, 1997). Even before entering kindergarten, the average cognitive
score of children in the highest socioeconomic group is 60% above the score of the
&Susan B. Neuman
sbneuman@nyu.edu
1
New York University, New York City, NY, USA
2
Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada
123
Read Writ
DOI 10.1007/s11145-017-9750-4
lowest socio-economic status group (SES) (Lee & Burkam, 2002). These problems
are further compounded by the word gap (Hart & Risley, 1995) the stark differences
in the accumulated number of words children are likely to be exposed to from these
differing SES groups. Prior to kindergarten, Hart and Risley (2003) describe the gap
as a 30-million-word catastrophe, which grows exponentially over the early years so
that by first grade the high-performing student will know about twice as many words
as that of the low-performing student.
Such differences have often led to a discourse that have focused the linguistic
deficits of low-income children, a view that they lack the fundamental discourse and
reasoning skills that other middle-class children bring to school (Michaels, 2013;
Miller & Sperry, 2012). To the contrary; these children bring rich discursive
repertoires, styles, vocabulary and narrative strategies to school (Gumperz, 1982;
Hoff, 2006). Significant advances in our understanding of sociolinguists, for
example, has allowed for a shift from a deficit to a difference view of dialectal
differences in social discourse (see de Villiers & Johnson, 2007; Stockman, 2010).
However, while these children have no fundamental deficits in their language and
language learning abilities, they may have less exposure to and fewer opportunities
to learn the academic language and experiences that are valued in school. Therefore,
it is the school-based language and the precursors related to literacy skills that these
low-income children will need, building on their linguistic skills to develop robust
reading performance and achievement.
Consequently, supporting word and world knowledge, especially for children
most at risk, is critical if we are to change the trajectory of their long-term
achievement (Hirsch, 2006). Given the rich language in books, interactive storybook
read-aloud activities have been considered one of the potent strategies to accelerate
their development (Bus & Van Ijzendoorn, 1995). However, recent research
suggests that digitized stories may also provide a context for engaging children in
vocabulary and comprehension learning activities (Verhallen, Bus, & deJong,
2006). Video representations bring stories to life through sound, action, words, and
zooming among other formal features. For example, there is now an emerging body
of literature demonstrating that e-books, with supports designed to provide
additional information about the characters and the definitions of words, can
enhance low-income children’s word reading and concepts of print (DeJong & Bus,
2004; Korat & Shamir, 2007). In short, they may offer multimedia supports for
vocabulary and content learning essential for comprehension, especially for children
with limited opportunities to engage with books or other language-rich experiences.
Nevertheless, a common finding in the literature is that children learn better
through real-life events than video presentations (Kirkorian et al., 2015). This
learning difference, demonstrated in numerous studies with infants and toddlers has
been coined the video deficit effect. Based on research by Anderson and Pempek
(2005), the video deficit represents the discrepancy between learning from a live
person and learning from an equivalent media source such as video. Barr and Wyss
(2008), for example, found that toddlers required twice as much exposure to learn
from video than for a real-life event. Further, the deficit might persist beyond the
toddler years. In a controlled experiment, Roseberry and her colleagues (Roseberry,
Hirsh-Pasek, Parish-Morris, & Golinkoff, 2009) found that 30 month olds learned a
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
set of verbs significantly better when an experimenter was live than when she
appeared in a video condition. Even though children older than 3 gained some
information from video alone, this learning was still not as robust as learning from
live social events.
In the face of overwhelming evidence that young children do not learn as much
from video as from live interactions (Krcmar, Grela, & Lin, 2007), numerous
position statements have either discouraged all screen time for infants and toddlers,
or at the very least seriously recommended to limit media experiences for young
children even through the preschool years (American Academy of Pediatrics and
Media, 2011; National Association for the Education of Young Children, & Fred
Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, 2011). Nevertheless,
children are engaged in media use. In a typical day, 83% of children ages 6 months
to 6 years use some form of screen media (Rideout, 2013). In fact, the average
screen use for young children is about twice the amount of time (1 h, 36 min)
compared to reading or being read to by an adult (40 min).
Acknowledging this reality of media exposure for young children, therefore, is
critically important to better understand how different media might support
children’s vocabulary and comprehension. Evidence for the video deficit, for
example, largely comes from studies of infant and toddlers’ comprehension of video
and their ability to demonstrate learning post viewing, not children beyond
30-months. Whether such deficits are still evident for children who have an
emerging understanding of representational thinking such as preschoolers remains
an open question. Furthermore, studies of video deficits have been largely agnostic
regarding the quality and age appropriateness of the video itself. Using eye-tracking
technology, for example, we reported stark differences in children’s comprehension
of video when comparing a more crowded and faster-paced clip (e.g., Baby
Einstein) to a slower-paced clip (e.g., Baby bugs; Neuman & Pinkham, 2015).
However, when designed with clearly articulated instructional and developmental
principles in mind, numerous studies (Fisch, Shulman, Akerman, & Levin, 2002;
Linebarger, Kosanic, Greenwood, & Doku, 2004) have shown that video can be an
effective conveyer of content that promotes vocabulary and comprehension skills.
Alternatively, there are scholars who argue that the medium of instruction may
have little to do with learning. In one of the most widely noted quotes, Clark (1983)
contends that ‘media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not
influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries
causes changes in our nutrition’’ (p. 445). In contrast, Kozma (1994) has argued that
certain media attributes could possess particular characteristics that make it more or
less suitable for different kinds of learning tasks. Therefore, the question becomes:
Are certain activities such as storybook reading more effective in one medium or
another? Clark (1994) asks researchers to apply a replaceability test: Whenever
there is a medium that is thought to cause learning, one must ask if another set of
media would lead to the same result.
Given the increasingly prominent role of video in the lives of young children, this
study was designed to examine children’s learning through different media,
listening to stories and video. Although nothing can replace the interactivity that
comes from a live read aloud experience between an adult and child, there are
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
certain features in video that might enhance word learning especially for children
with limited vocabulary. Our previous research found that video with its many audio
and visual affordances was able to enhance children’s developing conceptualiza-
tions of words better than viewing static pictures in books (Neuman, 1995). More
recently Mayer (2001) reported that multimedia supports combining visual and
auditory supports enabled children to have a deeper understanding of word
meanings than through one medium alone.
Further support may come from Paivio’s dual coding theory (Paivio, 2008),
which posits that visual and verbal information are processed differently, creating
separate representations for information processed in each channel. Silverman and
Hines (2009), for example, found a positive effect for English learners in
prekindergarten through second grade as a result of media-enhanced vocabulary
instruction. Chambers and her colleagues (Chambers, Cheung, Madden, Slavin, &
Gifford, 2006), as well, have shown that the use of embedded multimedia can
enhance vocabulary and comprehension, reporting a moderate effect size when
compared with instruction without media.
However, there is little consensus in the research on how the medium itself affects
low-income preschoolers’ word learning and comprehension. Although some studies
have shown an advantage of digitized stories over print presentations (Korat, 2010;
Segal-Drori, Korat, & Shamir, 2010), others have shown that live presentations more
effectively enhance children’s comprehension (Terrill & Daniloff, 1996). Two studies
illustrate these contrasting findings. Korat, for example, examined the effects of
e-book reading in comparison with print storybook reading on Israeli kindergartners’
and first grade children’s story comprehension. Randomly assigning 90 children into
treatment and control groups, posttest measures indicated that children who read the
e-book version exhibited significantly greater progress in word meaning and word
reading compared to the control group. On the other hand, Terrell and Daniloff (1996)
compared the effectiveness of computer, video and live adult reading for 78
preschoolers. Embedding novel words (e.g., nouns, verbs and adjectives) to be learned
within the story, these researchers found a small, but significant effect for live reading
over the other two modes. Still others, however, suggest that learning is equivalent
across medium (e.g., Neuman, 1992).
Furthermore, some research argues that proficiency in vocabulary and compre-
hension may be tied to motivation to learn (Csikszentmihalyi, 1991), and that different
media may potentially motivate children to read more than others (Crum, 2015). For
example, Guthrie and his colleagues (Guthrie & Klauda, 2014) found that practices
which encourage motivation systematically nourished children’s engagement, and
ultimately influenced children’s retention of information and understanding of text.
Children who turned to reading on their own for intrinsic motivation, the sheer
enjoyment of the activity, were more likely to develop proficiency in reading.
Given the lack of consensus in the extant research base on how print and
digitized stories might compare as contexts for vocabulary and comprehension for
preschoolers, more research is clearly needed. This research, therefore, addresses
the issue of comparability in learning vocabulary and comprehension skills in
stories that are read aloud compared to stories presented in digital form to low-
income preschoolers. For this study, we used Speakaboos, a program available
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
through iTunes that includes over 100 interactive stories targeted to preschoolers
and kindergartners. Rather than explicit skill development, the Speakaboos series is
designed to delight young children in learning about language through listening to
tightly-woven stories that will motivate them to read in any medium. The following
questions guided our research:
1. What is the effect of a real life storybook reading compared to a digital book
reading on children’s learning of target words? On their comprehension of
stories?
2. To what extent is children’s motivation to read related to medium?
3. Are the differences in children’s comprehension related to the story content, and
not the medium?
Method
Participants
The study was conducted in a Head Start program, serving 3- and 4-year old
children. Four classrooms, including all 4-year-old children from the centers, were
invited to participate in the study. Parent consent was 100%. From these classrooms,
38 children were randomly selected; 19 boys, 19 girls. Average age of the children
was 4.15 (SD =.22) years old. Ninety percent of the children were African
American; 8% were Hispanic; 2% were of European descent. All children were
English proficient according to their teacher and parent application forms, and all
received free and reduced lunch. Children’s Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test
(PPVT-4; Dunn & Dunn, 2007) indicated an average standard score of 87.32
(SD =15.33), one standard deviation below the norm. Using a power calculator
(Faul, Erdfelder, Lang & Buchner, 2007), we determined that for a moderate effect,
the sample size would yield a two-tailed power of .85.
Design
To examine the effects of the medium on vocabulary and comprehension, we used a
within-subject design. In a within-subject design, each student receives both
instructional conditions in a counterbalanced approach and serves as his/her own
control. In our case, the within-subject factor was medium (real life storybook
reading; digital story). Therefore, in this study each participant received both
treatments, two in person storybook readings and two digital stories, each of which
was conducted in a randomized order. For example, each child was randomly
assigned to an in-person/digital story rotation, counterbalanced so that the child
received both medium formats twice. Rotations were also counterbalanced so that
each story had an equal number of in-person and digital storybook experiences. For
each story, vocabulary, comprehension, and motivation measures (described below)
were assessed.
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
There were a number of benefits in using this design. First, because each student
received both treatments, we were able to control for between-subject variability,
reducing error and increasing our power to detect potential differences. Second,
within-subject designs may control for threats to internal validity, since individuals
essentially act as their own controls. Third, within-subject designs typically do not
require a large pool of subjects; a similar experiment in a between-subjects design
would require twice as many participants as a within-subjects design. Furthermore,
the threat of a carry-over effect was minimal since four different stories were
examined. In other words, children never heard the same story in both digital and in-
person formats.
Instructional content
The videos included four approximately 7-min stories from the Speakaboos series.
As shown in Table 1, stories were roughly comparable in length, and adhered to the
basic elements of story grammar, with a clearly identified setting, characters, events
Table 1 Description of digital books included in study
Title Synopsis Duration Vocabulary
words
Ish (Flesch 90.5)
a
Ramon loved to draw all the time. One day his
older brother laughed at a drawing of his vase.
After that, Ramon felt like he couldn’t draw well.
He tried over and over until his little sister helped
him see that his drawings didn’t need to look like
a vase, but to look vase-ISH
6:04 Vase
Silent
Crumpled
Gallery
Haunted
Sid the Science Kid:
hello doggie(Flesch
102)
Sid hears a dog barking outside his window and
wonders whether animals can talk. At school, he
learns about how different animals communicate
using sounds and body language. In the end, Sid
is able to guess what some animals are trying to
say
7:53 Bark
Chest
Communicate
Attention
Popcorn
Superkids: A sticky
situation(Flesch
80.7)
Noodle Boy goes to Superhero School to become a
superhero. However, he thinks the other
SuperKids have better superpowers than he does.
When Dr. Goo goos up their playground, Noodle
Boy and the other SuperKids go to stop him. In
the end, Noodle Boy saves the day
7:30 Bounce
Zoom
Goo
Whirlwind
Villain
The Valentine
Contest(Flesch 79.5)
At this year’s Valentine’s Day party, Princess Ana
wants someone to dance with. King Carlos holds
a contest to see who can create the perfect
valentine for Princess Ana. From the three
contestants, Princess Ana chooses Morris the
Monster’s yucky valentine
7:50 Contest
Bakery
Yucky
Glittery
Valentine
Vocabulary words were given in order, arranged according to level of difficulty
a
Flesch Reading Formula indicates that all stories are within the easy to read category
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
and resolution. These stories varied in theme, and were designed to cater to different
student interests to children at the preschool and kindergarten level. Each story had
animated pages that turned, characters that moved with the action of the story, and
text that lit up during the narration. As a measure of text difficulty, we calculated the
readability of the text using the Flesch readability formula (http://www.
readabilityformulas.com/free-readability-formula-tests.php). Although we recog-
nize that these levels were designed to represent a measure of the difficulty for a
child who might read the text, not listen to the story in one medium or another, it
provided a method to ensure relative comparability across text. According to the
formula, each text was identified as easy to read. Furthermore, since all children
listened to each story (in one format or the other), these slight variations in difficulty
were likely to represent the kinds of differences one might see in day-to-day sto-
rybook reading.
We created print storybooks for each of the videos. Screenshots from the videos
chosen to be optimally representative of the theme were used as illustrations.
Dialogue from the script was incorporated verbatim in the books. Similar to a
strategy used by Silverman (2013), we incorporated phrases such as ‘‘Sid says’’ to
ensure that the story flowed appropriately when necessary. In this respect, the video
and print storybooks contained similar content, and assured us that the treatments
were as comparable as possible. Four independent reviewers examined the print and
digital versions and agreed that the stories were equivalent.
Measures
We administered five brief assessments for each story to examine children’s
vocabulary, comprehension, and motivation and interest in reading:
Free Recall Following the reading/video, the child was asked to retell the story.
Based on his/her initial response, we prompted the child one time with a ‘‘can you
tell me more?’’ All free recalls were recorded and transcribed verbatim. Two trained
assistants coded transcriptions. Based on Morrow’s typology (Morrow, 1988), a
point was given for each story element described (e.g., setting (1), characters (1),
events (3), plot or theme (1), resolution (1). Inter-rater reliability was 87.1%. A total
of seven points for each recall was possible (see ‘‘Appendix’’ for examples of coded
recalls).
Story sequencing Less reliant on expressive language, we constructed a sequenc-
ing task to measure children’s comprehension for each story. We created five
pictures with event scenes from each story. Cards were mixed, and children were
asked to sequence the story. The child received a total score (0–5 possible) based on
the number of events in the correct order. Inter-rater reliability was 100%.
Vocabulary Five words from each story were chosen as target words. These words
were all identified Tier 2 words in Beck, McKeown, and Kucan’s heuristic (2002),
considered to be sophisticated words that may be useful for children to know for
comprehension. Prior to the start of the study, these words were screened by 10
children from this age group at a neighboring Head Start to determine their
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
familiarity; although several words such as ‘‘yucky’’ were correctly identified, the
total number of known words did not reach above chance.
In the administration of the task, children were first given a word, such as
‘gigantic’’ then given a sentence with the word in context. Children were asked to
identify the meaning of the word. Responses were recorded and transcribed
verbatim. All responses were coded on a three-point scale (1 =correct; .5 partially
correct; 0 =incorrect). A total score for each assessment was calculated. Inter-rater
reliability was 90.9%.
Reading interest To determine if reading a particular story might motivate the
student to read something related to it, we constructed a three-card assessment. The
assessor asked the student, ‘‘What would you like to read about next?’’ Children
were asked to point to one of three pictures that had: (1) a similar character as the
story just read; (2) a similar theme (such as a party) as the story; (3) a random event
or character. Cronbach’s alpha was .90.
Motivation to read To gauge children’s general interest in reading and compare
across media formats, we developed a three-item assessment with six picture
options: reading on tablet; reading with parents; playing with friends; watching
television; painting; and playing with toys. The assessor asked the student, ‘‘What
would you like to do afterschool today? What would you like to do over the
weekend?’’ And, ‘‘What would you like to do over the summer?’’ Following each
question, the student was asked to point to the activity they wished to do in each
context. Cronbach’s alpha was .90. For both reading interest and motivation to read,
we then calculated the proportion of children that indicated each response.
Procedure
Four graduate assistants with masters’ degrees in education or educational
psychology were trained to conduct the research. A scripted protocol was developed
for each treatment. In the in-person read-aloud, the research assistant was trained to
briefly introduce the story to the child, then read it aloud with minimal interruptions.
Following the reading, the assistant administered the five assessments in set order.
Similarly, a protocol was developed for the digital storybook. Once again, the
research assistant briefly introduced the story, adjusted the headphones for the
student, and turned on the digital story, and followed by the assessments.
Children were randomly selected in classrooms to participate in the study.
Each child was escorted to a quiet corner of the library, and then randomly
assigned to either a real-life storybook reading, or a digital story on an iPad with
headphones. Over the course of two weeks, children were read/or listened to four
stories.
Following each story, the child was administered the five tasks. Together the
story reading and assessment tasks took approximately 20-min. Each day the child
received a new story in one of the formats. Three children were consistently absent
from school and did not complete all four stories. The final sample, therefore,
included 36 students, representing a 3% attrition rate.
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
Analyses
We first examined the data using descriptive statistics, focusing on the differences in
vocabulary and story comprehension by medium. This allowed us to address our
first question, namely, whether the medium influenced child outcomes. We then
followed this analysis by looking at these dependent variables by story to determine
whether the content might matter more than the form. We conducted paired-samples
t-tests to examine differences in form and used repeated measures analysis of
variation to determine whether there were story effects. Finally, we conducted Chi
squares to examine whether there were differences in motivation to read by book.
Together, these analyses were designed to address our essential questions: To what
extent might children’s understanding be influenced by the medium or the message
(content) and how might the context affect their motivation to read?
Results
Effects of the story medium on children’s vocabulary and comprehension
To address our first question, we examined children’s vocabulary and comprehen-
sion outcomes for each medium. Scores for the in-person read-alouds (2) and the
digital read-alouds (2) were collapsed to reflect average scores in each format.
Means and standard deviations of children’s vocabulary and comprehension scores
for each medium are shown in Table 2. These results indicated that on average,
children were able to identify slightly less than two words per story. Comprehension
scores showed that on average, children were able to freely recall slightly more than
two elements or events in story formats. However, scores on the measure that
depended less on expressive language were higher, indicating that children were
able to sequence more than half of the events in stories. Both formats seemed to
support talk about the story; average number of words used in the free recalls
appeared relatively similar.
We conducted paired-sample t-tests on each of the vocabulary and comprehen-
sion assessments. As expected, based on the descriptives shown in Table 2, there
were no significant differences between trials by medium for free recall
Table 2 Means (and standard deviations) of comprehension and vocabulary by medium
Variable Live Storybook reading
(N =36)
Digital storybook
(N =36)
Comprehension—Free Recall 2.53 (1.22) 2.57 (1.28)
Comprehension—Story Sequencing 4.33 (1.45) 4.06 (1.41)
Vocabulary 1.94 (1.26) 1.93 (1.29)
Words used in Free Recall 48.47 (37.70) 49.76 (42.30)
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
(t(35) =.22, p=827); story sequencing (t(35) =1.13, p=.265), vocabulary
(t(35) =.04, p=.971), and the number of words used in the recall (t(35) =.34,
p=.731). Therefore, to address our first question, it appears that neither vocabulary
nor comprehension outcomes were influenced by the medium of instruction.
Effects of the medium on children’s motivation to read
Our next question addressed children’s motivation to read, and whether a book’s
format might enhance interest in reading about a similar character or theme. Table 3
describes the proportion of children indicating each response. These scores
indicated that children were inclined to be motivated to read about a similar
character or topic in the story. In the case of in-person reading, almost three quarters
of the children indicated that they would like to hear an additional story with similar
character or topic, whereas over two-thirds were interested with the digital story.
Nevertheless, when provided with more alternative leisure options, only slightly
more than one quarter of the sample indicated interest in reading in either format.
Because these motivation measures were categorical, we conducted a McNemar-
Bowker x
2
Chi square test. We found no significant differences between trials based
on medium for character or topic, x
2
(3) =1.39, p=.707. Similarly, there were no
differences when children were asked if they would like to read after school,
x
2
(3) =.619, p=.892 during the weekend, x
2
(3) =.2.36, p=.501; or during the
summer, x
2
(3) =.133, p=.721. Taken together, these results suggest that
motivation to read also did not differ by medium. Rather, it appeared that children
were motivated by the story and its characters and themes instead of the medium
itself.
Effects of content on vocabulary and comprehension
In these next series of results, we address the perennial question raised by Marshall
McLuhan in his controversial book, Understanding media (McLuhan, 1964) and
subsequently challenged by Richard Clark and others. Rather than the medium (e.g.,
whether it is read or viewed), comprehensibility could be related to the content of
the story itself (e.g., its message) and not to the medium.
Table 3 Proportion (and standard deviation) of children motivated to engage in further reading activities
by medium
Motivated to Live storybook reading
(N =36)
Digital storybook
(N =36)
Watch program with same character/topic .72 (.35) .65 (.33)
Continue reading after school .32 (.34) .31 (.36)
Continue reading over the weekend .28 (.35) .29 (.40)
Continue reading over summer .24 (.30) .24 (.33)
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
To conduct this analysis, means and standard deviations by story are described in
Table 4. Although all four stories were similar in length and clarity of storyline, this
analysis suggests that Ish and Valentine were more difficult to comprehend than
others. To examine whether these differences were significant, we conducted a
repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) on each of the vocabulary and
comprehension measures. As shown in the table, we found a significant main effect
of story on free recall (F(3,33) =8.19, p\.001, story sequencing, F(3,
33) =4.91, p=.006, and vocabulary, F(3,33) =9.09, p\.001), but no signif-
icant main effect of book for the number of words used, F(3, 33) =1.38, p=.267.
Pairwise comparisons indicated that Ish was significantly more challenging than the
other three stories for free recall (p\.001; p=.027; p=.024) and story
sequencing (p\.003; p\.002; p=.010). Similarly, children had greater
difficulty with vocabulary from Ish compared to the other three stories (p\.001;
p\.001; p=.002). Children also showed less learning from Valentine, with free
recall marginally significantly more difficult than Superkids (p=.052) as well as
vocabulary (p=.020) or Sid (p=.018). Taken together, these results suggest that
there were significant differences in vocabulary and comprehension across stories,
with some stories more clearly understood better than others.
Children were also less motivated to learn more about the character or the theme
for Ish compared to the other stories (see Table 5), indicating a connection between
comprehension and motivation. Stories that were more comprehensible, therefore,
were more motivating, leading children to want to read more.
Effects of content on vocabulary and comprehension by medium
In our final analysis, we examine whether differences in children’s vocabulary and
comprehension in these stories might differ by medium. Table 6displays the means
and standard deviations for each story across the two formats.
Clearly, we noted some slight variations across media; however, in conducting a
series of independent samples t-tests, we found no significant effects on any of the
dependent variables. In order to account for family-wise error rate, we conducted a
Bonferroni correction for each of these dependent measures, making .013 the cut off
Table 4 Means (and standard deviations) of comprehension and vocabulary by story
Story Superkids
(N =36)
Sid
(N =36)
Ish
(N =36)
Valentine
(N =36)
Comprehension—Free Recall 3.17 (1.63) 2.67 (1.6) 2.03 (1.21)
*
2.56 (1.38)
Comprehension—Story Sequencing 4.47 (1.71) 4.61 (1.81) 3.47 (1.32)
*
4.22 (1.90)
Vocabulary 2.38 (1.44) 2.32 (1.27) 1.25 (1.42)
*
1.79 (1.42)
**
Words used in Free Recall 50.36 (44.24) 53.81 (45.33) 45.06 (36.77) 47.25 (42.03)
*Mean is significantly lower than all other means in row
**Mean is significantly lower than Superkids and Sid, but significantly higher than Ish
Mean is marginally significantly lower than mean for Superkids
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
for significance. By this commonly-held standard, there were no significant
differences by format for any of the stories (ps [.109).
Finally, we examined children’s motivation to read by story and format, once
again conducting a series of Chi square tests with a Bonferroni correction. There
was a trend toward significance for viewing over reading the Sid story as to whether
children were more likely to want to read next week, x
2
(1) =3.74, p=.053, but
no other significant differences (ps [.221) (Table 7).
Taken together, these results suggest that differences between stories were
unlikely to be related to the medium in which they were conveyed. Furthermore, the
medium did not seem to be a major determinant on whether children would be likely
to read more or not. In contrast, these results suggest that it was the story content
that appeared to influence children’s vocabulary and comprehension, and not the
medium itself.
Conclusion
Young children’s ability to learn from digital media continues to be a hotly debated
topic. Recent statistics indicate that children are spending as much as 2 h a day on
mobile devices, listening to stories, playing games and other activities (Common
Sense Media, 2013). With on-screen activities becoming an everyday occurrence in
the lives of young children, educators and parents are questioning its efficacy as a
tool for learning.
There is a substantial body of research that children learn oral language
comprehension better from a live person than from an equivalent video source
(Kirkorian et al., 2015). Kuhl and her colleagues (Kuhl, Tsao, & Liu, 2003), for
example, found that infants who heard a speaker in a live demonstration learned to
discriminate between sounds in a foreign language, whereas the video display failed
to confer this advantage. Similarly, for older-aged children, experimenters
(Roseberry, Hirsh-Pasek, Parish-Morris, & Golinkoff, 2009) found that those
30 month olds and older children in their sample learned verbs (e.g., more difficult
to master than nouns) better when given live demonstrations than in the screen
condition.
Table 5 Proportion (and standard deviation) of children motivated to engage in further reading activities
by story
Motivated to Superkids
(N =36)
Sid
(N =36)
Ish
(N =36)
Valentine
(N =36)
Watch program with same character/topic .72 (.45) .83 (.38) .50 (.51)
*
.69 (.47)
Continue reading after school .31 (.47) .31 (.47) .37 (.49) .29 (.46)
Continue reading over the weekend .33 (.48) .33 (.48) .25 (.44) .22 (.42)
Continue reading over summer .23 (.43) .29 (.46) .26 (.44) .17 (38)
*Mean is significantly lower than Sid
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
Table 6 Mean (and standard deviation) of children’s comprehension and vocabulary by story and medium
Story Superkids Sid Ish Valentine
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Variable
Comprehension—Free Recall 3.07 (1.65) 3.40 (1.65) 2.37 (1.78) 2.82 (1.53) 2.00 (1.25) 2.04 (1.30) 2.59 (1.28) 2.53 (1.50)
Comprehension—Story Sequencing 4.73 (1.87) 3.8 (1.03) 4.13 (1.67) 4.77 (1.93) 3.60 (1.50) 3.43 (1.20) 4.35 (2.03) 4.11 (1.82)
Vocabulary 2.33 (1.50) 2.5 (1.33) 1.88 (1.09) 2.60 (1.39) 1.43 (1.58) 1.28 (1.06) 1.82 (1.55) 1.76 (1.34)
Words used in Free Recall 43.96 (33.70) 67.00 (63.48) 60.71 (63.45) 49.41 (29.67) 52.93 (48.39) 39.43 (48.39) 41.35 (20.94) 52.53 (54.62)
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
Table 7 Proportions (and standard deviations) of children’s motivation to engage in further reading activities by story and medium
Story Superkids Sid Ish Valentine
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Live
(N =18)
Digital
(N =18)
Motivated to
Watch program with same character/topic .69 (.47) .80 (.42) .93 (.27) .78 (.43) .53 (.52) .48 (.51) .76 (.44) .63 (.50)
Continue reading after school .34 (.49) .20 (.42) .21 (.43) .38 (.50) .27 (.46) .43 (.51) .41 (.51) .16 (.37)
Continue reading over the weekend .38 (.50) .20 (.42) .14 (.36) .45 (.51) .27 (.46) .24 (.44) .24 (.44) .21 (.42)
Continue reading over summer .19 (.40) .30 (.48) .36 (.50) .23 (.43) .27 (.46) .29 (.46) .18 (.39) .17 (.38)
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
Such discrepancies in learning, described as the video deficit, have given rise to
concerns that young children, even at the preschool age, do not learn as much from
video as from live interactions. The claim is not that children are not learning;
rather, it is that they are not learning as much as they would, given the opportunity
for interactions with a live person. This is an important distinction, since there are
numerous studies (Fisch et al., 2002; Linebarger et al., 2004) showing positive
effects for learning from media.
Our study, therefore, was to examine children’s vocabulary (e.g., both nouns and
verbs) compared to a live event, in this case an adult reading one-on-one with a
child. We used a within-subject design to rigorously assess a child’s performance
against him or herself, reducing error variance that is often found in many small-
scale quasi-experimental assessments. Furthermore, we used multiple measures of
comprehension, and motivation to read for each of our stories, providing a more
thorough assessment than previous studies that have compared media treatments.
We found no evidence of a video deficit for preschoolers. Children’s free recall
was relatively modest across both video and live presentations of stories. However,
their ability to sequence using picture supports indicated comprehension of the basic
elements of the stories in both medium. In addition, their ability to talk about the
stories in either format suggests that the stories generated much to talk about. They
also appeared to enjoy stories and were motivated to watch/read another story with a
similar character or theme. In fact, what was most striking in these data were the
similarities not the contrasts in children’s responses to the medium of instruction.
Rather, our data suggests that the medium may have less to do with learning than
the message itself. For example, our analysis of children’s vocabulary and
comprehension of the individual stories suggested that some were harder to
understand than others. Even though these stories were presumably on the same
level (e.g., easy to read according to the Flesch readability formula), there were
significant differences in all three measured outcomes. Children had more limited
understanding of Ish, and Valentine compared to the other two stories, and
importantly, were less likely to be motivated to read or view a story with a similar
character or theme.
Our thesis was confirmed following the examination of the interaction of story
and treatment effects. Regardless of the medium of presentation, children appeared
to have more limited understanding of certain stories than others. This suggests that
neither medium was able to bolster children’s comprehension when the story was
perceived to be difficult or not motivating. At the same time, however, it suggests
that neither medium was superior to the other.
These results could further buttress Clark’s thesis (1983), suggesting that we have
overestimated the means of delivery and have underestimated the importance of the
content conveyed in the media. This thesis offers exciting possibilities, especially
for low-income children. It suggests that different forms of content delivery,
specifically a live presentation and a digital presentation may provide rich
opportunities for developing vocabulary, background knowledge, and comprehen-
sion. These results further confirm findings from a study by Korat and Shamir
(2007) who found similar effects for vocabulary learning between a real-life reader
compared to a video presentation. Similarly, Silverman (2013), in a more recent
Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
123
study, found no differences in vocabulary learning between video viewing and book
reading conditions.
Although certainly not a substitute for parent–child interactive reading, digital
stories from quality media sources such as Speakaboos may represent an important
source of learning for young children. Recognizing that the skills of vocabulary and
comprehension start early on and develop over time, digital stories may provide
engaging and multidimensional supports for enhancing opportunities to learn
(Verhallen, Bus, deJong, 2006). This might be especially important for those
children from low-income communities who have had fewer experiences in
listening to read alouds, and fewer experiences with words in a variety of contexts
(Verhallen & Bus, 2010). Note also, that children’s comprehension of these stories
occurred without instruction or prompting support.
These results provide further confirmation that the interpretative processes in
both print and video may be similar across media presentations. For example, in a
previous study, we asked fifth graders to think aloud as they read and viewed
episodes from two mystery stories. We found that the actual strategies such as
predicting, questioning, and inferencing which children used, were similar across
different media presentations but the source for their strategies were somewhat
different (e.g., using action rather than character descriptions; Neuman, 1992).
These findings led us to propose a theory of synergy (Neuman, 1995,2009), which
suggests that multimedia presentations, specifically repeated presentations through
reading and video can be used to complement learning, engaging children in using
multiple cues for comprehension. Building on this study and previous studies in the
literature, future research should continue to consider the important role of digital
stories and live read aloud presentation used in concert on word learning and
comprehension.
There are, of course, limitations in our study. For one, our sample size was small,
and relatively homogeneous. All children came from an economically distressed
community and all were eligible for free and reduced lunch. Therefore, we cannot
generalize to a larger, and more heterogeneous population. Furthermore, given the
sample size, our study may have not been able to detect small, but educationally
important differences over time. Second, our findings are confined to examining
children’s comprehension of stories, not their learning gains from digital stories or
live storybook readings. To do so would have required pre- as well as posttests
measures, which might have created pretest sensitivity, a critical internal validity
problem. It might also have seriously extended the assessment period, trying the
patience and attention of young preschoolers. In addition, our measures make have
lacked the sensitivity necessary to detect subtle differences in how well children
understood or could articulate their understanding of these stories. Although we
used two measures of comprehension (e.g., retelling; and story sequencing) to
address this problem, we still may have underestimated their ability to demonstrate
their understanding. We also recognize that the context of our analysis may not
represent the ideal circumstances under which children are read to or listen to a
story in a digital format. In both contexts (Strouse, O’’Doherty, & Troseth, 2013),
supportive adults may potentially scaffold children’s experience with stories which
would have implications on their learning. And finally, given the sample size and
S. B. Neuman et al.
123
design, we could not explore the potential mechanisms that might account for
differences across stories and children’s comprehension.
With these considerations in mind, the results of our study suggest that both
digital stories and in-person storybook reading are both fertile ground for learning
vocabulary and comprehension. Consequently, rather than either/or, we should
probably promote both-and, recognizing that both approaches to storybook reading
provide children with rich opportunities to learn in ways that are highly engaging
and motivating. It also suggests that content, not medium, matters and that stories in
either form are most engaging when they are best understood.
Appendix: Examples of coded student recalls
From Sid the Science Kid (Digital storybook)
The story was about a dog. That’s it.
And then he’s gonna tell the teacher about the animals.
And she saw bumble bees
(Score: 3 (introduction, and two events))
From Sid the Science Kid (In-person reading)
The boy saw two dogs.
He saw his new grandma dog.
Then he saw another dog
(Score: 3 (three events))
From Superkids (Digital storybook)
It was about being the superheros
And the slide in the park.
That’s it.
(Score: 2 (introduction, one event)
From Superkids (In-person reading)
The boy was a superhero.
When the superheros stopped the sticky stuff.
When he messed up the playground.
(Score: 3 (character and two events))
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Content not form predicts oral language comprehension
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... Teachers and researchers rely on curriculum-based measures (CBMs) for assessing the early development of unconstrained skills when few measures possessing desirable psychometric properties are available or appropriate, such as story listening comprehension (Paris and Paris, 2003), writing, and content-specific vocabulary (Halvorsen et al., 2012;Neuman et al., 2017). Additional measures such as story sequencing tasks, or free and/or prompted recall (as used, e.g., in Paris and Paris (2003) or Rumenapp et al. (2015)) and assessments of task-specific or story-specific vocabulary learning are also exceedingly useful for instruction and planning. ...
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The nature of the literacy assessments valued in the persistent accountability climate within U.S. public education, coupled with an increasingly polarized discourse around what counts as the science of reading (SOR), have resulted in instructional gatekeeping that privileges constrained skill teaching and learning in K-3 settings. The gatekeeper phenomenon is an urgent issue of equity, with children from minoritized populations bearing the brunt of the disparity. By highlighting how commonly enacted policies and practices around assessment and accountability withhold unconstrained skill teaching and learning due to pressure to prove student success via constrained skill mastery, we demonstrate how some students, often the most marginalized, receive insufficient literacy instruction in K-3. To fully actualize an expansive definition of the SOR, an expansive definition of assessment and accountability must also be adopted - one which attends to constrained and unconstrained skills while utilizing appropriate measures to document learning beginning in the earliest grades.
... Puisque même les plus jeunes sont exposés aux technologies numériques au quotidien, les parents peuvent se demander en quoi se compare le partage des livres numériques à celui des livres imprimés (41). Des études récentes portent à croire que l'apprentissage précoce est semblable dans les deux médias (49,50), mais de solides données probantes démontrent encore que, même lorsque les parents sont investis et l'enfant attentif, le partage de livres imprimés enseigne l'alphabétisation précoce et les habiletés langagières et favorise l'attachement mieux que celui des livres numériques (24,41,51,52) : ...
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Résumé Le présent document de principes aidera les dispensateurs de soins à évaluer l’alphabétisation précoce dans les familles et à leur donner des conseils, et ce, dans presque tous les contextes d’exercice. On y définit les habiletés d’alphabétisation émergente, y compris l’apprentissage précoce du langage et des récits oraux, et on y explore les bienfaits de la lecture, de la parole et de la chanson auprès des nourrissons et des tout-petits, tant pour eux que pour les adultes qui en sont responsables. La lecture partagée au coucher et d’autres habitudes liées au langage ont un effet positif sur la santé familiale, relationnelle et socioaffective. L’exposition précoce à la langue parlée à la maison peut contribuer à l’alphabétisation dans les autres langues auxquelles l’enfant pourrait être exposé. On y trouve enfin des recommandations particulières pour les cliniciens qui conseillent les familles en matière d’alphabétisation précoce.
... With even the youngest toddlers regularly encountering digital technologies in their everyday lives, parents may wonder how e-book sharing compares with printed books (41). Although recent studies suggest that early learning is similar across the two media (49,50), evidence remains strong that even when parents are engaged and toddlers are attentive, sharing printed ...
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This statement will help health care providers assess and advise on early literacy with families in almost any practice setting. It defines emergent literacy skills, including early language learning and storytelling, and explores the benefits of reading, speaking, and singing with infants and toddlers for both children and caregivers. Book sharing at bedtime and other language-related routines positively affect family, relational, and social-emotional health. Early exposure to any language, when spoken at home, can benefit literacy learning in other languages children may encounter. Specific recommendations for clinicians counselling families on early literacy are included.
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This study examines the potential of educational media to provide preschool-aged dual language learners (DLLs) with vocabulary in a new language. Drawing from dual-coding theory, the current study investigated how three distinct instructional contexts with varying degrees of incidental–intentional vocabulary exposure on screen might facilitate second language (L2) vocabulary development. Instructional contexts included participatory contexts that engaged viewer attention and elicited viewer response surrounding a vocabulary word (least incidental, most intentional), expository contexts that provided explicit visual-auditory vocabulary scaffolds (somewhat incidental, somewhat intentional), and narrative contexts that embedded vocabulary words in conversations within a storyline (most incidental, least intentional). The study used a within-subjects design with 50 preschool-aged DLLs. Children watched nine 2-minute video clips, followed by vocabulary knowledge assessments. Findings indicate that instructional contexts were differentially facilitative in helping DLLs identify words in a new language, F(1, 47) = 11.003, p = .002. Moreover, L2 proficiency moderated the influence of instructional contexts on vocabulary identification but not word meaning. Results suggest that media programs with relatively intentional exposure to vocabulary words on the incidental–intentional continuum may scaffold L2 word learning better than incidental exposures. Implications on the critical role of incidental vocabulary exposure in media learning environments for preschoolers are discussed.
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Background The array of availability of diverse digital reading applications, the mixed results emerging from small-scale experimental studies, as well as the long-standing tradition and range of known positive developmental outcomes gained from adult-child storybook reading warrant an investigation into electronic storybooks (e-books) by performing a meta-analysis, which includes recent studies. Objectives The overall purpose of this meta-analysis is to examine the impact of e-book reading on language and literacy development of young children when compared with traditional reading of print books with or without adult scaffolding in a structured and controlled environment. Methods This meta-analysis includes experimental studies published between 2008 and 2021 with a target population of 3–8 year-olds (n = 2.317). Results and conclusions Analyses indicated a small positive effect for e-books when compared with print books on language and literacy development [g = 0.25; 95% CI = (0.09, 0.42)]. A moderate positive effect was found for vocabulary learning, [g = 0.40; 95% CI = (0.10, 0.69)], especially in relation to expressive vocabulary [g = 0.54; 95% CI = (0.08, 1.00)]. In addition, we found a significant positive correlation between multimedia e-books and the development of code-related skills. However, no significant differences were found between e-book and print book reading in relation to story comprehension. Implications Findings showed that digital features combined with adult scaffolding produced significant positive effects when compared with traditional print book reading with adult support. The findings have practical ramifications, since they can help researchers and educators identify which digital features have the greatest influence on improving children's language and literacy skills when engaging with e-books. Lay Description What is already known about this topic • Print book reading along with adult scaffolding has been proven to promote young children's language and literacy development. • Electronic storybooks (e-books) aimed at young children are equipped with several multimedia (such as animation, music and sound effects) and interactive features (such as games, hotspots, and the availability of a dictionary function) which may resemble adult scaffolding. • In accordance with past experimental studies, e-books and specifically the number of features included or the frequency they appear on an e-book may have detrimental effects on learning. • While many experimental studies investigated and compared the educational value of e-books against print books in terms of language and literacy development, overall findings are inconsistent and conclusions vary. Thus, a meta-analysis was performed, given that this educational medium will continue to expand in its use and will continue to make its way into the early year's classroom. What this paper adds • A set of 29 studies published between 2008 and 2021 including 44 comparisons were included in this meta-analysis. We limited our search to studies that used e-books with children between the ages of 3 and 8 years with and without adult scaffolding. • Within the included experimental studies in the meta-analysis, the overall results of this study indicated a small positive overall effect favouring the e-book condition, however effect sizes vary across studies. • E-books were found to be beneficial for vocabulary learning, for both expressive and receptive vocabulary. In addition, we found a significant positive correlation between multimedia e-books and the development of code-related skills. However, no significant differences were found between e-book and print book reading in relation to story comprehension. • Findings showed that digital features combined with adult scaffolding produced significant positive effects when compared with traditional print book reading with adult support. Implication for practice and/or policy • Findings in this meta-analysis are pertinent to parents, educators, legislators and software developers who are making software decisions that will affect early childhood students' education and development. • Our meta-analysis highlights the fact that when children are using an e-book without adult scaffolding their learning and development depends on the variety of features embedded in e-books which, more often than not, are contrasting one another. Each feature, depending on the frequency and timing included in an e-book, may harm or support children's learning. Looking closely at the studies included in this meta-analysis, the studies that offered multiple interactive and multimedia support features did not benefit children as well as the print storybook condition with adult support. Most commercially available e-books do not include features that resemble extraneous support (e.g., adult scaffolding) and as a result, e-books may not be able to replace adult scaffolding. In order to reduce cognitive load designers should take into consideration Mayer's multimedia principles. • The evidence from this study suggests that activities such as storybook reading accompanied with adult-child dialogic interactions offer a unique experience and play an important role in language and literacy development—regardless of book type.
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La lettura rappresenta una attività fondamentale per lo sviluppo della comprensione linguistica. Al fine di indagarne la relazione, è stata condotta una rassegna della letteratura che ha preso in esame gli studi di ricerca empirica nei quali fosse messa alla prova la relazione tra pratica della lettura e abilità di comprensione. Tutti gli studi hanno consentito di rilevare effetti positivi delle pratiche di lettura sulla comprensione. L'analisi dei contributi selezionati ha anche fatto emergere come la maggioranza delle ricerche si concentrino sulla fascia di età relativa alla scuola primaria e come vengano evidenziate connessioni ad altri aspetti dello sviluppo linguistico, alla promozione di un atteggiamento positivo nei confronti della lettura, alla motivazione, alla socializzazione, alle competenze emotive e alla comprensione della realtà. Poca attenzione sembra invece essere dedicata a quali siano le modalità ottimali di lettura (per favorire lo sviluppo della comprensione). I risultati suggeriscono la necessità di una maggiore riflessione sulla didattica della lettura ad alta voce (o lettura mediata) che favorisca una precisa individuazione di didattiche per la lettura ad alta voce, al fine di individuare azioni concrete da promuovere sia nei contesti scolastici che extra-scolastici (Batini & Giusti, 2021).
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In this invited article, the author critiques some of the most often-cited scholarship on children’s early language development and its relationship to children’s learning. She suggests that Hart and Risley’s work, Meaningful Differences, adopts an implicit deficit perspective, and makes unwarranted claims about the impact of children’s early language on their later thinking and learning abilities. In contrast, she proposes an alternative framework that validates the rich and generative language capacities that children bring with them to school (including poor children, dual-language learners, ethnolinguistic minority children, and children who struggle in school). She argues that using "vocabulary size" or "language deficits" as an explanation for school failure locates school failure in children (with no credible basis) rather than in schools as places where children are failing to, but can, under the right circumstances, learn extraordinarily well.
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When Marshall McLuhan first coined the phrases "global village" and "the medium is the message" in 1964, no-one could have predicted today's information-dependent planet. No-one, that is, except for a handful of science fiction writers and Marshall McLuhan. Understanding Media was written twenty years before the PC revolution and thirty years before the rise of the Internet. Yet McLuhan's insights into our engagement with a variety of media led to a complete rethinking of our entire society. He believed that the message of electronic media foretold the end of humanity as it was known. In 1964, this looked like the paranoid babblings of a madman. In our twenty-first century digital world, the madman looks quite sane. Understanding Media: the most important book ever written on communication. Ignore its message at your peril.
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This study compared the effectiveness of computer video display tube, videotape, and live adult reading modes of instruction in teaching children vocabulary. The same pictured story was implemented in three modes, computer VDT display of still story pictures in color with an accompanying sound track, videotape presentation of the fully animated story, and a picture book whose pictures and narrative matched those of the VDT-computer mode. 78 normal preschool children were presented the story in one of three modes of instruction. The novel words to be learned were embedded in the story as nouns, verbs, and affective state adjectives. Postexposure tests of word recognition showed a small but significant advantage for live voice reading for two of three recognition tests. The VDT and videotape modes did not differ from each other in effectiveness.