Learning to Read Online

Virginia Heffernan's article about literacy in the age of the Internet was quite interesting. Her three-year-old son does not consider Starfall, pictured above, to be reading. Ms. Heffernan explores the relation between literacy, reading, and the printed word and how reading from a laptop or monitor fails to reproduce the reading experience with the tangible book being held by the reader.

I decided to give Starfall a try this week with two classes of Kindergarten students, to whom Starfall is geared. These students typically want to do nothing more than play Marble Blast during their weekly computer time, so I was expecting a bit of a fight to interest them in the site. We started by doing a few activities in Kidspiration: letter patterns, recognizing upper-case and lower-case letters, and identifying words that start with "b" or "m." As the students finished those projects I transitioned them to Starfall. I asked them to start with "b," "d," "p," and "q" as these letters are frequently confused and substituted by these students. I was pleasantly surprised by the students' reactions to Starfall.

The web site was engaging to these students for the reasons Ms. Heffernan had a problem with it: there is much animation to hold the attention, songs, and an emphasis on graphics rather than a screen full of words. For each letter there are several examples of words that start with the letter and some animation to hold the students' attention. These students have pretty short attention spans, so the lessons are fast-paced and do not overwhelm the students with too much information.

For these students raised as digital natives, I think tools like Starfall prove to be great resources for pre-literate children. Anything that can hold their attention and teach them about the sounds letters make and how letters, when properly combined, create words, is an effective tool, in my opinion. It may not be the type of literacy lessons that Ms. Heffernan or I recognize from our youth, but for these students it is the type of lesson that seems to work best for them.