Educational Apps Don’t Go Beyond ABCs

Education has taken on a new dimension with the advent of interactive apps and e-books— or at least it should have. But literacy experts are arguing that the most popular education apps do little to promote real reading comprehension in children.

In an article posted on Slate, Lisa Guernsey and Michael Levine — co-authors of “Pioneering Literacy in the Digital Wild West,” a new report from the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading — unpack the claims made by many apps that they help children learn to read. They call the world of educational apps a “digital Wild West.” Apps market themselves as improving literacy, but parents have few ways of knowing how effective they are. According to the authors’ report, they are nowhere near as effective as they should be.

The majority of the most popular reading apps focus on phonetics rather than reading comprehension. They teach the ABCs, but in reality they are little more than glorified flash cards.

The authors found that among the iTunes App Store’s most-downloaded literacy apps, 50 percent focused on phonics, while 45 percent covered letters and sounds. In the crucial areas of vocabulary and reading comprehension, the numbers are considerably lower: 5 percent and none, respectively.

The authors’ examination of e-books yielded a similar story. Instead of using a tablet’s unique interactive features to teach children how to create and understand a story, many e-books have become another method of occupying children.

“By contrast, good e-books for building strong readers will ask questions that lead to interactions with on-screen images that add meaning to the story or help reinforce the storyline,” the authors wrote.

After the third grade, children’s classroom learning becomes dependent on their ability to read. Difficulties reading impact not only their language arts classes, but also their science classes, their social studies classes, even their math classes. Educational apps and e-books that take full advantage of their medium have

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Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.

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About Claire Perlman

Claire Perlman is a senior at UC Berkeley who covers Technapex's higher education beat. She is majoring in English literature and worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.