“Pick out any book you want.” These are the words my preschool tutor said to me when I was seven years old and still couldn’t read. My mom had already tried everything: flashcards, bedtime stories and several programs promising increased literacy in young children. But all of them ended with me sitting on the floor still trying to pronounce banana while flashcards and magnets containing different vowels and consonants covered my body. Luckily, working with a tutor was the last stop before reading became less of a struggle and more of a favorite pastime for me. When I look back on the differences in teaching methods between the failed and successful attempts at my literacy, I can’t help but think of all the techniques that my tutor used with me involving audio and video, helping me to understand the story—not just isolated words on a flashcard. We’d sit there in front of each Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bear book. My tutor would point to every word while I looked at the corresponding picture; she repeated each sentence three times, after which I mimicked it all back to her. Instead of flashcards sticking to my body, I now had the words actually sticking in my mind. The techniques my tutor used with me remind me of the ones used by Scholastic’s Listen and Read program and Disney’s Digital Books to help improve the reading skills of students.
Both of these products take advantage of different sensory techniques normally used by people to obtain information. Scholastic’s Listen and Read program provides photographs pertaining to the topic of each book, allowing children the opportunity to see cultural artifacts such as a hogan, which is a Navajo house made of mud and wood. The Disney Digital Books program utilizes illustrations on each page to help children visualize the characters and events taking place within a story. At the end of these books there are interactive games that pertain to each story, giving children the chance to engage with the text. Since both products cater to children’s visual needs, they allow children to experience the story environments in a more enhanced fashion.
Audio components also play a role in these products. Disney Digital Books provide recordings of the stories in multiple languages. The books also integrate musical scores from movies, such as the The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” helping children to immerse themselves in the tone of the story while stimulating their creativity. Listen and Read also provides recordings for each story, a feature enabled when children click the LISTEN button on each page. This option provides an opportunity for children to listen to vocabulary as often as they need.
For young readers, these different visual and audio components are what can help a text become more than just words on a page. Being able to picture, hear and imagine the stories help children think of reading as an experience rather than an obstacle. They can go on a journey with the characters and events, and with different modes of accessibility, children can follow along whether at home on a computer or on the bus ride to school with a tablet.