By Kelly Santana-Banks
Who here never felt torn about letting your son play computer games for longer than he should?
Or how about letting your daughter catch up on a few hours of her favorite TV program while you get dinner ready or help your old son who struggles with math homework?
There is no doubt that children’s use of technology is a hot-button issue. As parents, we tend to have a more conservative approach. But as online media continues to evolve, educators are the ones particularly interested in how technology and digital tools impact children’s learning.
YouTube is one of the most popular places for kids to engage in digital media. In fact, since its inception in 2005, it’s been used by millions of people around the world. Kids use it for just about anything, including entertainment, education, and even professional development.
And, yes, like any digital media, the use of YouTube can be a gray area in the classroom. But as a former teacher, I attest that educators are skilled at balancing their resources while creating limitations on their usage.
Teachers have been creative in developing strategies to bridge gaps between the school curriculum and their students, such as using YouTube to help students who struggle with academics.
As this research by Mullen & Wedwick explains, teachers make good use of YouTube videos, digital storytelling, blogs, and other online resources to create a rich learning environment. By creating diverse strategies for the needs of each student, they complement classroom content. Not only that, but through the use of online videos, children are able to learn songs, write songs of their own, and use the songs as mnemonics while growing their literacy skills.
As children are free to create with digitals tools, digital storytelling and YouTube bring endless possibilities–my favorite part about it.
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How Digital Tools Can Work Together
In digital storytelling, your child can bring stories to life through various multimedia tools.
First, they draft a script. Then they develop the personalities of the characters who will be part of their story. Finally, they use pictures or sketches to create a storyboard.
When using media to create and manipulate their stories, characters, and settings, kiddos have fun learning. They can use software to create sound effects and record narrations while giving voice to their characters. Video-editing software such as Movie Maker (Microsoft) and iMovie (Apple) are frequently used for these tasks.
On YouTube, your children can watch educational videos to reinforce what they learn. They can upload their own stories to YouTube to encourage others to engage with their stories. Preteens and teens can engage in discussion by commenting on the videos.
Teachers have found positive results with this approach as an invaluable instrument to help children build vocabulary and grammar skills, foster creativity, and improve writing skills. And as parents, you can do too.
How Digital Tools Can Improve Children’s Learning
Once, I had the pleasure to work with a creative third grader over the course of a semester on a digital storytelling research project. His name is Dillan. Dillan was interested in reading and writing comics and found ideas for his stories from television shows, books, and YouTube videos.
Digital tools can improve children’s learning. Through my rich interaction with Dillan, this is what I found:
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1. Help Improve Language Development
Dillan liked to read Bionicle books and watched the series on YouTube to find inspiration for his stories. This series features sci-fi, cartoon-style books, and online stories children post of their pretend play with Bionicle action figures.
Bionicle books gave Dillan inspiration to create his own characters and the videos influenced the development of his stories.
That gave Dillan the ability to use vocabulary words in different ways. In his videos, he incorporated words from everyday life such as nuts, fix, snap, and cool. But while weaving the stories, Dillan learned how to use the words in a different context.
If your child is like Dillan, when they engage with a rich learning environment that offers meaningful context for learning, they build vocabulary and sharpen language skills.
If used the right way, YouTube and digital storytelling can become powerful tools for the development of language, especially in reading and writing.
2. Assist in Building Visual Literacy
According to research, digital stories and YouTube can be also valuable tools to build students´ visual literacy. The use of animation or “visual in motion” on digital stories and YouTube facilitates encoding—especially for visual learners.
Based on the YouTube videos, Dillan created his stories following the structure of the sci-fi and superhero cartoons, with plots about revenge, victory, saving the world, and peace. He also used the animation in those videos to create his characters.
While working on digital stories, Dillan sometimes repeated their dialogues in his writings. And I’m sure that at some point, you have seen your kid acting the same way.
Like Dillan, when your child emulates the characters in digital media or incorporates elements of what they see in their homework, drawing, or creative play, that supports the literature findings. When children interact with the content in a meaningful way, they become active learners.
3. Aid in Increasing Critical Thinking
In post-creation, Dillan showed a good level of listening accuracy and a high level of comprehension during discussion. He remembered events in the story and the reasons why they happened.
Araujo explains that students can better their skills in reading and writing when they discuss literature through stories. When a teacher talks with students about what they see in the stories and tests them for comprehension, students build on their knowledge and improve their critical thinking skills.
That is the same mechanism you use when you read out loud to your kid and prompt them with questions as you move along the stories to get them engaged.
Final Considerations on Ways Digital Tools Can Improve Children’s Learning
Although the Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations for children’s media screening varies by age and type of media, according to a study by Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University, it doesn’t have to be too restrictive. Media use can bring great results when used purposefully and with guidance.
Digital media use shouldn’t be restricted to the classroom alone. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can make great use of those tools to provide enriched learning opportunities. Free apps such as Toontastic or Sock Puppets (this one is only available in the iOS version) can help kids transition from writing to building their own stories, even at home.
I recommend the use of YouTube Kids, which blocks inappropriate content that might be found on the regular YouTube channel. Commonsense Media has created a guide to help in this decision.
In the end, we all play a role in modeling healthy ways to work with digital tools. Whether we guide children to learn new words in different contexts or help kids create their own meaning of the world through stories, the key is to provide the right tools to make this happen.