A Human-Computer Partnership: The Tutor/Child/Computer Triangle Promoting the Acquisition of Early Literacy Skills

Fall 2008

Source: Journal of Research on Technology in Education. Vol. 41, Iss. 1; Fall 2008. p. 63-85
(Reviewed by The Portal Team)

This study involved the analysis of the complex interactions that take place between tutors and preschool children using a computer during early literacy tutoring sessions.
The objective was to observe how the software would influence the tutoring process.
The guiding research question was:
What are the key behaviors exemplified by the tutors and students that represent constructive (and inhibiting) instructional/motivational factors in interaction with the computer?

Eight five-year-old pre- and early-readers (four boys and four girls) attending a childcare centre participated in daily 20-minute tutoring sessions for two weeks.
The literacy software (a beta version) was especially designed to guide tutors while working one-on-one with elementary school students falling into the lower 30% of reading achievement (i.e., at-risk).

Parent surveys, videotaped tutor/child sessions, independent observer data, and tutor reports yielded rich descriptions of the tutor/child/computer process.
The data showed a pattern of almost instant "learner-centeredness"-children felt almost immediately comfortable with the triadic environment. They quickly became active participants rather than passive observers in the process. They displayed interest in, and achievement of the software-based literacy tasks.

Furthermore, when a tutor was "uninspired" (e.g., personality, tired, new), the child tended to focus on the computer software and what it had to offer, such as interesting visuals of animated alphabets and lively characters. When the approach of the tutor was affective,
s/he became more the center of attention. The needs of the child were thus met by a dynamic balance between tutor and computer, with the child as an active member of the process.

In addition, one of the central themes that emerged was the tutor's consistent use of scaffolding strategies to help the child progress, or to sustain the child's interest and motivation. The use of the scaffolding strategies might be a direct result of the tutors' backgrounds-thai is, all four tutors were student teachers in an elementary teacher training program that adheres to the use of a constructivist and child-centered approach to early childhood and elementary education.

Rigorous grounded theory analyses generated three comprehensive themes:
rapport, motivation, and scaffolding.
The first focused on interpersonal issues, the latter two on teaching/learning.
Implications for practice are discussed.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2008