Memory Research News in Children's Learning

Picture overload hurts preschooler's word learning

  • A study has found that having more than one illustration results in poorer word learning among pre-schoolers — but this can be mitigated if the reader draws the pre-schooler’s attention to each illustration.

When you're reading a picture book to a very young child, it's easy to think it's obvious what picture, or part of a picture, is being talked about. But you know what all the words mean. It's not so easy when some of the words are new to you, and the open pages have more than one picture. A recent study has looked at the effect on word learning of having one vs two illustrations on a 2-page open spread.

The study, in two experiments, involved the child being read to from a 10-page storybook, which included two novel objects, mentioned four times, but only incidentally. In the first experiment, 36 preschoolers (average age 3.5 years) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions:

  • one illustration (the illustration filled the page, with the text written as part of the illustration, and the opposing page blank)
  • two illustrations (each illustration filled its page, on opposing pages)
  • one large illustration (the page was twice the size of that found in the other conditions) — this was the control condition.

Children who were read stories with only one illustration at a time learned twice as many words as children who were read stories with two or more illustrations. There was no difference in reading time, or in the child’s enjoyment of the story.

In a follow-up experiment, 12 preschoolers were shown the two-illustration books only, but this time the reader used a simple hand swipe gesture to indicate the correct illustration before the page was read to them. With this help, the children learned best of all.

In fact, the rate of word learning in this last condition was comparable to that observed in other studies using techniques such as pointing or asking questions. Asking questions is decidedly better than simply reading without comment, and yet this simple gesture was enough to match that level of learning.

Other studies have shown that various distractions added to picture books, like flaps to lift, reduce learning. All this is best understood in terms of cognitive load. The most interesting thing about this study is that it took so little to ameliorate the extra load imposed by the two illustrations.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/uos-poh063017.php

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-07/w-tno071217.php

Also see https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/psychology/2016/10/24/how-storybook-illustrat... for a blog post by one of the researchers

Reference: 

[4285] Flack ZM, Horst JS. Two sides to every story: Children learn words better from one storybook page at a time. Infant and Child Development [Internet]. Submitted :n/a - n/a. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/icd.2047/abstract

Is it really better to read print books to your toddler?

  • A comparison of non-interactive electronic books and their print counterparts has found that toddlers learned more from the electronic books, but this was accounted for by their greater attention and engagement.

A new issue for parents to stress over is the question of whether reading digital books with your toddler or preschooler is worse than reading traditional print books. Help on this complicated question comes from a new study involving 102 toddlers aged 17 to 26 months, whose parents were randomly assigned to read two commercially available electronic books or two print books with identical content with their toddler (this was achieved by printing out screenshots of the electronic books).

The books included familiar farm animals (duck, horse, sheep, cow) and also wild animals (koala, crocodile, zebra, and lion), some of which were new to the children). After reading, the children were asked to identify three of the familiar animals and three of the unfamiliar.

The electronic books included background music, animation and sound effects for each page as well as an automatic voiceover that read the text aloud to the child, but there were no actions or hotspots for extra features.

Compared to those who read the print versions, toddlers who read the electronic books:

  • paid more attention
  • made themselves more available for story time
  • participated more
  • commented more about the content.

While parents tended to point at the print book more often, there was no difference between the books in the amount they talked with their children about the story. However, parent–child pairs spent almost twice as much time reading the electronic books than the print books.

Overall, children did significantly better on the learning task when they had read the electronic book. However, analysis showed that the benefit was accounted for by two variables:

  • attention
  • availability for reading.

The researchers note, however, that this may not be true of all electronic books. Previous research has suggested that highly interactive electronic books may distract from learning.

Additionally, the simplicity of electronic books for toddlers may be much better. Books for preschoolers, on the other hand, are more narrative, requiring readers to integrate content across pages. In this circumstance, electronic books may be more distracting.

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-06/f-sto062117.php

Reference: 

[4283] Strouse GA, Ganea PA. Parent–Toddler Behavior and Language Differ When Reading Electronic and Print Picture Books. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2017 ;8. Available from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00677/full