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Cognition and technology: scaffolding early literacy through ICT

Dr Tim Waller
University College Northampton, email:

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University of Lisbon, 11-14 September 2002


The aim of this paper is to begin to describe and evaluate the characteristics of successful interaction between children and teachers, when using ICT for literacy. The paper will draw from insights offered by recent European and international research from the sociocultural perspective in order to carry out a detailed examination of the 'scaffolding' process and its role in supporting teaching and learning with ICT.

The paper also discusses a research project, carried out in primary and nursery school classes, in the UK, with children aged between 3 and 8 years, over a period of two years. The research was designed to explore how children use computers to read and write in the classroom and to investigate the teachers' style of interaction when supporting children's literacy with ICT. A range of methods, including video recordings, observations, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were used to gather and evaluate data from children and teachers.

Data from the project, in particular video material, will be reviewed and a conceptual position advanced in the light of the results of the study. The paper will conclude with a discussion of possible ways forward for research in the field of early literacy and ICT.


The purpose of the paper is to examine the role of the teacher in supporting young children's literacy learning with information and communication technology (ICT). The paper begins with a brief identification of consistent themes emerging from recent research concerning ICT and pedagogy (Collis et al., 1996; Littleton and Light, 1999; Moseley and Higgins et al., 1999; Somekh and Davis, 1997; University of Warwick, 2000, etc), ICT and literacy (Barker et al., 2000; Leu, 2000; Labbo et al., 2000; Reinking et al., 2000) and ICT and young children (Baker, 2000; Casey, 1997; Luke, 1997; Roskos and Hanbali, 2000; Rivalland, 2000).

A wider view of the social context of literacy and ICT is then expounded to consider how teachers 'scaffold' children's learning at, with, around and through the computer. This analysis draws upon recent work in the field of cognitive psychology pertaining to the situated and distributed nature of children's learning (see, Crook, 1994; Littleton and Light, 1999; Scardamalia et al., 1994; Wegerif and Scrimshaw, 1997). The sociocultural approach taken in the paper emphasizes the shared construction and distribution of knowledge around and through the technology (Cole, 1995; Greeno, 1997; Lave, 1988; Edwards and Mercer, 1987; Rogoff, 1990; Pea, 1993). It is also argued that there is need to take into account the wider political, social and cultural context of ICT, so as to fully understand the nature of classroom interaction (Crook, 1994; Hewitt and Scardamalia, 1998; Luke, 1997; Säljö, 1999). This approach enables a focused consideration of the role of the teacher in supporting children's literacy with ICT (Mercer and Fisher, 1998; and Wegerif and Scrimshaw, 1997) and has influenced the development of 'knowledge building communities' (Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994; Hewitt and Scardamalia, 1998).

The paper contends that this 'situative' perspective, because of its attention to the nature social interaction, offers a view that may help to explain how teachers can best interact with children to support their learning. Different models of teacher assistance are then explored in order to establish the role of guided participation and scaffolding learning in relation to ICT and early literacy.

In the second section of the paper a research project carried out in twenty primary school classes with children aged between 3 and 8 years is discussed. Previous papers given at ECER (see Waller, 1998 and Waller, 2000a) have reported the project in more detail, discussed ICT and literacy, and provided an overview of preliminary findings. The intention of this paper is to present the conclusions to the project, focusing particularly on evidence from video material of teacher-child interaction in the context of literacy and ICT activities, and the teachers' comments following their viewing of the video material. Young children in nursery and school at the present time are active participants in a community and a culture where the use of technology is a regular, and growing, part of daily life (Luke, 1999; Roskos and Hanbali, 2000 etc). This paper will argue that it is this experience and awareness that has potential for teachers to build on in the classroom, in order to help young children towards literacy.

The paper concludes with a discussion the findings of the study in relation to previous research and makes a number of specific points about the nature of teacher-child interaction around the computer during literacy sessions. The problematic nature of identifying and describing scaffolding and joint activity in the classroom is considered and a conceptual and theoretical position will be advanced in the light of the study to suggest ways forward for research in the field.

Emerging themes from recent research on ICT and pedagogy

A number of consistent themes have emerged from the literature and these are now briefly reviewed in order to clarify the position regarding the use of ICT in the literacy learning of young children, and identify an appropriate research agenda.

Information technology has become part of everyday life and its use is now common place in both personal and business spheres, and by children from an early age. In the United Kingdom (UK) the introduction of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) into primary school classrooms has been one of the most significant changes in recent years. Although there has been considerable interest in the UK, and throughout the world, in the impact of computers on education (Collis et al., 1996; Leu, 2000; Luke, 1999; Somekh and Davis, 1997, etc), there has been relatively little published research on how the technology may best be used. As Collis et al. (1996: 117) suggest, there is "no simple answer about how best to use computers in education". Further, almost all of the research conducted, so far, into the influence of ICT in the classroom has been with secondary and older primary children. Relatively few studies have focused on the use of technology by children under eight years of age (Baker, 2000, Labbo, 2000; Luke, 1999).

a) Further insight is needed into instructional approaches with ICT

As Baker (2000) has pointed out, a considerable body of research has investigated aspects of the integration of literacy instruction and technology, but few studies have examined the instructional approaches used for such integration. Following Moseley and Higgins et al. (1999: ix), the overall conclusion reached from the analysis of the available literature suggests that "there were clear possibilities for ICT but that were no guaranteed solutions as to what would work in a particular context". The use of ICT in the classroom is dependent upon a range of contextual variables (Collis et al., 1996; Bruce, 1997). These involve not only a teacher's particular skill and confidence in using the technology, but also their understanding of how ICT can be beneficial to learning, and crucially the participation, skill and understanding of the children. Labbo et al. (2000) offer a model for investigations of early literacy and technology in the classroom, where ICT is integrated into normal practice and Haugland and Wright (1997) argue that this practice must be 'developmentally appropriate' for children's learning to benefit. The critical issue about technology and young children is not if it should be used but how it is best used to enhance their development.

Further , as Topping and McKenna (1999), Labbo and Reinking (1999) and Leu (2000) argue, whilst the current educational focus on print-based technologies has been a very important and useful one, electronic literacies are rapidly changing and children need to be prepared to use and understand them. Electronic Literacy refers to literacy activities (for example, in reading, writing, and spelling) that are delivered, supported, accessed, or assessed digitally through computers or other electronic means rather than on paper. Leu (2000: 1) suggests that "the rapid appearance in many of our classrooms of networked information and communication technology (ICT), such as the Internet, requires us to fundamentally redefine our understanding of the literacy curriculum".

Also, as Daiute (2000) and Rivalland (2000) point out, children need to be taught critical literacy so that they are aware of the values in all texts and can evaluate and make use of these texts within appropriate contexts.

In future, a great deal more work needs to be undertaken on investigating the pedagogy of teaching and learning with ICT, especially in early years environments. Further research is needed to better understand the learning paths for teachers and children using ICT in a particular context. Very few studies have focused on the individual teacher's and child's use in the classroom. Collis et al. (1996: 117) argue that the whilst the impact and problems of ICT are the same across cultures, and that children are generally benefiting from and enjoying their use of computers when they have access, the teacher is a critical influence.

b) The 'scaffolding' role of the teacher in teaching and learning with ICT is crucial

Collins et al. (1997) point out that the potential of ICT is rarely realised because the effective use of software is dependent on the teacher providing appropriate support or 'scaffolding' for learning. Whatever the suggested benefits of a particular type of software (or hardware), it is when the teacher assists and guides the child's learning that these benefits are fully realised (Mercer and Fisher, 1997a; Waller, 1999). Medwell (1998), also, argues that talking books are used most effectively to support reading with the teacher, not as a replacement for the teacher. Technology on its own does not enhance learning; teachers need to incorporate ICT very carefully into the curriculum. The role of the teacher in facilitating learning experiences at the computer is, therefore, seen as highly significant. The teacher is the main defining influence on the structure and outcomes of a computer based activity (Mercer and Fisher, 1997a). The teacher shapes the children's learning through setting up the activity, interventions made during activity and the ways (before and after time at the screen) children are enabled to relate the activity to other educational experience (1997a: 210). Mercer and Fisher discuss a conception of scaffolding that offers a signpost for further educational research. Their conception of scaffolding is one where teachers support children's problem solving without taking over responsibility and use specific discourse when intervening in children's learning. Mercer and Fisher, however, do not consider how teachers' cognitive support may be planned and designed in terms of computer related activities and this is something that could be usefully pursued in future research. They suggest that:

If we can describe and evaluate the ways that teachers attempt to scaffold children's learning with computers then we might be able to help teachers understand and perform their role in supporting children's computer based activities.

(Mercer and Fisher, 1997a: 210)

Scanlon et al. (1999), argue for a methodology in which the data collection also focuses on children's and teacher's perceptions of the purpose of the tasks set and the history of the interaction and collaboration of the community of enquiry.

c) Consideration of how ICT impacts on children and the world of childhood is important

A noticeable trend within the literature on ICT and learning (Collis et al., 1996; Knezek et al., 1996 and Luke, 1999, for example) is that there has been relatively little concern about the impact of the computer on the child. Luke (1999) has argued that digital and electronic media has a significant influence on childhood and she suggests that children's early literacy and play experiences are shaped increasingly by electronic media. The work of Yelland (1999) concerning the influence of digital toys on children's play experiences is a useful starting point for investigations of their early literacy development.

The possibility of children developing an appropriate ICT capability also depends on their access to computers at both home and school and it should be recognised that in some schools there are limited resources and there is a also a variable provision at home (Sanger, 1997; Downes, 1998). There are, therefore, obvious problems of access and equity. Whilst it is not the purpose of this paper to consider these issues in detail, it should be acknowledged that there is a serious concern that electronic literacy will merely further the advantage of the already advantaged, giving rise to the emergence of an 'information underclass' (Downes, 1998; Topping, 1997; Rivalland, 2000). Topping (1997: 4) argues that those disadvantaged by socio-economic circumstances and/or learning disabilities should be the subject of positive discrimination. He suggests that "they need a 'head start' in electronic literacy, if they are not to be left even further behind. This implies exposure at a very early age and continuing high-quality support".

Further, there is increasing interest in the potential of supporting family literacy with new technology. The integration of electronic literacy with family literacy has been termed 'family electronic literacy' (Topping 1997). Topping and McKenna (1999) advocate an approach to 'family electronic literacy' that builds on the objectives and strengths of family literacy and parental involvement in reading schemes (Topping and Wolfendale, 1987). There is, however, only limited published research into this development as yet (for example, Hughes and Coyne, 1996; Labbo and Watkins, 1996). Lynch (1998) demonstrates how ICT can be used to promote successful links between schools and the local community and Leask et al. (2000) discuss a number of projects in the UK to linking home and school use of ICT, in particular the Dockland's Learning Acceleration Project in London (see Barker, 2000).

Future research into the nature of interaction and scaffolding around computers in the classroom can build on insights from knowledge building communities ( Hewitt and Scardamalia, 1998) that can be allied to the work of Mercer and Fisher (1997a), Wegerif and Scrimshaw (1997) and Littleton and Light (1999) concerning scaffolding, talk and ICT. However, in order to identify and fully explain the nature of situated and distributed cognition involved, the research must also recognise the wider context (Luke, 1999; Säljö, 1999), as well as collecting data which analyses the classroom context in which children and teachers are working and learning. Crucially, the research will need to take into account the children's and teacher's perceptions of this context (Scanlon et al., 1999).

Finally, Labbo and Reinking's (1999) view of technology in literacy instruction as a set of possibilities in relation to 'multiple realities' offers a framework for research. The perspective of multiple realities allows for the consideration of the extremely rapid advances of digital technologies that make it difficult, but not impossible, to create any meaningful, stable research-to-practice connection. Further, they support the view of Leu et al. (1999) who advocate explorations of computer-related literacy innovations that are conducted throughout a network of teachers who are willing to form a learning community that extends beyond the walls of the classroom or school environment.


The process of scaffolding is now explored in some detail in order to inform the background to the research project focusing on the interaction between children and teachers when using ICT for literacy.

Through the process of 'scaffolding', the adult guides and supports the child's learning by building on what the child is able to do (Wood et al., 1976; Bruner, 1978; Wells, 1987; Tharp and Gallimore, 1998). Originally, little attention was paid to the means by which the transfer of responsibility from the adult to the child was accomplished. As Tharp and Gallimore (1998: 99) point out, there are various means of assisting a child's performance and they are all qualitatively different. More recent discussions of the term scaffolding have, therefore, included a greater emphasis on the specific mechanisms of transfer (see Bruner, 1983). Stone (1998) identifies a move from an emphasis on relations in which the adult is directing to an emphasis on mutuality. This trend can be discerned in the terms used to describe the scaffolding process: guided participation (Rogoff, 1990), instructional conversation (Tharp and Gallimore, 1988) and guided co-operative learning (Brown and Palinscar, 1989).

Cook and Finlayson (1999: 96) have suggested that teachers need to make decisions about the use of ICT before children are involved and that these advanced decisions about how software supports the learning activity can be termed 'pre-scaffolding'. For Tharp (1993) assisted performance begins with a child's current level of thinking and understanding, consequently allowing the child a meaningful role in the setting of the instructional task or goal. The process includes helping behaviours by the teacher that assist the child to pursue these goals and move from one level to the next; by pulling performance from the child, so a productive communication or creation by the child is the vehicle for instantiating new knowledge (Tharp, 1993: 272). In assisting children's performance teachers need to have a clear view of learning goals and recognise that their role is that of supporting learners in such a way as to allow them gradually to do more for themselves. The amount of assistance offered, and the manner in which support is given, will vary from child to child, across time and in relation to the difficulty of the task (Bruner, 1985). Tharp outlines seven strategies that can be used by teachers to assist performance so that an instructional conversation can be established.

  • Modelling: allowing the child to observe the way an experienced person accomplishes a task,
  • Contingency management: the teacher makes use of rewards and sanctions so that the learner is supported in completing the task,
  • Instructing: especially useful when the learner cannot manage everything alone, the teacher provides information or asks for a particular response so that the learner can help make decisions which help them forward,
  • Questioning: the teacher tries to help the learner think through ideas to make a talk response which is more significant than could have been made without the 'probe'.
  • Cognitive structuring: the teacher offers structure or explanation which helps the learner make sense of their new learning.
  • Task Structuring: the teacher organises the task so that learners, with this support, are able to operate in the ZPD when, without this help, the task would be too much for them.
  • Feedback: this allows the learner to judge how close his or her effort is to the target to be achieved.

(Tharp, 1993: 272)

The most effective of all these strategies, is according to Tharp, that of providing feedback because this allows the child to assess how close her or his efforts are to the objective to be achieved.

Scaffolding and ICT

The role of the computer in supporting educationally valuable and collaborative activities has been reported in a number of recent studies, influenced by the sociocultural perspective (Crook, 1994; Littleton and Light, 1999; Scardamalia et al., 1992; Wegerif and Scrimshaw, 1997, for example). In particular, Mercer and Fisher (1997a) examine the role of the teacher in supporting children's learning through ICT. They consider how teachers scaffold children's learning at the computer and argue that contextual factors are a highly significant influence on this process. For Wegerif and Scrimshaw (1997: 3), the sociocultural perspective is centrally concerned with the role of computers in supporting the talk between teachers and learners that carries the development of understanding in the classroom. In terms of teaching and learning with ICT the focus of the research within the social constructivist approach has, therefore, been on observing and analysing the interpersonal interaction shaping children's response to cognitive challenge; with the emphasis being on talk between children in the context of collaborative computer activity.

The quality of understanding that learners acquire through the use of information technology in the classroom is not, and never will be, determined by the quality of the 'interface' between the learner and the technology. Quality of understanding, the nature of educational knowledge is determined by a much more complex contextual system which is inseparable from how education is defined in our culture...this culturally-based contextual system is continually created and re-created in the classroom through interactions between teachers and learners.

(Mercer, 1993: 37)

The sociocultural perspective is, as Säljö (1998) points out, concerned with how computers uniquely transform the way in which human cognitive activity is organised. This view is also concerned with how technology reorganises the interactions of children and teachers.

Wray and Medwell (1998) draw on the work of Palinscar and Brown (1984) who have described a teaching model based on the ideas of 'expert scaffolding'. The model, derived from the ideas of Vygotsky (1978), implies that there are four stages to the teaching process: demonstration, joint activity, supported activity and individual activity. Cook and Finlayson (1999) argue that the combination of learning support with ICT is a significant 'joint activity' (see Table 1 over). They see this as:

The way that learners and the learning support mechanisms of teacher, computer program and fellow group members work together so that the highest possible level of performance becomes achievable.

(Cook and Finlayson, 1999: 100)

Table 1 demonstrates the possible contribution of different support mechanisms in a classroom with ICT. However, this model deviates from Cook and Finlayson's original in that ICT is recognised as a tool and a 'medium' (Cole and Griffin, 1987) and therefore placed in italics. The reason for the change is that ICT is not an equal partner; there is a danger that if the skilled assistance of the teacher and peer group is subtracted, only the computer software is left for support.

As Labbo (2000) has shown, the computer on its own is not necessarily going to help scaffold children's learning. In this case the assisted performance is not the same, and whilst a learning model based only on computer aided instruction may please some administrators and politicians, it is far removed from authentic learning (McFarlane, 1997). Whereas the combination of assisted performance illustrated in the table represents a useful synergy, the reciprocal roles of the teacher and child are the most significant and, arguably, should be happening anyway. The moot question is what does ICT add to the possibilities of assisted performance? How does the presence of technology encourage and facilitate teacher's and peer's engagement in assisted performance, and in a more productive way than might otherwise happen? These questions are now considered in the research project discussed over.



Computer Software

Peer Group


Through whole class demonstrations of software, offers a model of the process

Can take a pupil step by step through a procedure

Children often model for each other particular techniques or moves in problem solving tasks


Indicates to children the acceptability of their problem-solving approach and procedural steps

Offers information to the learner which allows for self correction

Children guide the thinking of others by their comments, suggestions, corrections

Contingency Management

Celebrates success as part children reporting phase to encourage a desired behaviour in others

Success with tasks or the application of specific tasks or problems solved is highly motivating

Peer pressure influences the behaviour of group members


Part of the teacher's introduction and task setting

Often, programs re-offer problems in a Way or request learners to carry out specific activities

Children direct others as a result of their own experiences


Requires from the learner a verbal response which comes about as a result of more sophisticated thinking

Programs contain specific problems Which must be solved before moving onto the next phase

Children challenge each other by their questions about actions, techniques or world knowledge

Cognitive Structuring

Part of the teacher's task-setting decision making, making goals clear, explaining procedures

Provides clues, offers suggestions uses formats known to the children

Peer tutoring activities, when one child gives hints to others

Task Structuring

Helping learners to work through component parts of the task so that they are actively working in the ZPD

Breaking down the task into component parts and re-presenting these as a series of manageable steps

Help with suggestions about actions drawn from their own experiences.

Table 1 Tharp's (1993) Strategies for assisted performance, related to ICT (Adapted from Cook and Finlayson, 1999: 100)

The Research Project

The research discussed in this paper is part of a long-term research project investigating the use of information and communication technology by children in the classroom between the ages of 3-8. In particular, the research is focused on the use of ICT to support literacy. The overall project is concerned with investigating the following general research question:

What is the role of the teacher in literacy teaching and learning with ICT?

Initially a pilot study was conducted with children aged 5 -7 to test a quasi-experimental research design and a particular intervention programme involving ICT and writing (see Waller 1998). As a result of the pilot the research was focused on investigating the nature, context and the quality of teacher-child interactions when using ICT in literacy. The first phase of the project involved working with teachers on a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course concerning literacy and ICT in classes with children from the ages of 4-7 years. The analysis of data gathered as a result of this course focused on the wider context of the integration of ICT into classroom teaching and learning and was reported in Waller (1999) and Waller (2000b). The responses of the children and teachers involved in the study at that stage suggested that the impact of the computer in the wider community, and the comparative inability of schools to keep up with these developments, has given rise to two different ICT experiences and cultures for many children. Thus, the paper discussed the possibility of a mismatch between ICT in school and outside school. Learning with ICT at home (for those who have access) is not constrained by issues of time, space, curriculum and access to up to date equipment, as it is in school. The teachers involved in the project were generally positive about ICT and have a conception that computers should be of value to them and their children, but evidence discussed in Waller (1999) suggests that they are underestimating children's experience and confidence with ICT and, unwilling too take risks with their classroom practice.


The overall method of the research project was reported in detail in Waller (1999). Following this a further CPD course concerned with literacy and ICT has taken place with teachers working across the 3 to 8 age group. The course followed a similar pattern to the original and was designed to start with the development of teachers' personal ICT competence by introducing them to e-mail and the Internet and then evaluating software and exploring literacy teaching and learning with ICT. Later on in the course the teachers were involved in multimedia authoring and constructed their own web site for early years, literacy and ICT . Further research data was gathered and partly evaluated during the CPD course and follow up visits were made to a selection of classrooms and schools in the following two terms. As a result of both CPD courses a total of 25 teachers have been involved in the research.

Video Data

Following the CPD courses six teachers and their classrooms were identified in a stratified sample for further research involving videotaping (VTR) of literacy sessions that included ICT. This phase of the research concerned two nursery teachers (children aged 3 and 4 years), one reception (children aged 4 and 5 years), one Year 1 ( children aged 5 and 6 years) , one Year 2 (children aged 6 and 7 years) and one Year 3 (children aged 7 and 8 years). Each classroom was visited for the equivalent of four literacy sessions, where VTR was made and field notes were taken. For the nursery and reception settings, a morning or afternoon session was recorded, as they did not follow the National Literacy Strategy (NLS), which in the UK has a prescribed literacy curriculum for one hour per day, known as the 'Literacy Hour' (see Wray and Medwell, 1998). The Year 1, 2 and 3 classrooms were visited when the literacy hour was taking place and ICT had been planned to support literacy. The teachers were asked to carry on with their normal programme and not change anything during the research. Different locations were used for the ICT support for literacy. The two nursery and reception classes had access to multimedia computers in the classroom and they were used regularly by a range of children, with and without teacher support, for different activities. The Year 1 and Year 3 teachers (different schools) both used a computer suite to support literacy with ICT. Although both these classrooms had access to computers these machines were older and, according to the teachers, did not run the appropriate software for literacy. The Year 2 class investigated in the research had access to two computers in a shared annex/library area outside the classroom.

The VTR was analysed using the categories identified by Palinscar and Brown (1984) in their model of teaching. Field notes were also taken at the same time. Analysis was structured in twenty-minute segments to be consistent with the various components of the literacy hour. On the VTR analysis sheets a category was assigned if teacher interaction was longer than 30 seconds. An example of the VTR analysis is given below in Table 2 .

Table 2 VTR Analysis Sheet Teacher W PM (Nursery)

Table 2 shows teacher interaction over a twenty-minute period in a nursery class. The teacher sat with three children, each child operating a computer. The children were engaged in making books using the program 'Bailey's Bookhouse'. At the start of the period the children were using the programs independently. After four minutes the teacher sat down next to one of the children and another child came and sat on her lap. The teacher was then engaged in a variety of interaction with the children. After 14 minutes one child finished her book and the child sitting on the teachers lap moved onto a chair to start using the computer. Teacher W then talked through the procedures necessary to operate the program (demonstration) with this child.

One of the features of this sequence (along with other recordings made in nursery and reception classes) was the significant amount of time the teacher was engaged in joint activity (7 minutes). Compared to the Year 1, 2 and 3 classes, the time spent in joint activity in Nursery and Reception was much higher. The number of adults that are available to support children in the classroom is clearly a variable that could affect the time a teacher can engage in joint activity. In the nursery and reception classrooms observed the number of adults present always included a teacher and two nursery nurses or classroom assistants for each 'class' of up to 30 children. Thus giving an adult child ratio of 1:10, or better. In the KS1 and KS2 classes observed, there was only one occasion where an adult other than the teacher was present. This was in a Year 3 class where a Special Needs Support Assistant was working with a child who had Cerebral Palsy. The adult child ratio in these classes was therefore in excess of 1:25.

Figure 1 (over) shows the frequency of observed interaction for literacy and ICT. It is noticeable that joint activity was significantly higher in nursery and reception classes (42) and individual activity is much higher in Years 1, 2 and 3, especially Year 3. In the UK the curriculum for nursery and primary education is organised as follows:

The evidence from the VTR shows that the nursery and reception teachers spent 36 per cent of the observed time engaged in joint activity and 28 per cent of the time supporting children. Demonstration and individual activity were equally distributed at 18 per cent.

In comparison, the Key Stage One (KS1) and Key Stage Two (KS2) teachers spent 20 per cent of their time in demonstration, 15 per cent on joint activity, 22 per cent supporting children's learning and for 43 per cent of the time the children were involved in individual activity

Figure 1 Frequency of Observed Interaction (by type)

A more detailed analysis of the joint activity was then undertaken using a combination of the categories of assisted performance identified by Tharp (1993) and Palinscar and Brown (1984). Joint Activity is defined using the following characteristics:

Style was further broken down into the consequent teacher behaviours:

A . Starts with a child's current level of thinking and understanding

B . Allows the child a meaningful role in the setting of the task

C . The teacher assists the child through skilful helping behaviours, discourse strategies and feedback

D . A productive communication or creation by the child is the vehicle for developing and maintaining new knowledge

Each episode of Joint Activity identified in the VTR was then coded. For example, in Table 3 and Table 4 (below).

Table 3 Teacher W (Joint Activity Session 2 pm)

Table 4 Teacher R (Joint Activity Session 1)

The data revealed, once again, a significant difference between the Nursery and Reception teachers and those in KS1 and KS2. In terms of time, interactions were shorter on average for KS1 and 2 teachers. Analysis of style resulted in Nursery and Reception teachers consistently demonstrating characteristics A, C and D. Whilst the KS1 and KS2 teacher's Joint Activity is mainly described by characteristic C (see Table 5 , below).



Time (over 20 min)





Ave 7 mins

Mainly A, C, D (some B)


KS1 and KS2


Ave 2.5 mins

Mainly C, (some D)


Table 5 A comparison of Joint Activity between
Nursery/Reception and KS1 and 2 Teachers

Interviews were then conducted with the teachers after the VTR was made. These involved showing the teachers selected sections of VTR followed by a semi-structured interview that was audio recorded. Teachers were asked about their style of interaction and how the evidence recorded on the VTR compared to their previous perception of their interaction.

Two features emerged from this phase of the research:

1. A common response was that the teachers expressed surprise at how little time they were directly engaged in joint activity with the children. Also, they were concerned by the amount of time they were involved in dealing with technical support (printing etc).

For example,

Teacher A: (Class newsletter using MS Publisher)

After demonstrating the activity, I had planned to support the children's ideas, but when I saw the video I could not believe that I moved around the computer suite so much. I was mainly responding to what I thought were technical problems, like children losing text or coming out of the program. I am sure that some of the children could sort this out themselves.

2. Several teachers commented about how well some of the children supported each other when they were engaged elsewhere.

Teacher R: The video was really interesting. I had never really noticed how well Liam and Jane worked together on the computer, before. Jane is much more dominant in the classroom. With the book review on the computer they collaborated well.


From the observations, interviews and video recordings made in the six classrooms four features concerning teacher interaction emerge from the data analysed and a further three themes are identified from data provided by the children.

1. Joint Activity

Relatively little evidence of any 'joint activity' or 'scaffolding' was actually observed or recorded, except in nursery and reception classes. Generally, teachers tended to instruct children in the use of a program, sometimes used ICT for demonstration, and then tended to leave children to work on computers independently, unless a technical problem occurred. Only one class in the research sample had access to a large screen for whole class teaching and this was not used during the observations. The focus of the teacher language and interaction tended to revolve around management or technical matters concerning the functioning of ICT, such as printing. During the 24 observed sessions ICT was used mainly for individual activity in the teaching and learning of literacy.

When ICT was used in the KS1 and KS2 classes, it tended to be for individual activity that quite often involved copying up and printing out using a word processor. In both nursery classes and the reception class the use of ICT to support literacy was observed on every visit. Other classes made variable use of ICT in the classroom (or just outside). On only three occasions was a computer suite observed for literacy activities; twice in a Year 3 class using MS Publisher to produce a class newspaper and once in a Year 1 class using Clicker 3 to support individual word level work. A typical sequence is described by Teacher C (a Year 1 teacher). She was asked to describe how she used ICT in her literacy teaching.

Teacher C: I teach it as a whole class, I sit the children down and show them how to use it and perhaps ask some out to do examples. They have free access in using the program that is set up and I might go over and ask questions as and when I notice them getting stuck or have a problem. My major problem with ICT is that children get out of the program and then are in something else which is totally inappropriate like the Internet or some word processing package they have no concept of and they manage to loose things like a picture on a screen.

Also, I asked a reception teacher (Teacher U) if she thought her teaching style was different when using ICT.

Teacher U: You need to instruct more. You have to instruct on how to use the mouse and how and how to use the keyboard.

These comments support the assertion that a major focus for teachers, when using ICT for literacy, is to ensure that the children are able to successfully access and use a program. Once this competence is achieved teachers, involved in the research, then tend to leave children to work on computers independently, unless a technical problems occur.

2. Age Specific Teaching Style

The teachers who were involved more in joint activity with children tended to teach in the younger end of the age range, particularly in the nursery classes. In the nursery there were several recorded incidents of joint activity taking place over fifteen minutes. From Year 1 up the common time for interaction was fifteen to thirty seconds with one and a half - to two minutes the maximum observed interaction (see Table 5 ). A range of factors may have contributed to this observation. Nursery (and reception) teachers tend to have more adult support in the class and the organisation and curriculum may allow for a more interactive and facilitating style of teaching (Meade, 2000). It may also have been because these teachers had more freedom because they were not constrained by the NLS. Certainly the KS1 and KS2 teachers were observed in joint activity during the literacy hour, but not involving the computer.

The different experiences of the children in the nursery were also recognised by teachers of reception classes. For example,

Teacher U: In the nursery their equipment is better (up to date) and then the children come from nursery to here and it's a disappointment. They've got all the programs plus more adults to interact with the children.

Thus, whilst an 'Age Specific Teaching Style' is most clearly demonstrated by the different approaches between teachers involved in teaching the Foundation Curriculum (QCA, 2000) and those involved in teaching the National Curriculum (DfEE, 1999), there was also a discernible difference between Nursery and Reception classes in the research sample.

3. Difference between belief and practice

The teachers involved in the research acknowledged the role of joint activity in literacy with ICT, but were not often observed putting it into practice! For example, Teacher R (a Year 2 teacher) discussed the types of interaction that she thought take place between her and the children, when using ICT to teach literacy.

Teacher R: I explain how they could set the program up and what words they could put in it. I use the activity to involve children in questioning.

Teacher R suggested that the features of successful literacy teaching using ICT involve teachers interacting with children to provide feedback, and that the children gained more out of the activity with teacher support. Ironically, this teacher was not observed interacting with children using ICT, after she had set up the activity on any of my visits. Her actions may partly be explained by the location of the computers in a corridor outside the classroom, a factor that could have limited her opportunity to interact with the children using ICT. When I discussed this with Teacher R in a follow up interview she expressed surprise at her lack of interaction that was revealed by the video evidence. She offered the following explanation for her lack of joint activity with children using ICT in literacy sessions:

I tailor lessons to suit ICT, but I can see that I do not use the full potential.

What does this 'potential' involve, in terms of ICT and literacy?

Interacting more with children at the time and providing feedback. The children really seem to enjoy using ICT, but get more from teacher involvement I think. I need to build ICT into guided reading and shared writing more, which means having J (the Classroom Assistant) working in the classroom to keep an eye on the children.

What has prevented you from doing this more often?

Lack of time and confidence. More (CPD) courses would be good.

Thus, the evidence from this study suggests that, whilst teachers recognise that the potential of ICT in literacy sessions is best fulfilled through teacher interaction and joint activity, not only do teachers need to believe that ICT is a valuable tool, they also need to carefully and creatively plan for joint activity around the use of the software.

4. Software knowledge

The teachers recognised that it was important to have a detailed knowledge of a range of programs that support early literacy. When I asked the teachers what would help them become better at integrating ICT into their literacy practice, the factor they all commented on was the need for time to explore and learn about the relevant software for themselves (as with Teacher R, above). The CPD course evaluations also highlighted the value of time spent investigating software and the relevant web sites. For Labbo et al. (2000), the teacher's knowledge of software was also seen as a significant factor in the success of their teaching. This question needs further exploration. Does the teacher's knowledge of software have any bearing on how, and how well, they interact with children using ICT? Is knowledge of software linked to the teacher's ability and willingness to integrate ICT into the literacy curriculum? For example, I asked Teacher S if she felt that anything hinders teaching and learning with ICT? She replied:

Having time to look at resources and what is available.

What would help you become a better teacher with ICT?

Being able to sit and look at all the programs, having facility to have a central bank of resources where programs are available. That seems to be the weakness - not having software available to know if it's relevant.

The responses in the interviews indicated above, in addition to those revealed in the questionnaires, have implications for the training of teachers in the use of ICT, both at undergraduate level and for CPD. The teachers involved in the research recognise that competent teaching with ICT involves specific and detailed software knowledge as well as curriculum application, thus linking with the previous point concerning the need for careful planning. Effective teaching of literacy with ICT is, therefore, not solely concerned with confidence and competence in a range of generic IT skills. As Labbo et al. (2000) suggest, teachers need to become as familiar with the appropriate literacy software as they are with children's literature. A further possibility is the increased involvement of teachers and children in the design of educational software in order to structure programs to meet the needs of particular learning environments and social contexts (see Wegerif and Scrimshaw, 1997).

The Children

The children involved in the research were aged from 3 to 8 years and were taught in a variety of classroom organisations from single class groups based on age, to mixed age classes and team teaching in open plan classrooms. Interviews and teacher designed surveys of children's attitude and experience of ICT outside school were the primary data source. Evidence from the VTR was also available. Interviews were conducted with two groups of four children chosen randomly by the teacher from each class. The children were interviewed in a separate room and the dialogue was tape-recorded. The groups of children selected were mixed, with a gender balance and 'rules' established before the interview started. The children were asked questions in turn and then invited to join in the discussion when a classmate had completed their response. All the children who were interviewed, apart from one, said they had access to a computer at home. As reported by their teachers, the children generally expressed a very positive attitude towards computers and many were observed to be very confident users of ICT. A number of themes can be identified from this data.

a. Assisted Performance

When they experience teacher support the children appear to be aware of value of the joint activity. In the classrooms where significant joint activity was observed children commented favourably on their teacher's support, and recognise its value.

Class K: They help you when you're stuck on it. They help you do some reading or if the computer crashes. She breaks up the words for you so you can read it......Mrs C helps us send e-mails to Mrs M in Australia, who was our old class teacher. I really liked that.

Class B: She shows me how to play on it.

In other classes where less joint activity was observed the children made comments like:

They don't help us we do it on our own.

They don't help you?

No, sometimes they just play with the other people and we just play on the computer on our own.

However, the validity of the interviews is questionable. For example, in Class B (age 4 and 5), where joint activity was observed, some of the children interviewed commented that the teacher did not work with them at all on the computer and just worked with other groups on a table.

b. Computer assisted learning

Even the youngest children appeared to be aware of how programs could support their literacy development. For example, children in Class C (aged 5 and 6) when asked if they thought computers helped them learn, said:

Yes, to follow instructions. PB Bear will tell you what to do.

Does the computer help you to read and write? Yes.

How does it do that?

You put words in and when you click on it, it tells you the word. Then you get to learn it, if you don't know it.

Also, when children in Class U (aged 4/5) were asked if they thought they might be making some books in literacy sessions, they commented:


Will the computer help you do that?

Yes, it might have some words to show you.

To show you what letters to use?

Yes, I might print out some pictures too.

The children here are demonstrating knowledge of themselves as learners with ICT, and at a metacognitive level, are showing signs of learning to regulate their own thinking about how ICT can support their literacy development (Brown and Palinscar, 1986; Galton et al., 1999).

c. 'Mouse Wars'

Some of the children were more concerned with using the computer mouse to establish control. As with Labbo et al. (2000), I observed that some children appeared to be centrally concerned with gaining control of the mouse and then appeared to click randomly around the screen until they highlighted the correct response by chance, thus not reinforcing any literacy learning, such as sound-symbol correspondence. In particular, four boys (in Class U) who were at an earlier stage than their peers in literacy development, were observed using literacy programs in this way. At no stage during the observations did the teacher interact with these children concerning literacy. Independent activity, in these cases, did not appear to result in any learning gains. This observation is an example of the important role the teacher has in engaging children in joint activity, helping to focus their attention and providing a model of literate behaviour, etc. The observation also helps to identify an issue that has implications for future research into literacy instruction - how can teachers effectively support children's ICT experiences and link them with the literacy curriculum, in general?

Labbo et al. (2000), in their case study of a kindergarten computer centre, suggest that an effective use of the technology is when the teacher supports children's literacy needs by targeting time in the computer centre. Here, through joint activity children's comments and thinking are linked to the cross-curricular themes (what Labbo et al. call 'thematic units') and literature-based activities occurring in the classroom. They argue that as a result of these 'targeted moments' the children in the class have common purposes, goals and processes, when using literacy software in the computer centre. The conditions that are established by the teacher in the 'targeted moments' allow children to collaborate successfully with each other thus avoiding mouse wars and thereby focusing on concepts that were supported by the content and interactive features of the software. For Labbo et al. (2000: 4), "These type of activities provide children with opportunities to develop richer understandings of concepts and discover inter textual connections".


The data generated by the research, through the questionnaires, interviews, surveys, classroom observations and VTR, has revealed a range of interesting and useful information that has helped to address the research questions A large quantity of data was generated by the focus on teacher-child interaction and as a result this chapter has given considerable attention to the various perceptions of this interaction. In particular, the research has started to unpick the style and characteristics of joint activity between children and teachers, when using ICT for literacy. These are seen to be variable and determined by context, especially 'Age Related Teaching Style', but involve conscious decisions to plan in 'targeted moments' for ICT and literacy. It is clear that KS1 and 2 teachers also feel restricted by the NLS and the location and arrangement of computer suites.

Children have different motivations for using literacy-based software. Some children, especially boys, were focused on gaining control of the mouse. Children's motivations were also quite often different to those of the teachers who were concerned to complete literacy teaching objectives (especially those prescribed by the NLS). However, the children in general were highly positive about ICT use and understood the benefits of teacher interaction and assisted performance during literacy sessions. They all requested more time for computer use within the classroom routine.

Teachers generally advocated using ICT to support literacy and are aware of the benefits of software knowledge but are not building it into their teaching programmes. However, there was evidence that these beliefs did not always match their practice. Electronic literacy in terms of e-mail and the Internet has had a very limited, variable impact on learning in classrooms, so far. This study has found relatively little evidence that ICT has influenced a change in the classroom teaching and learning of literacy. The research has started to evaluate the role of the teacher in literacy teaching and learning with ICT and to describe ways in which teachers attempt to scaffold children's literacy learning with computers.


The evidence collected and examined during the research for this project suggests that, so far, ICT has not had a significant impact on literacy learning in the classrooms investigated. There was a noticeable difference in time and style of interaction between nursery and reception teachers and those in KS1 and KS2 classrooms, categorised as 'Age Specific Teaching Style'. A feature of Age Specific Teaching Style was that the nursery and reception teachers spent much more time engaged in joint activity with children. The KS1 and KS2 teachers' practices, however, were subject to and influenced by the National Curriculum and the NLS. In the KS1 and KS2 classrooms observed, ICT was found to be used mainly for independent activity by children.

As Cuban (1993) and Säljö (1998) have pointed out, classrooms may be too well 'buffered' to be much affected by computers and indeed may assimilate ICT entirely into their existing way of doing things. For Säljö (1998: 61), "although computers have the potential to reorganise learning interactions in a variety of significant ways, everyday experience suggests that social institutions have remarkable capacity for neutralising the effects of new developments, technological or otherwise". A further challenge for early years teachers in the UK, is that at the same time that the availability of new technology that can support literacy has increased, the NLS has been introduced. Dombey (1998), for example, questions whether 'developmentally appropriate practice' is encouraged by the NLS. Haugland and Wright (1997: 10) have argued that when technology is used in developmentally appropriate ways "children are participatory learners" and that "teachers who provide children with developmentally appropriate computer environments capitalise on children's intrinsic motivation". This approach was seen as a characteristic of the Age Specific Teaching Style followed by the nursery and reception teachers whose classrooms were investigated. However, because of the time-scale for activities and expectations of children's performance, it may well be that the literacy curriculum and associated practice in KS1 and KS2 restricts opportunities for teachers to engage in much joint activity with ICT during literacy. Further, the history of the particular classroom learning community and style of interaction was largely determined before ICT was added to the context. In the classrooms investigated, therefore, it appeared that teachers were not necessarily changing their teaching as a result of ICT.

My original hypothesis that the use of ICT facilitates greater opportunities for scaffolding early literacy is, therefore, not proven in this study (if the age range for early literacy is determined as 0-8 years). The question of why ICT has not led to a significant change in primary classroom environments in the UK has been consistently posed over the last decade or so (see, for example, Heppell, 1993 and McFarlane, 1997). This critical question needs to be examined in the light of the political control over schools, the power relationships in the classroom, the global influence of multinational computer companies and emerging cultural practices associated with the Internet.

Scanlon et al. (1999) argue for a methodology in which the data collection also focuses on children's and teachers' perceptions of the purpose of the tasks set, as previously discussed. The findings of the research suggest that the children's and the teachers' perceptions of the purpose of the tasks set were quite often different. The two different groups also expressed two different perspectives on the use of ICT, when interviewed. The children frequently commented that they wanted more time for ICT in literacy lessons, whilst the teachers' main concern was to enable children to complete all the planned activities within the framework of the NLS. Also, several of the participating KS1 and KS2 teachers expressed concern at the recent increase in popularity of 'computer suites' in primary schools. These are dedicated ICT rooms used by different classes on a rota basis. Whilst these rooms may have some benefits in terms of teaching ICT skills to large groups, the teachers argued that they hinder the integration of ICT into the literacy curriculum and, as Galton et al. (1999: 196) point out, are seen as an inefficient use of the technology. Several teachers expressed the opinion that if a number of machines from the suite were placed in each classroom ICT would more effectively support literacy. Topping and McKenna (1999) argue that expensive software and hardware are not effective if not used or not used well. Further, they also contend that the trend towards the provision of computer suites outside of the classroom might inhibit wider access and the perception of computers as an everyday all-purpose tool.

Research undertaken for this project would confirm that the situative perspective is one that can reveal worthwhile insights into the nature of teaching and learning literacy with ICT. This perspective recognises the role of the teacher in facilitating literacy learning experiences around the computer as highly significant. However, whilst Mercer and Fisher (1997a: 210) argue that the teacher is the main defining influence on computer based activity in the classroom, it should also be acknowledged that children bring expectations and experience to the context of using ICT for literacy. The children involved in the research recognised that computers assist their learning, both in general and with literacy. Also, when the children were involved in joint activity they welcomed the context of assisted performance. However, it was apparent that in many classrooms children do not receive much adult support in their computer activity, once they have learned to access the software (a similar deduction to Downes, 1996). As with Facer et al. (2000), this study found that many children feel that they have IT skills and that they gain them outside school. There is therefore a strong argument that the role of the teacher changes as a result of the introduction of ICT into the classroom. This new role includes providing opportunities and contexts to exploit the potential of children's experience of electronic literacy in the wider community.

The emphasis is on the way in which teaching strategies are necessarily based on, and responsive to, the state of understanding achieved by particular children (Lepper et al., 1997; Rogoff, 1991; Rogoff and Gardner, 1984). For Maybin et al. (1992: 187) the metaphor of scaffolding is assumed to be useful to teachers because it directs attention to the quality of their participation in the learning process. Here the opportunity to develop 'mutuality' is important (Stone 1998). However, translating to the classroom context a term originally defined in child psychology for use in one to one interactions with a parent or adult care-giver (e.g. Rogoff and Gauvain, 1986), is problematic.

Tharp and Gallimore (1998), also, noted that accurately tuned adult assistance does not always occur in the classroom. A major variable is the nature of the task or performance. If efficient production is needed then the adult will be more likely to be more directive and less tolerant of costly child errors. But when the development of independent child skill is defined as a goal then the pattern of assistance provided by the adult is more responsive, contingent and patient. In terms of literacy, the NLS implies considerable teacher direction to achieve pre-determined targets (Whitehead, 1999). It was noticeable in this study that, in the KS1 and KS2 classrooms following the NLS, teaching appeared heavily focused upon pursuing established learning objectives, rather than evoking and assisting children's responses. However, Tharp and Gallimore (1998) argue that even when instructional practices allow for increased use of assisted performance (as in the case of the nursery and reception teachers involved in the research), it will not necessarily appear as a regular feature of the teacher's activity. Teachers need to be trained to use it.

A further problem is to decide what counts as scaffolding and what is only help.

In the research it was necessary to analyse each VTR episode and data collection sheet several times in order to establish the nature of the teacher child interaction. However, whilst the purpose of this study was to describe and evaluate the ways that teachers attempt to scaffold children's literacy learning with computers, a major difficulty was encountered in attempting to identify and interpret teacher behaviour and joint activity with children around the computer. As Stone (1998) and Maybin et al. (1992), for example, have argued, whilst the concept of scaffolding is extremely appealing it can be very difficult to identify in practice. T he characteristics of assisted performance (proximity, time, style, attention) identified by Tharp (1993) and Palinscar and Brown (1984) that were used to define joint activity and analyse the VTR did seem appropriate. However, as a result of interviews with teachers after the filming, it is apparent that a further defining characteristic of assisted performance is that of 'intention'. The teachers observed did not engage in joint activity by accident - they intended to use ICT as a context for assisting children's performance in literacy. Where joint activity did not take place, it was, in the main, not planned for.

As Scrimshaw (1997: 112) has pointed out, "teachers need more opportunity and support in using new technology in collaborative contexts so that they can identify problems and possibilities and find ways for them to model these activities in their own practice with learners". Further, Scrimshaw argues that it is no use just giving children access to ICT - teachers have to carefully bring its use into their teaching technique and method. Clearly, teachers need to be competent and confident users of both the hardware and software but, as Somekh (1997) argues, on its own this is not enough. Teachers need to know their children's capabilities and interests, understand how to organise their classroom and to structure the teaching of their children so that ICT resources become an integral part of the learning.

Future research needs to consider how joint activity may be planned and designed, in terms of ICT and literacy. Further investigation into the nature of interaction and teachers' cognitive support around computers in the classroom can also build on insights from knowledge building communities (Scardamalia etc). However, in order to identify and fully explain the nature of situated and distributed cognition involved, research must also recognise the wider context (Luke, 1999), as well as collecting data which analyses the classroom context in which children are learning.

Developing a conceptual model of literacy and ICT

In analysing ways in which ICT is used in the teaching and learning of literacy at school this study has drawn on the sociocultural perspective. As Crook (1999: 103) has pointed out, the wider social context of the classroom needs to be considered alongside the interaction around the computer. Also, the situation of the child's computer use and involvement in joint activity with a teacher is taken to be a major determinant on the learning. The technology is seen as part of the context and not the most significant factor in determining its use. A view still held by many teachers and education researchers, however, is that it is the software that defines the nature of any computer-based activity (Mercer and Fisher, 1997a: 209). The range of contextual factors considered in this study is represented in Figure 2 (below) which, following Bronfenbrenner (1977), is an attempt to describe an ecology of literacy and ICT in the classroom.

In the model, which draws from Bronfenbrenner's concept of ecological systems, the microsystem refers to relations between the child and the immediate environment, which would include teacher interaction and joint activity, the time-space interface and type of software etc. Here, the child's experience and confidence with ICT, as well as their confidence with literacy are central to learning. The second level or mesosystem concerns the links between home and school experience with ICT and literacy. The exosystem is represented by the wider social and cultural context such as the Foundation Curriculum, National Curriculum, NLS and the commercial world of ICT. The cultural values and laws concerning early childhood, schooling, literacy and ICT are part of the macrosystem that influences all levels of the learning context.

Figure 2

Ecological systems theory represents the child's development with literacy and ICT as multi-layered and the benefit of this model is that it places the child and the child's experience and confidence with literacy and ICT at the heart of the learning process. However, whilst Bronfenbrenner recognises the dynamic possibility of change through his idea of chronosystems, one of the problems with the ethological model is that it does not fully represent the complex interaction between the different components of the learning context. Engestrom's (1990) concept of 'activity systems' recognises the complex, multiple levels of the learning context and his model informs Figure 3 (over).

The analysis of the data, made earlier in this paper, put forward a perspective suggesting two sets of potential for literacy and ICT in the classroom. The first potential can be shown in terms of the child and the ICT. Here the child, typically, has the confidence and expects to succeed, to learn and enjoy the task, but may not have much opportunity in school literacy sessions. The second, far richer, potential is the child using ICT in joint activity with the teacher. The critical time and space interface allowing joint activity is influenced by teacher style, the relations between the teacher and the child, classroom culture, ICT access and the planned curriculum. In Figure 3 (over) therefore, a more dynamic and complex model is presented. This model allows for the possibility of variable power differentials between the different components and multiple realities (Labbo and Reinking, 1999). For some children in some classrooms ICT is used as an independent skill based activity, and for some other children in other classrooms the potential of ICT is realised through joint activity with the teacher.

For Labbo and Reinking (1999: 479), the perspective of multiple realities allows for "the consideration of the extremely rapid advances of digital technologies, how quickly they become integrated into society as a whole, and in some cases how much more slowly they become integrated into conventional schooling".

Figure 3 The situation of literacy and ICT in the classroom

Future research into the nature of interaction and scaffolding around computers in the classroom can build on Labbo and Reinking's framework. Labbo and Reinking (1999: 481) see a more active, transforming role for technology and have generated a framework of five goals for integrating technology with literacy instruction:

1. New digital technologies should be available for literacy instruction;
2. New digital technologies should be used to enhance the goals of conventional literacy instruction;
3. New digital technologies should be used to positively transform literacy instruction;
4. New technologies should be used to prepare students for the literacy of the future;
5. New technologies should be used to empower students.

However, I would include a further category: new digital technology should be used in ways which are developmentally appropriate, and that build on young children's experience of ICT (NAEYC 1996, cited in Haugland and Wright, 1997: 115-124). This research could usefully help to identify the culturally valued processes involved in the context of using ICT for literacy, such as the tendency for teachers to interact less with children if the technology is working.

This paper has contended that teachers have an important role in supporting early literacy through joint activity around a computer. This joint activity is characterised by reciprocity that acknowledges the child's experience and confidence with ICT at home and leads to assisted performance that is recognised by the child. Further, it is clear that simply placing new technologies in our classrooms will not prepare children adequately for the new literacies they require (Topping, 1997; Leu, 2000), they have to be integrated effectively into classroom practice. Access and equity are significant issues in the use of ICT for promoting and supporting literacy, although paradoxically the technology can help increase access through libraries and family electronic literacy projects (Topping and McKenna, 1999). The critical issue about technology and young children is not if it should be used but how it is best used to enhance their (literacy) development.

The sociocultural approach taken in the paper has emphasized the shared construction and distribution of knowledge around and through the technology. Tharp and Gallimore argue that:

Emerging instructional practices provide some hope for increased use of assisted performance; the increase of small groups, maintenance of positive classroom atmosphere that will increase independent task involvement of students, new materials and technology which students can act independent of the teacher.

(Tharp and Gallimore, 1998: 107)

However, whilst this view of the potential of ICT to enhance classroom learning is attractive, it is contended here that there is a need to take into account the wider political, social and cultural context of literacy and ICT, including children's experience of digital play; so as to fully understand the nature of classroom learning and interaction. It is the teachers, as Leu (2000) points out, and the children who are experienced at using the Internet in their classrooms and homes who are likely to provide us with an important direction. The instructional strategies, interaction and resources, tested in the classroom and home need to be further articulated and clarified to resolve the challenge of achieving the real potential of ICT to support the teaching and learning of literacy.


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