Children are nowadays exposed to a wide range of digital technologies. A quick look around the home or during social events confirms how often children spend time on such devices.

A variety of terms such as ‘digital natives’, ‘digikids’ and ‘screenagers’ are constantly used to describe today’s children. A recent study which I conducted has shown the extent to which children are exposed to digital technologies on a daily basis. A good number of children as young as seven have access to their own personal devices such as a mobile phone and tablet.

It goes without saying that reading and writing are changing with the influx of new information and communication technologies. My doctoral study showed that definitions of reading and writing now include physical interactions with texts.

Children are nowadays observed scrolling, touching and swiping while reading. This was evident through numerous observations conducted during the ‘One Tablet per Child Pilot Project’. The observations showed that when students read and write through the media of digital technology they interact, collaborate and communicate more among themselves.

Today’s children are engaging in skim reading, viewing, reading of images and symbols, multi-directional reading as well as audio reading

Reading in the 21st century entails the use of a variety of skills. Today’s children are engaging in skim reading, viewing, reading of images and symbols, multi-directional reading as well as audio reading.

What it means to be a writer is also changing, with students claiming that digital technology promotes and distinguishes between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ writing.

A child would, for example, write in a short, abbreviated form while chatting with a group of friends and write skilfully when working on homework tasks. This shows that children nowadays are aware of ‘proficiency judgement’ and adapt their writings according to the audience reading their work.

This suggests that students are learning to respond differently when they are asked to carry out written tasks on screen as opposed to paper-based resources.

Children’s writing on screen is moving from the production of printed text towards a more complex notion of ‘design’. They are nowadays sharing information through various modes and methods, such as recorded speech and videos, photos, screenshots and also through collaborating on virtual walls.

Children have further showed that reading and writing on screen proves to be more fun and stimulating as these seem to be directly linked to multimedia features. It can therefore be argued that educators as well as parents need to fully acknowledge how processes of children’s reading and writing are changing in the digital age.

As a mother myself I form part of numerous groups on social media related to children’s upbringing and education and I feel that a lot of weight is constantly given to the downsides of technology. But I believe there are numerous advantages when children are diligently exposed to reading and writing on screen but this is only appreciated through an understanding of what reading and writing are coming to mean.

It is only through such an understanding that children will be supported and encouraged in their reading and writing skills to reach their full potential as they academically grow in the 21st century.

Melanie Darmanin is a senior lecturer at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (Mcast)’s Institute of Community Services, Paola. This article is based on the doctoral research Dr Darmanin conducted recently on children’s use of digital technology, focusing on reading and writing in the digital age.

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