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Content not form predicts oral language comprehension: the influence of the medium on preschoolers’ story understanding


The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of digital and non-digital storybooks on low-income preschoolers’ oral language comprehension. Employing a within-subject design on 38 four-year-olds from a Head Start program, we compared the effect of medium on preschoolers’ target words and comprehension of stories. Four digital storybooks were adapted and printed for read-alouds. Children were randomly read two stories on the digital platform, and two by the assessors. Following the story, children completed vocabulary and comprehension tasks, and a brief motivation checklist. We found no significant differences across medium; children comprehended equally well regardless of whether the story was read digitally or in person. However, using repeated ANOVA measures, we found a significant main effect of the story read. This research indicates that the content of the book rather than its form predicts story comprehension. Implications for using digital media in the preschool years are discussed.

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Author information

Correspondence to Susan B. Neuman.

Appendix: Examples of coded student recalls

Appendix: Examples of coded student recalls

From Sid the Science Kid (Digital storybook)

The story was about a dog. That’s it.

And then he’s gonna tell the teacher about the animals.

And she saw bumble bees

(Score: 3 (introduction, and two events))

From Sid the Science Kid (In-person reading)

The boy saw two dogs.

He saw his new grandma dog.

Then he saw another dog

(Score: 3 (three events))

From Superkids (Digital storybook)

It was about being the superheros

And the slide in the park.

That’s it.

(Score: 2 (introduction, one event)

From Superkids (In-person reading)

The boy was a superhero.

When the superheros stopped the sticky stuff.

When he messed up the playground.

(Score: 3 (character and two events))

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Neuman, S.B., Wong, K.M. & Kaefer, T. Content not form predicts oral language comprehension: the influence of the medium on preschoolers’ story understanding. Read Writ 30, 1753–1771 (2017).

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  • Digital media
  • Early literacy
  • Within-subject design
  • Preschoolers
  • Oral language comprehension