Why Provide Dictionaries in the Digital Age?

Volunteering For Oakland has been providing Dictionaries to Third Grade classes in Oakland since 2012. We purchase our dictionaries from the National Dictionary Project, which provides the following perspective on the importance of physical dictionaries:

The Dictionary Project provides the opportunity for a child to own something tangible that encourages learning. Many students tell us this is the first book they have ever owned. We consistently see great pride in ownership among children who have a dictionary of their own and can sense, often for the first time, that they can hold the English language in their hands. The Dictionary Project contributes at least two essential elements to the common good. First and foremost, providing beginning readers with a tactile, fundamental gateway to literacy, a dictionary that is theirs to keep and often treasure for years, can be a foundational event of lifelong learning. In addition, the Dictionary Project’s collaboration with civic organizations throughout the United States is an excellent example of Americans working together to meet an important societal need of supporting education.

Children love to own a dictionary because it’s a resource they can use to achieve their potential. Every day we hear how happy students are who receive dictionaries to have a book that helps them to be self-reliant. It makes them feel included in the conversation and the community. A large vocabulary assists children to follow instructions, understand questions and figure out how to complete a task. Having a dictionary enables children to build their vocabularies to solve problems through collaboration and working independently. Learning how to find a word in a dictionary develops problem solving skills that help them find the meaning of a word instead of asking Siri.

Children require multiple exposures to words to develop a rich understanding of their meaning and use. Now most instructions are given through videos. There are learning limitations when digital technology is used as a studying tool and is the primary source of information presented in the classroom. Students who are not taught to read and understand instructions and think for themselves are not active participants in understanding the sequence of actions and events involved in completing a task. People who use dictionaries are more resourceful than people who do not use them.

Words, not just technology, connect us to each other. We all know why people need dictionaries, to spell words correctly and understand the meaning of words. The words that connect us are everywhere, but people do not know what they mean. They think that they know what they mean but when asked to define the word or explain what is being discussed, they are speechless and ask Siri. The platform for information is online, the bedrock of knowledge is in print. A dictionary is still an essential tool for a quality education.