Multimedia tech increases literacy speed in kids

November 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A new study indicates that preschoolers become literate faster in a curriculum that uses video and online technology. Menlo Park's SRI International conducted the research at a school in East Palo Alto.

Do literacy skills increase when preschool classrooms incorporate video and games? To answer that question, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting commissioned Education Development Corporation and SRI International. They studied 80 classrooms from New York to Ravenswood Child Development Center in East Palo Alto, where Tanya Senegal teaches 4-year-olds.

"They're great," she says. "As you can see, they're eager, they love the sound, they love the music. And I like the fact that they can get up and be engaged with the video. They don't have to just sit."

Vera Clark, Ravenswood's Director, is impressed with the science portion of the curriculum, too.

"It was exciting to walk into the classrooms and see my children explain reversible change, and irreversible change, and actually know what they were talking about."

The literacy curriculum in the study is based on the PBS television series "Super Why", launched in 2007 and released on DVD this year. It presents kids with a problem that can be solved with a word they must spell. Acquiring the right letters is part of the game.

It's aimed at a preschool curriculum, generally at kids who don't have the digital advantage at home, and it uses a highly advanced game controller: a teacher.

"The characters speak directly to the students," Bill Penuel explains. He headed up the study for SRI. "They'll call out and ask them to name a letter that they see, for example. At that point, the teacher makes sure that that actually happens."

The study concluded that children, especially in low income groups, learned an average of 7.5 more letters than children who didn't use the system during the same time period.

"And that's really the draw here," adds Penuel. "I think one of the powerful draws of media is that it brings kids in. And that's a very important thing for building these basic, foundational literacy skills."

Ms. Senegal is not afraid of being replaced by a computer.

"No," she says. Then, "Not yet, anyway."


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