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Public Media's Impact on Young Readers: Time for a Fresh Look

Susan Notes:

Stephen Krashen Comment: TV has possibilities. And Susan Neuman should know. In my opinion, her book, Literacy in the Television Age, is a masterpiece, as are her journal papers. Neuman has convinced us (me at least) that TV is not the villain, contrary to what some people think, and has potential for being a help.

Before we go off spending millions on TV research and TV-based
programs though, let's do the obvious: Enrich the print environment
through quality libraries in high poverty areas. Prof. Neuman is a
champion of libraries and has done some of the most important research
in this area, documenting the incredible disparity between high and
low-income children in access to books, as well as the difference in
library behavior between high and low-income children in the library.

Yes, TV might certainly help. But we have a solution right now that we
are not using: Support for libraries and for librarians in high
poverty areas.

When children become dedicated readers, they grow in vocabulary,
grammar, writing style, spelling and reading ability, as well as
knowledge of the world. Research showing this is confirmed by many
studies showing that library quality is related to reading
achievement. In fact, it is safe to say that readers acquire academic
language, the language demanded by school, and those who don't read
rarely do.

As soon as ALL children in the US have access to books, we can turn to
other ways of stimulating additional progress. There is very strong
evidence showing that this works and the expense is modest, a fraction
of what we are planning to spend on standards, tests, and, yes, new
textbooks to go along with the tests.

Again, let's do the obvious.

by Susan B. Neuman

For the average middle-class American, it might be hard to comprehend just how devastating the effects of poverty are on children's early literacy development. But the social and educational deficits poor children must overcome to learn to read are all too clear from numerous research studies.

When compared with their more affluent peers, young children from low-income families tend to have very little access to books, magazines, or reading materials of any kind, much less high-quality materials. Many lack even the most basic writing tools, such as paper, pencils, or crayons. Poor children are much less likely to be taken to the library, shown how to use a computer, or told a bedtime story. At home, they hear much less conversation, and are exposed to a much narrower range of words. They tend to be asked fewer open-ended questions, and they are less often invited to discuss abstract ideas or to make and defend arguments. Moreover, their parents and other caregivers tend to be much less confident that they know how to teach early literacy skills effectively, or that they can find resources that can help.
ΓΆ€"Steve Braden

The cumulative result of such circumstances is that millions of kids enter kindergarten each year having already fallen so far behind in vocabulary, content knowledge, and the mechanics of reading that they are unlikely ever to catch up, no matter how good their teachers.

What can be done to give America's most vulnerable children a better chance to begin elementary school on solid footing? For answers, policymakers tend to look to preschool programs such as Head Start, or to "wraparound" strategies of the sort made famous by the Harlem Children's Zone, which supplements preschool with parenting courses, home visits, and other services. Largely absent from recent policy discussions, however, has been one of the most intriguing approaches of all: Using public television and its related electronic media to distribute high-quality literacy resources to low-income families, and to show parents, teachers, and other caregivers how to use those resources effectively.

Since 1985, the federal government has funded the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS to pursue precisely that mission, by way of shows like "Sesame Street," "Between the Lions," and a newer generation of programs created under the federally supported Ready to Learn initiative (also known as PBS Kids Raising Readers). The latter includes programs such as "Martha Speaks," "Super WHY!," and an updated version of "The Electric Company."

NOTE: Education Week Does not allow the posting of full articles. For the rest of this one, go to the url below.

— Susan B. Neuman, with comment by Stephen Krashen
Education Week


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