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Melissa Depper's picture

Screen Time Book Club: Chapter 6

Hi all! Thanks for another great week here in the book club! This week's chapter is #6, What Is Educational About "Educational" TV? We are skipping about a bit but we think this chapter builds nicely on our discussion from last week.

After reviewing research about shows like Sesame Street, Blues Clues, and Barney, Lisa writes, "By now it's probably clear that to be educational, a preschool program should be tested with real children and tweaked accordingly, designed to get viewers to participate as social partners, and build to point children towards specific goals, like the ability to recognize letters, match sounds with instruments, or simply recognize the importance of physical exercise. It should be vetted by childhood experts to ensure it is developmentally appropriate for 2-, 3-, or 4-year-olds....Its stories should be linear and easy to follow. It should refrain from excessive cuts between scenes. The pace should be slow and steady. And if the money and will is there, research should be undertaken after a show goes on the air to find out if children are really learning from it." [p131 in the paperback]

So, my thoughts turned immediately to storytime. (Are you surprised?) Did anyone change or tweak their storytimes after reading this research about learning? A lot we already do. But can we do more? Should we? Does this have any impact on our "educational programming?" Should we increase our attempts to have children participate with us as partners in the storytime? Should we increase our focus on specific learning goals? (Of course ECRR comes to mind here.) Have we asked a local child development expert to observe a storytime and give advice? How could we do research on the impact of storytime to kindergarten and elementary school success? What do you think?

Another question--given these specific criteria for successful educational media, does anyone work at a library with separate collection development criteria for digital media v. print media? Separate collection development policies for children's materials v adult materials?

Melissa

PS: Also, what are YOU thinking after you read this chapter? Don't feel you have to stick with my questions! What's on your mind?

Meagan Albright's picture

Timely and (kind of) related
àThis week on
mental_floss on YouTube: John Green gives us 26 Outrageous Truths About Children's Television.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDBSa5TMX2Y&feature=youtu.be

This chapter made me think about a part of my storytimes called Little Learners Lab. We have a computer lab that I open up for families at the end of storytime.
For 15 – 20 minutes, children explore an age-appropriate website (I usually pick one from ALSC’s
Great Websites for Kids). The games on the websites give the children a chance to try using a mouse and/or keypad, and quite of few educational TV shows have websites intended for this age group (TVO
Kids
, Bob the Builder,
Disney Junior,
PBS Kids
, & Sesame Street).

    

Have we asked a local child development expert to observe a storytime and give advice?
When my library began developing our storytime for pre-school aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we worked with local experts with years of experience serving children ages 3 – 5 with ASD. Once we began doing the storytime, we asked the experts
to come back, observe us, and give us feedback. Many of the techniques we learned (for example: creating and using visual schedules) I incorporated into all of my storytimes. And I definitely made a deliberate choice to slow down. I’m naturally a pretty fast
talker, and when kids start getting excited about storytime and the energy in the room increases it’s easy for me to pick up on that energy and the storytime pace increases like a rock rolling down a hill faster and faster. Based on feedback from those experts,
I slowed way down – and the emphasis on slow and steady pace in this chapter reinforces that I made a positive change in my storytime technique.  

Meagan Albright

Librarian II Youth Services 

954-262-5469 | ameagan@nova.edu

Alvin Sherman Library, Research

& Information Technology Center

Nova Southeastern University

50thAnniversary-Logo-Blue

Academic Excellence, Student Centered, Integrity, Innovation, Opportunity, Scholarship/Research, Diversity & Community

om: ALA Connect [mailto:connect@ala.org]

Sent:

Amy Graves's picture

Reading this chapter took me back to my music reviewing days. That was a thing I did, once upon a time, and at one point I was asked to review animated music videos for kids that called themselves educational. The "educational" part was that the lyrics would appear on screen, syllable by syllable, as they were being sung. Watch this particularly strong example of why educational is in quotation marks: http://youtu.be/XEM-EMYcUf8. I love the song, and the video is cute enough, but I was hesitant to recommend it because of that educational label. This was an independent children's musician who did all his own everything...I knew he didn't have the resources to test that claim.

After reading chapter 6, I have stronger opinions about what makes it probably not educational. It's too fast. There's not a lot of repetition. The words are too complex and/or nonstandard...Euphoria? More o' ya? Kid'll?! I'm glad there's been some research into educational television that gives us at least part of a formula for what works. But, at the time, I was mostly concerned about the untested claim, and said as much in my review. He and I became friendly, but never saw eye to eye on that issue, or maybe he just thought he needed to claim educational value to sell his product. I don't know.

As for storytime, I'd be really hesitant before calling mine educational. I know they have fun, I know they like the library, I know they get read to, and their gross motor skills get a workout (we dance A LOT). That's not the way other weekly storytimes are run at my library; mine's kind of a special case. I’ve struggled with this a little, and I do see some potential learning outcomes, but the fact that I’m even using the word potential means I won’t advertise my program as educational. I don’t have the means to test what I do, so I focus on the fun aspect and the learning-to-love-the-library aspect. We read, we sing, we dance, and we play, and that works for me. (And it seems to work for the kids and parents, too.)

This is not to say that I don’t think library storytimes are educational. I know they are, when done right. This is my own insecurity about what I do. I feel like I don’t follow established research and guidelines enough. I just don’t do the right things in the right way. And I try to be fairly okay with that, because of the fun and loving-the-library bits.  Plus, I am just one storytime a week. But, that's my approach. Does that make me the junk food of storytimes? Maybe.

Ted McCoy's picture

One thing that struck me immediately in this chapter was when the creators of Blue's Clues noted that the "exact amount" of time they should wait for a child to respond to a question is an "industry secret." I've always operated on the assumption that preschoolers should be given five seconds (as a rule of thumb, of course more if needed) to respond to a question. I understood this approach/understanding was supported by research and my training, and helped remind me (especially early in my career) to allow storytime participants plenty of space to think about and respond to questions, as well as to make sure I turn pages at a nice slow and steady pace. I still find it helpful to (silently, obvz) count to at least three Mississippi after reading/discussing before I turn each page, just to keep myself focused in the moment.

I was also struck by the former Children's Television Workshop executive's comment, "In order to do good, you have to do well." While the financial stakes are higher for Sesame Street, public libraries have the same reality with which to grapple. From a funding perspective, sure, but if no one shows up, then no one benefits from storytime. Which is why striving to balance a solid focus on early literacy with the important "love-the-library aspect" of storytime Amy discusses is so important. For libraries, "doing well" is part of developing a relevant role in the community and fostering a love for reading (arguably that's print motivation, but in the big picture I think it might be something more) that allows us to do what we do. Storytime can be a celebration and a part of our community fabric in a way that a television program can never be.

Melissa Depper's picture

Thanks all for these great thoughts. Amy is totally not alone in choosing, for many reasons, to strike more of a love-the-library note for storytimes, and as Ted says, in order to meet ANY goals for our library storytimes we have to bring families into the room--and then back again.

What I've found myself thinking more and more as I continue to learn about children's cognitive development is the reality that children are learning all the time, and will continue to learn, no matter what our goals are or our philosophical approach is for storytime. And we know that the more enjoyable and fun their environment, the more they learn.

I get excited when I start to think of the ways that we can fine tune our storytimes and preschool programs--not to make them more like school or to be able to tease out research-based outcomes (super difficult for libraries)--but to "signal boost" the learning that is already going on. Boost it for the kids, by being more intentional and aware about developmental milestones and techniques for scaffolding their understanding, and boost it for the adults, by being explicit about what their kids are learning and why while they play. The cool thing is that if we can do this well, it's not "just" an achievement in and of itself, but it feeds back in to making the storytime experience even more successful and engaging, for us and for our families.

I think it's awesome that Meagan's library brought in some experts to check in on their spectrum storytimes, and that they were able to give practical strategies that benefit not just the spectrum storytimes but all sessions. And there's a cool further benefit to this invitation as well--we love to go out to preschools and offer training and support to the teachers, what a powerful idea to close the loop and invite the teachers to provide support to us as well. Ted touches on this as well--talk about making strong connections within the community!

Thanks everyone!

Melissa Depper
Librarian, Child and Family Library Services
Arapahoe Library District (CO)