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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Two ideas worth spreading

March 14, 2011

Ideas worth spreading is the tagline for TED, a website that provides "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world." If you are not familiar with the TED site, you should go visit it! I've watched some truly amazing talks on there, ones that I think about for days afterward. Here are two new talks I watched recently that have really stayed with me.

The first idea worth spreading comes from Salman Khan of the Khan Academy. Khan gave a twenty-minute talk about using video to reinvent education. He describes a way to "use technology to humanize the classroom." The concept is fascinating.

Khan's call to teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script — give students video lectures to watch at home, and do "homework" in the classroom with the teacher available to help — is worth thinking about. This idea is based on Khan's belief that only about 5% of a teacher's day is spent sitting one-on-one with a student providing the instruction that child needs. Personally, I think 5% probably isn't accurate, but I also know teachers spend far too much time having to deal with administrative issues, behavioral problems, and management. I also really admired his Swiss cheese gap in learning, and his reliance on data to drive instruction. As he says, using data correctly is an imperative in every other discipline, why shouldn't it be one in education?

The second TED talk worth sharing is The Birth of a Word from Deb Roy, an MIT researcher. Roy wanted to learn how his infant son learned language. From the description: he wired up his house with videocameras to catch every moment (with exceptions) of his son's life, then parsed 90,000 hours of home video to watch "gaaaa" slowly turn into "water." Incredible, right?

You've got to see the way this house is wired, and how a quarter of a million hours of video (!) is captured. As someone who loves language, I was eager to understand what he learned about language acquisition. Roy's visual representations of the data are incredible. Using something similar to time-lapse photography, you will listen to his son move from "gaaaa" to "water" within six months. You've got to hear it! (from 5:00-5:40). Based on this enormous amount of data, Roy is able to use technology to model ways in which we modify our speech that help babies learn words.

About 11:30 into the talk, Roy starts describing ways these methods of gathering and visually representing data can be used to better understand social technologies. He sort of lost me here, but I'm sure for people in that field, it was equally as interesting as when his son said the word "water."

I hope you enjoy those talks as much as I did!


For Extra Help at Home,Free TV Captions for Reading Practice When a student wants to practice reading the printed word, where is the easiest place to find help? Right in your television set when you turn on the TV captions. TV captions become your free reading tutor. TV captions create a wonderful chance for a learner to connect the sound of the spoken word with the sight of the printed word in the context of the action on the screen to explain and reinforce the meaning of the words. It’s almost like having the story read aloud. Since January 2006, by federal mandate, TV captions are available in homes and everywhere else 20 out of 24 hours a day (usually not between 2am & 6am) every day all year long on virtually all programs on all broadcast and cable stations. Over 20 years of research has validated the concept that TV captions can help learning to read, see the list of research articles at Now that the research has been done and the federal laws are in place, you can turn on the priceless free resource of TV captions with a touch of the CC button on the remote control or by the use of the television’s menu. Give it a try yourself. TV captions are free!

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"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln