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Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy

With televisions, computers, video games, and cell phones, modern culture makes it difficult to escape time in front of a screen, especially for our newest generation of kids. Deb LinebargerLisa Guernsey, and Marnie Lewis discuss what the growing exposure to media means for children’s literacy development.

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Program description

With televisions, computers, video games, and cell phones, modern culture makes it difficult to escape time in front of a screen, especially for our newest generation of kids. Today, children six and under watch over 28 hours of television a week, nearly half of them have used a computer, and more than one in four has played a video game.

What does this growing exposure mean for our children’s literacy development? Is it more harmful than helpful? Can parents and teachers use media effectively in their homes and schools? If so, how? In this webcast, three experts will tackle the questions raised by the new and growing field of educational media and discuss the research being done, the practical solutions available, and the many answers we’re still hoping to find.


Deb Linebarger, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Communication in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and the director and principal investigator of the Children’s Media Lab. Her research focuses on the relationships among children’s developmental status, their use of media, and their larger social worlds. Her work has been presented at numerous conferences and published in psychology, communication, education, and pediatric medicine books and journals.

Lisa Guernsey, is the author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age 5. She is also the Director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan think tank and incubator for explanatory and investigative journalism on pressing policy issues, and a regular contributor to the Early Ed Watch blog. Lisa has been writing about education for nearly 15 years, as a staff writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times, and has contributed articles to The Washington Post, Newsweek and other publications.

Marnie Lewis is the Instructional Technology Coordinator at Tuckahoe Elementary in Arlington, Virginia where she evaluates educational sites and software to enhance instruction and works directly with staff to integrate technology in to lessons. She received a B.S. in elementary education from Northeastern University, completed graduate work in instructional technology through George Mason University, and has taught in classrooms for over 10 years. She is also a PBS Teacher, a Smart Exemplary Educator, and a Discovery Star Educator.

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Related resources

For parents

This book by presenter Lisa Guernsey presents practical advice on the best ways to use and manage screen time with your kids.

These sites help child learn how to read at home and identify letters and sounds.

These sites help kids from pre-K to 3rd grade begin to understand what a social network is and how to properly interact in that environment.

For teachers

Educational media companion sites discussed in the webcast

Other media organizations and sites to know about

Discussion questions

Educational Media 101

  1. As Lisa Guernsey described, screens are everywhere these days and adults use screens more than ever before. In your mind, in what ways are screens “information windows”?
  2. How is your school adapting to the changing screen times of today’s students? In what ways have teachers in your school integrated educational media into their classrooms?
  3. How can parents and teachers put into practice the notion of “content over time” as Dr. Linebarger recommends?
  4. What narrative and expository shows are you familiar with? What shows do your kids and students talk about? What skills might be developed through those shows?

Impact of Educational Media

  1. Of the educational media shows you’re familiar with, which ones follow a curriculum as suggested by Dr. Linebarger? If you’re not sure whether a show follows a curriculum, how could you find out?
  2. In what ways can technology be used as a hook to inspire future learning on a topic?
  3. Consider the curriculum you teach. What concepts do you teach that might benefit from an educational media source? How could you share that information with parents?
  4. Lisa Guernsey outlined her acronym, SPLERN, for the audience. What aspects of the acronym resonate with you? What would you add?
  5. Marnie Lewis described several things to consider when considering the educational value of a website. What criteria do you use? Do you share those criteria with your child?

Educational Media in Action

  1. Lisa Guernsey described intensive and less intensive ways of watching TV with your child. How can you incorporate the characteristics of what she described in your home?
  2. Marnie Lewis described two barriers to teachers’ integration of technology in their classroom. As a teacher, what barriers do you face? What can you do to overcome those barriers?
  3. What opportunities do you see for using educational media to differentiate instruction? Provide examples for both struggling readers and for advanced learners.


Educational Media 101

Delia Pompa: Children show up to school eager to learn. But one thing they already know is TV. Most kids now spend four to five hours each day in front of a television. And that doesn’t count the time they spend with their Nintendos or PCs. What does this growing exposure to media mean for children’s literacy development? How can parents and teachers turn media into an educational tool? Please join me for the four-part Reading Rockets Webcast: Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Reading Rockets Webcast: Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy. In this segment of our four-part series, we’ll look at the educational media landscape.

Joining me are three experts. Dr. Deborah Linebarger is an Assistant Professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Director and Principal Investigator of the Children’s Media Lab. Lisa Guernsey is an educational journalist and the author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five. She is currently Director of the Early Learning Initiative at the New America Foundation. And Marnie Lewis is the Instructional Technology Coordinator at Tuckahoe Elementary in Arlington, Virginia, where she works directly with staff to integrate technology into lessons.

Thank you all for joining us. Then let’s start with you, Lisa. What first prompted you to learn about this topic?

Lisa Guernsey: Well, I was a mother of two very young kids. And I felt pulled in a lot of different directions. And this probably sounds familiar to, you know, parents listening or even teachers with young children. I was hearing the word education all of the time on products and DVDs that were being marketed to kids. And I thought, oh, I really need to do this, like I need to make sure that I get the best things for my kids. On the other hand, I was also hearing in the news headlines, through the doctor’s office that oh, no, no, no, no, timeout and media is bad for kids. Electronic media, you know, don’t turn that on for them. So I was really feeling a little torn there. And then I also, you know, as a mom, I was feeling a little stretched and stressed. And there were times when it would just be so much easier to put in a video so that I could make that phone call and like deal with the health insurance mess-up from last week, and actually have a little bit of time of quiet without having to always be on with my children.

And I wanted to just find out, all right, what really is educational out there? If I’m going to turn on the TV for my kids or put in a DVD, what’s the best experience I can give them?

Delia Pompa: Well, you mentioned one reason why kids were spending time in front of the screen. You were calling the insurance company. But why do kids spend so much time in front of the screen?

Lisa Guernsey: You know, it’s a great question. And I think there’s a lot of things going on at once. We have screens everywhere these days. So it’s not just in the den of the living room, right? There’s the TV in multiple places of the house, but there’s also maybe a computer in the kitchen nook. Children are seeing them at the airport, the doctor’s office. As I mentioned, they’re saying no screen time, but a lot of pediatricians often, as I know, also still have the screen out there in the waiting room.

So, the screens are everywhere. And then also I think what’s happening is that children are seeing adults using screens. I mean, this is our way now, right, of getting information and finding out about the world. And children are learning from adults and modeling their behavior. And they’re seeing that we find it really important. So they too are wanting to kind of zoom in on that. And so I think we really need to think about screens as the new information window, because it really is where information is coming through to most of us. We just don’t know exactly how to use it. And that’s where we need a lot more research.

Delia Pompa: So Marnie, how does this change in the environment affect schools, and how do they adapt to this?

Marnie Lewis: It opens up the door for new tools in the classroom. The way you want to reach students is how they’re being taught at home before they come to the schools. So as Lisa said, there’s a lot of screen time already, and they’re seeing their parents taking screen time. So there’s no reason why you can’t take that as a positive and integrate that into the classroom. With guidance and proper instruction, it can be used as a positive tool. And so it’s getting the teachers prepared to use the educational media in the classroom and make it a positive learning experience for the students and sort of making that home and school connection.

Delia Pompa: Thank you. Deb, before we go any further, let’s talk about what we mean by educational media. And how does that affect screen time? What’s the interplay there?

Deborah Linebarger: Well, there are a lot of different definitions of what educational media claim to be. But technically, we, as researchers, when we categorize something as educational, it typically has a curriculum that was put in place beforehand. They probably have experts on board who help them ensure that they’re doing the best learning strategies or appropriate content for the audience. So there needs to be some emphasis on the curriculum.

And then really good educational products incorporate formative or summative research or both. So formative is we take it out there, we test it out. Do the kids actually learn? And more importantly, do they like it? Because if they don’t like it, they’re not going to come back. And then the summative kinds of evaluations happen, let’s say at the end of season one, so that we can determine whether or not a program like Super Why is meeting its educational goals.

Delia Pompa: Lisa, Sesame Street began 40 years ago. How does children’s TV evolved since then?

Lisa Guernsey: In really huge ways, you know? Because there were one or two other programs competing with Sesame Street at the time, or maybe even not competing, you know, on at different times of the day, but that were aimed at children, particularly in that two to five age range that Sesame Street shoots for. Today, we’re talking dozens of programs just aimed the 2 to 5-year-olds. Another several dozen that are aimed at the 6 to 10-year-old children.

And they’re on multiple stations. Cable TV is filled with channels that are just aimed at kids at these age ranges. So there’s just so much more products out there being aimed at young children. And there’s a huge variation in how truly educational all of this programming is, or even whether it has any kind of quality content at all involved in it.

Delia Pompa: Why has the number of shows and products being advertised as educational grown so much as of late?

Lisa Guernsey: Well, I think I actually would like to kind of go back to some of the brain science that’s been coming out of the past couple decades. We’ve been seeing a lot of really fascinating research about children’s capacity to learn, even at very young ages. That they really can start to— they’re very aware of what’s around them, they really start to build language development based on what they’re seeing and hearing around them. And the word enrichment became a buzz word of sorts, where it was, you know, this world in which we knew that children that were raised in enriched environments, or in some cases, the researchers are actually just using rats, not children, but they were in enriched environments where they could kind of play or have kind of contact with other rats. That those rat children or those children in other research did have higher brain growth, higher language development, per se.

So what happened, though, is that that kind of has gotten a little bit twisted in our understanding, as we kind of bring that into just kind of general mainstream way of thinking about what’s an enriching experience for kids. And so we’ve seen that folks who are creating products for children have really jumped on that. So how are we going to make this enriching for kids? We’re going to make sure we have as much stimulation and as many kind of moments where they can hear and see as many things as possible. Instead of looking at, okay, well, let’s go back: what do those enriching environments actually look like in that research? Hmm, it was social interaction. We had moments where a child may have actually heard a word and then repeated that word or had a question and asked someone a question and then had a caregiver, an adult answer that question. You know, these are the kind of rich experiences that the kids were having in that early brain research that we’ve seen.

So now we’re up to kind of the present day. And I think what we’re seeing is that people are starting to kind of take a step back and say, okay, wait- what does educational mean after all? And we’re at a moment where we can pause and look at what are the features that make something educational? What kind of social interaction do we need to make sure we couple with that? And how do we avoid these claims of something being educational when, in fact, they really aren’t? They’re just doing a bunch of kind of letters, numbers, colors and objects up on a screen.

Delia Pompa: So much of this exposure happens in the home, Marnie. How has this growth affected the relationship between school and the home and parents?

Marnie Lewis: I think there’s an expectation that the technology will appear in the educational experience that their child will have. They’re expecting to see video usage, website usage. And they’re actually expecting the schools to teach their child the appropriate use as well.

This needs to happen both at home and school. And I think it’s actually helped build that connection. And then parents are always looking for more ways to connect. How can I enrich my child’s experience at home? A teacher can now say, well, on the web, this is what you can find. Here are some great resources. So instead of sending home books and handouts, they can direct them to places on the web, where the child wants to be. And they can get that in meaningful experience that Lisa was talking about, where the child can ask the questions and get answers back. So they can now get that experience both at home and school.

Delia Pompa: Deb, you research a lot of aspects of educational media. How much time should children spend in front of a screen? What’s the optimum amount?

Deborah Linebarger: I don’t think it’s as simple as how much time. And so I always try to avoid that question. It really comes down to all of the literature that I’ve read and all of the research that I’ve conducted comes down to content. So kids are going to learn whatever you’re going to put in front of them. So let’s put some content in front of them that is developmentally appropriate, uses appropriate learning strategies. So if you had to nail me down to a number, maybe, and screen media encompasses not only television, but computers, video games, Nintendos, et cetera.

You know, absent of homework, I would say maybe one to two hours a day. I know that’s not– I have four children, and I know that’s not always realistic. I, you know, was doing a phone call and needed my kids to watch something so I could finish the phone call. So I think focusing more on content and then knowing that there are going to be ups and downs. There doesn’t seem to be any affect of children displacing other, you know, culturally enriching activities. We’d like to believe that, but that’s just not the case. But there are some displacement effects associated with video games that I think we need to be careful of.

And I haven’t seen to date- that doesn’t mean it’s not there- the internet displacing. I suppose it would depend on what content you were using on the internet.

Delia Pompa: So how do these recommendations compare with the actual amount of screen time kids spend?

Deborah Linebarger: Oh, kids spend way more. You know, the average for kids under two is about an hour and a half of screen media. And it grows linearly from that point until they enter formal school. And then it sort of levels off for a little bit because, you know, more than half their day is taken up at school. And then it actually begins to jump with 20-somethings who are either new moms or don’t have employment or, you know, college, that sort of thing, so it jumps back up.

I think with older kids, they’re spending about three to four hours a day, which is above that recommendation. But again, when I’ve looked at relationships among different kind of content categories, educational television can really buffer the amount of time that kids spend with media or educational media in general. So I would rather emphasize content over time.

Delia Pompa: Well, that’s an optimistic note. Marnie, very young kids are fascinated by computers. Can they manage them on their own?

Marnie Lewis: On their own? At the age level we’re talking, we’re talking, you know, pre-K to third, there needs to be guidance. There needs to be the modeling of proper use. How to determine appropriate versus inappropriate. And those guidelines need to be set up by the parent. You wouldn’t send your child to play out in the street without setting up rules and regulations, or even keeping an eye on them, for that matter. So you wouldn’t set your child in front of a TV or a computer, hopefully, and not do the same. Especially a computer, because there’s so many avenues in which they could digress into other areas. So you want to set up those sites that they can go to that you’ve already checked.

TV as well, you know, you set those guidelines. And hopefully those stay true and get followed.

Deborah Linebarger: Can I add to that? You know, we just did a recent study looking at children living in economically disadvantaged circumstances. And were interviewing parents about what they thought their expectations were for teachers and for them and what their role should be in technology. And actually, they believe that the school should be doing all of the instruction. And in a sort of mini-ethnography, we were using web-based media. And they said, I don’t want to have to sit there with them. These were with 3, 4 and 5-year-olds. I want them to be able to do it on their own. And so if I have to sit there and help them navigate, it’s not something that I’m going to continue to do, which is really discouraging.

And I don’t know how, you know, this was a population entirely of economically disadvantaged families. So it’s not clear if this translates to other families.

Marnie Lewis: It goes both ways.

Deborah Linebarger: Yes.

Marnie Lewis: Because I work with a very advantaged population. And I had parents come to me and say to me, Marnie, how do I know what’s okay for my kids to use? And I would tell them. I said, like the example I gave you, you wouldn’t send your child out into the world without setting up guidelines or knowing where they’re going or watching them, what they’re doing. I said, the same happens on the computer. We’re going to teach them rules here too. But the thing is, there’s parameters. And most school systems, there are firewalls set up.

So they’re protected. There’s a filter. But at home, unless you’ve set that up on your own, it’s going to be a free-for-all.

Delia Pompa: We’ve established that kids are spending lots of time in front of screens. So Lisa, what factors contribute to making sure the screen time is literacy-rich?

Lisa Guernsey: The one piece of advice that I give a lot is to think about content and context. And so it goes back to what Deb was talking about with content. And let me just give an example here to maybe bring this home. So parents may find that as long as children are watching a show on Noggin or PBS or Discovery or something that seems aimed at kids, it’s probably to be okay for them. And hey, they’re probably going to learn something, right? There are some shows, though, that are not— the content is not designed so that the kids can actually really receive that information and be able to call it later and really learn it.

So Bob the Builder is the example I’ve given a couple of times. And it’s just really based on watching my own children watch Bob the Builder. There was an episode that was all about Bob having to create this festival. And he was supposed to build a stall where they could sell popcorn. And so most of the show was how Bob was going to build a stall, and he was going to get all of his friends to help him build this stall. And I think he probably used the word stall a dozen times on the show. And this is one I happened to be watching with my kids. And they were three and five at the time, so slightly maybe younger than what we’re talking about. But I think some of this stuff still applies.

At the end of the show, it was over, and I just happened to ask, I was like, so what is a stall? And my 3-year-old just looked at me blankly. No idea what a stall. My 5-year-old says, you know, mommy, I have no idea. And the show had been all about building a stall. So what happened was at no moment on that show did the character on screen actually point to, point and label, point to what he was talking about and say I’m going to build this, and this is what it looks like, and here is the definition of it. So there was a constant repetition of the word, but not in a way that it helped them learn.

Delia Pompa: So you’ve looked at a number of TV programs for the quality of their educational program. What are you finding about their literacy instruction?

Deborah Linebarger: There are a variety of programs. And they all sort of come at it in different ways, which I think is a good thing. Because kids need lots of opportunities, varied formats and repetition of similar ideas across these varied contexts. And so what we’re finding is, depending upon the age and the child’s previous experience, narrative formatted programs tend to really help kids develop narrative production comprehension skills, and help them to be able to organize and structure a story sequence. Expository programs, something like Zoboomafoo, which is my 3-year-old’s current favorite. And I think I’ve watched some of the episodes about 17 times.

Lisa Guernsey: We’re very familiar with that one in our house, too.

Deborah Linebarger: Spots and Stripes! That’s an informational kind of text. And a lot of times, that’s really what they think contributes dramatically to the fourth grade slump. Kids don’t have time with informational text. And so television can provide that opportunity. So sort of at a macro-genre level, narratives really support comprehending processes, and the way that kids comprehend at age six, from a television show, predicts later reading comprehension. So the same underlying skills, but we can identify kids sooner.

Whereas informational texts seem to support vocabulary and conceptual kinds of learning, which is also vitally important, especially for children who may not have all those kinds of things in their homes. And so it can provide vocabulary and connections to that vocabulary. But they need a lot of practice, because informational text, even in print, like a DK, I think the one my daughter’s been reading is horses, so it gives you all the facts about horses and that sort of thing. But if you don’t have any experience, you don’t know how to— the structural features, you know, cause and effect, compare and contrast are really challenging. So that probably needs a lot more support in it.

And then we just find that code skills, literacy skills are really powerfully supported when you can visually represent them. So there’s a great segment, Between the Lions, where they have Wayne’s Word. And so you have one knight running with his horse, and he might have an “h”. And the other one’s running and has “at.” And so you hear the one say /h/ and then /at/ and /h/ and /at/, and then they run into each other and they make “hat.”

And that visual kinesthetic almost way of putting the letters together is incredibly powerful. And the coolest thing about that was when kids watched it and the light bulb went on, it was amazing, it was amazing.

Delia Pompa: So if there’s positive content like this, does this mean, Lisa, that television and video games are an acceptable substitute for parents and teachers?

Lisa Guernsey: As a substitute, no, no. But I think what we need to do is think about kind of how to build some harmony between these two worlds, right?

For the longest time, we’ve been seeing that that should just be the kid’s domain, you know? And that’s when they’re kind of going and playing on their own. And absolutely, kids will need some time when parents shouldn’t be in their face all the time asking them questions. But we need to be thinking about how to use these video games and these TV shows or computer-based kind of video to help inform what’s happening at school. And we need to find ways to bring the school day into more in line with what kids are engaging with at home. And until we kind of get there, we’re going to have this total disconnect. And they’re going to feel like they haven’t gotten anything really engaging out of their experience.

Delia Pompa: Great. Lisa, then, what can this media explicitly not offer kids?

Lisa Guernsey: What it can’t do is the social interaction part. I mentioned at the beginning, and I think this is where perhaps technology will get us there over time, but we need to think seriously about how much children are missing when they don’t have a back-and-forth conversation with someone. And when it’s just thoughts from media, they don’t do that.

Delia Pompa: Thank you. Thank you. Marnie, then what can this media not offer teachers?

Marnie Lewis: The respite. What Lisa was talking about, often teachers use it as a filler. And it can be misused. And it’s something I work to fight all the time, and to get the teachers to just put some sort of assessment in place, questioning going around.

Because even if you bring your classroom into a lab and just letting them navigate a website, there has to be a purpose set in place so that you’re assessing it and leading with some kind of knowledge gained, opposed to just the fun experience. You want that to be part of it as well, but there needs to be an end result.

Delia Pompa: Thank you. And thank you everyone. We’ll wrap up this segment now, but the discussion isn’t over. Please join us for Part 2 of this webcast, when we’ll be talking about the impact and the quality of educational media. For more information about how you can help the struggling reader in your life, and to watch the rest of this webcast, please visit us at Again, thank you for joining us.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Impact of Educational Media

Delia Pompa: What makes for quality educational programming? What does the online world have to offer our kids? Please join me for The Impact of Educational Media, part two of the Reading Rockets Webcast- Educational Media: Screen Time, and Literacy.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets webcast series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Delia Pompa: Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Reading Rockets webcast: Educational Media: Screen Time, and Literacy. In part one, we discussed the reach of educational media and some of the issues surrounding it. In this segment, we’ll take a look at the impact of educational media, both good and bad. Thank you, Dr. Linebarger, Ms. Lewis and Ms. Guernsey for joining me today. Let’s start by focusing on educational TV programs. You’ve studied a lot of TV programs, Deb. What can you tell us about what makes for a quality program? What are the elements?

Deborah Linebarger: That it has a, a prespecified curriculum, that it doesn’t try to go too broad in their focus, and that they use experts and then they base what they’re doing in research. So either evidence-based practices or best practices from the field.

Delia Pompa: So how does an educational TV program compare to a traditional curriculum?

Deborah Linebarger: I always envision an educational television program as a supplemental to any traditional programming in the, in the classroom, and where it has its power is it can do a couple of things. It can visually represent some really difficult concepts, like understanding how the sounds in words go together, so /m/, /a/, /p/, is really a hard thing for really young children to pick up, so if you see it visually represented, you can learn it in that regard. It also is very motivating, so kids feel very competent at processing its messages. They can handle it, and so what we’ve found is if you can get kids early to reframe the way that they approach watching television, it can fundamentally shift the way that their viewing goes from that point forward. And they begin to ask questions and, and take what they’ve seen on television back to the classroom.

But it takes a clear- I think Marnie expressed it best- that it really takes a, a set of routines around watching television and expectations about what that should look like, both in the home and in the school. And I’m not saying that you can’t relax and enjoy, because by all means you can. But you can also sort of show the dual nature of television.

Delia Pompa: So Marnie, how can teachers integrate educational media into their lesson plans and make the most of it?

Marnie Lewis: There are various ways: using them as hooks to get the class interested in a new topic, to introduce them to the new topic, to reinforce what they’re already learning about in those complex topics. And literacy goes across all content areas, so especially in third grade, when they’re past learning how to read but really trying to comprehend what they’re processing and taking in. Those very visual interactants that the web provides are great educational media pieces.

Delia Pompa: Give us a specific example that might help our viewers understand how that hook is what lead kids into the curriculum or what they’re learning.

Marnie Lewis: Sure. Subject area may be ancient Greece and Rome, which I think is a staple across the curriculum areas. And it’s very hard to understand the ancient times of Rome and Greece. So what better way than to bring up a show that demonstrates what it looked like, a reenactment. So a lot of those, you don’t want them to be long clips. They can be very short, which is what really is needed in the classroom.

Other ways is, you know, in science area where you’re teaching them about how matter changes. That’s a really complex idea as well and visuals really help the child understand and comprehend what is happening- that you need heat and cooling. Just talking about it is one thing, but showing them with a visual is another way. Now you can do it with, you know, hands-on materials, but sometimes those aren’t accessible in every classroom. And everyone usually has access to a TV or a computer, hopefully. And that’s another means of getting the point across.

Delia Pompa: So can parents do this too, Lisa? Is there a way they can use educational media to enrich what’s happening in the traditional format in school?

Lisa Guernsey: Absolutely. I mean it would help a lot and I think that if, if teachers and parents started to connect more and so that parents knew, oh, they’re learning about this unit. You know, my second grader’s all over Abe Lincoln all of a sudden. You know, really interested in everything about the time period when Abraham Lincoln was growing up as a boy, for instance. And then, a mother or father or a very able caregiver at home could say, “Well, let’s go and see, you know, what’s on the web that’s related to this. Or let’s see if we can find a clip about this.”

I also have been finding that there, aside from just the web, there are software products that can be quite useful to parents in helping to reinforce what’s happened at school. We have been using a lot of BrainPOP at home. BrainPOP is a really kind of fun subscription service to these tiny little videos. They’re usually ten, maybe fifteen minutes long. They’re little animations, and they describe a subject or a topic that a child might have a question about. So my daughter was learning about China in second grade, and she came home and she popped in, she decided to do Great Wall because she kept hearing about this Great Wall. And up popped a video clip about the Great Wall of China that she could watch for ten minutes. It reinforced what she had been learning earlier that day. It also gave her some good questions to ask her teacher about the next morning.

Delia Pompa: Deb, let’s go back to your research. What programming element do you find contributes most to developing effective literacy skills and why?

Deborah Linebarger: I don’t know that it’s necessarily one but it’s a combination of, to get down to this sort of structural features. So, it also depends upon the age of the child. So, for preschool a really good story where the, let’s say, scientific content is weaved in very well with the narrative like Sid the Science Kid. When they’re really close together like that and weaved in so well, kids will actually learn the content better than if it’s sort of disconnected from what the main purpose of the story is. As kids get older they can handle more information, more content, so repetition of the ideas becomes really key.

And so in our lab work coding infant, toddler, preschool media using all of these different components, and we’re finding that when we use best practices that have been validated in the classroom or validated in the home, when those are being used, that’s the kind of content that kids learn the best from. So little kids, you know, speaking slowly, talking directly at them, rephrasing, repeating what they’ve said, those kinds of things can begin to simulate what Lisa was talking about with the social interaction enough that, depending upon how fast-paced things are, kids can begin to pick up components of it. So really, I look for programs that incorporate those kinds of best practices from the classrooms, and I often have teachers screen them and give me their feedback or try them out.

Delia Pompa: Can you give us some specific examples that you’ve found in your research?

Deborah Linebarger: Well, I’ve done summative evaluations or did they make their series goals with Between the Lions. And it’s really powerful for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten kids. I’ve done the study of Super Why, and it supports code skills, you know, merging and blending syllables and splitting words apart. I’ve studied “Dora the Explorer,” and it supports Spanish language vocabulary acquisition.

Delia Pompa: You’ve done a lot of research.

Deborah Linebarger: Yes, yes.

Delia Pompa: Well, there’s sometimes a gap between research and reality. Are, are there any findings we should take? Any of your findings we should take with a grain of salt, that you take with a grain of salt?

Deborah Linebarger: You know, the biggest, the biggest issue is, I can go and design an experiment, and I can, you know, maximize the impact of it. But it’s not exactly what’s going to happen necessarily, especially if it’s, you know, not something that has materials that can bring it into the classroom. So while I might design the experiment and deliver it, and they might get the full implementation of watching it twenty times, that doesn’t mimic what’s really going to happen in the home. And so when I see these effects, it’s great but it doesn’t often occur naturally. And I think that’s the biggest disconnect in trying to bring parents into the picture of saying, if you use these programs, they’re powerful and teachers to help reinforce that as well. So that would be, that would be the biggest.

Delia Pompa: Lisa, you’ve created an acronym, which I find fascinating, to represent the positive elements of educational TV: SPLERN. What is SPLERN, and what elements does it stand for?

Lisa Guernsey: So it’s a shorthand way of going over some of the things that, that Deb’s already mentioned.

But “S” is for straight-line storytelling. So especially with younger kids, you want to find a program that takes them from point A to point B and doesn’t include a lot of diversions, because that’s going to really confuse them and they’re not going to remember kind of where they were.

So then there’s “P” for participation. Find programs that give children a moment to participate, answer back to what they’ve seen on screen. Pinky Dinky Doo does this in a really fun way. Blues Clues is known for it. Sesame Street’s been doing it for years. “Sid the Science Kid” also has it. There’s a lot of good programs out there these days that incorporate that.

So then we’re on to “L”. “L” is for labeling on screen. And that’s what I was talking about before with, with my example I gave earlier with Bob the Builder, where if it, if the character on screen, if Bob the Builder had actually pointed to the stall and labeled it and said, “this is a stall, we are going to build something like this,” that would have helped children very much to understand it.

So now we’re on to “E”. “E” is for engagement. This is the kind of the no-brainer. It’s got to be engaging content or children are just going to completely tune it out. “R” is for review, repetition, routine. Find a program, and this applies actually to the, to the web experiences children have as well, where they don’t feel like they have to relearn the experience of actually being part of that media. They don’t have to understand, “oh, this is going to happen when this character does this.” They already kind of know that’s coming. So they can really focus on what the story is and what the lessons are in that story. And then maybe even at the end there’s a moment where the character says, “Okay, we learned this today, and now we’re, you know, we, we covered this topic area” the same way really good teachers do.

And then there’s “N”, and that’s just for making sure that the content is nonviolent. Just as, as parents, teachers, all the way up through even the, the third grade, look for content that is, doesn’t have any aggressive moments in it, because children will imitate what they see on screen. They want to try it out, and it just makes our lives all a lot easier when, when children aren’t then suddenly, you know, punching and kicking and choking on other kids because they happened to see that on screen somewhere.

Delia Pompa: Let’s move from TV to online media. Marnie, with the impact of media, kids now have to develop a whole other set of literacy skills and that’s digital literacy skills. What are these skills, and, and how do you develop them? How are they developed in kids?

Marnie Lewis: Well, we talked about this a little bit before. It’s a marriage between the home and school, and it can’t just happen at school. It’s okay if it’s where the, the instruction begins, and we’re talking about teaching kids the ethical usage of technology, how do we appropriately interact with the technology on a computer. Trying to discern what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate. They’re pretty young, and they’re not able to make that dissertation, but that’s where the adult comes in. And they need to model for the child and say, “This is appropriate, this is inappropriate.” I set guidelines in the school that there is no violent games allowed. I make it clear to those, to the, those teachers as well. And sometimes they’ll try and sneak in there, and the kids will, will try and get to that line. And they’re like, “Is this, is this appropriate or is this not?” And they know to ask when they’re sort of questioning it. So you’re setting up that checklist for them as they go along.

And they’re, and so they’re learning: “So this is how I learn what’s right, what’s not.” And they need to learn how to find their media if you’re not going to give it to them, which we do. And which is appropriate because we’ve already researched it, we’ve evaluated it. We say, “This is appropriate,” and that’s what the parent needs to do at home, do the same thing. And I make it a little easier by saying, “Hey, you can come to this website, and I’ve already looked through all these sites, and if you want to send your kid to this site, you’re probably going to be okay.”

Delia Pompa: You mentioned teachers. Is there a set of digital literacy skills that teachers need also or adults need in general, parents and teachers?

Marnie Lewis: It is. It’s the knowledge of how to keep your child safe online, how to keep them within a certain parameter of, you can set up filters on your own home computer, and like I said before, most schools have filters set up. And it’s hard to teach a child how to beware of inappropriate places to go on the web when they’re already blocked at the school. So it’s a better opportunity at home to teach this because it’s most likely going to happen there.

Deborah Linebarger: I was saying one of the things we’ve studied in television that has transferred now into computers is sort of the conventions of using it. So I was thinking maybe, you know, knowing how to navigate menus and use a mouse and those kinds of things, as well as being able to adequately assess if this is a reliable source of information, which probably doesn’t happen as much until they’re getting older.

Marnie Lewis: It doesn’t, but once again you model it and introduce it where you’re taking them to reliable sites where they’re familiar with, that they see on TV, so the PBS and Nickolodeon, the Sports Illustrated, whatever it might be. every, every show out there has a web component.

Delia Pompa: Which leads me to another question, Deb. I mean, there’s a lot of cross-promotion of different platforms, cross-platform promotion of digital media, so TV shows have online components, online components have TV shows. So how do parents and teachers take advantage of this?

Deborah Linebarger: You know, we’ve recently in the last couple of years started a line of research Looking at character appeal and identification of characters and social interaction and trying to determine- back in the eighties, let me back up for a second, we measured these kids and followed them up when they were teens in the nineties, and we found that the more involved kids were with television the more likely they were to be affected negatively by violent content. so I’ve always been sort of militant with my children and when I speak with parent groups that please don’t buy, you know, Spongebob paraphernalia for your home, you know — bedding, whatever — please, let’s just get the media out of the house. But I, I’ve had to start to rethink that because with educational media in particular, you can take characters that they know and love from one platform and get them to go to another platform.

And so what we’ve found recently is that with Kindergarten and first-graders with Between the Lions, those who viewed it and used manipulatives in the classroom that were branded with BTL characters actually did better than those who had the exact same manipulatives, the exact same programming, but no branding on that. And so what we’re building on there is a love of a particular character. And in our most recent research with Martha Speaks, we’ve found that the more the kids like the characters and like the program in general. So the ones who report “high liking”, were able to learn more vocabulary words — and this is controlling for things like age, and parent education, and, and pretestability.

So while if I had answered this question five years ago I would’ve said, “I don’t know, you know, the media-saturated world…” But now I think it can be, when it’s harnessed in a positive way rather than an exploitive way, I think it’s a powerful way to help kids learn. And it relates back to Lisa’s point about engagement: they really like these characters. They want to do more with these characters. They find them really cool. So I think it’s a good thing.

Delia Pompa: Marnie, you must spend an awful lot of your time reviewing and exploring educational sites and games. What guidelines do you use in deciding what’s appropriate for classroom use?

Marnie Lewis: To me they seem almost self-explanatory, but I’m going to list them for you.

Delia Pompa: We don’t know them yet.

Marnie Lewis: I know, I have to remind myself of that often. I think when it comes down to it, you want to look at who’s sponsoring the site, who’s presenting it, what, what do the ads look like, the product placement, things like that. How many links are going to get the kids off track?

With PBS, what you have is, it warns you that you’re about to leave PBS Kids and maybe go to PBS Teachers by accident, for a child who’s navigating the site. So, another thing you might look for is actual pictures versus the cartoons, and also links that are updated, and how often the site is updated itself.

So it’s a wide range, but as long as you’re looking at it and you’re feeling it, you could sort of assess it with those guidelines, sort of get a good feel for what is appropriate. And also, depending on what age level you’re looking at, I’m going to see if there’s an audio component, especially with the younger set, it’s really, really important and extremely valuable to have that audio component with those web sites.

Deborah Linebarger: Yeah, they’re not necessarily reading at that point and you, it, it can’t make it yet intuitive enough for the kids to navigate, it’s, I guess, really difficult, so more audio is, is very helpful.

Delia Pompa: Now, Lisa, there are some sites that just sort of set off alarm bells for people, like, like those social networking sites and video-sharing sites. Is there any value for literacy in some of these sites?

Lisa Guernsey: Well, let’s take the video-sharing one first. So if we’re talking about, say, YouTube, I have used, and I’ve seen other parents use, and I’ve talked to some teachers who have been completely adept at using YouTube, what they have to do first, though is they have to go in on their own, do the search first, figure out what content they’re going to find, and read the comments underneath those videos, because it’s often the comments where you find the really inappropriate stuff. There might be a video of, say, two cute kittens playing with a ball of yarn, but the comments underneath it are not about kittens, but what do you think they might be.

So, do your homework. If you’re going to use these sites with children, just know what you’re getting first. And then, really take that opportunity to show them -? and here’s where we can bring in some more digital literacy: you can not just talk about the content, you can say, “Someone created this. They, this is we create kind of content.” So I’m going to talk about how books are made with kids, right? Someone had a video camera, and they made this video, and they uploaded it, and then they put this, you know, audio over it, and then they made sure that other people could see it. And this is a way for children to start understanding how all these things are created and then they can be more critical thinkers about what they’re seeing as well.

Social networking. Social networking I think is a little trickier with the age group that we might be talking about here. I have a seven-year-old; she wants a Facebook page. I’m like, she’s seven years old! So, and then why is that? Because she sees me using it. I mean, we’ve gotten to a point now where the grown-ups are using social networking, and so children see that and they see grown-ups are really engaging in it. We have to find a way for children to be able to build their own kind of social interactions online, but in a way that’s kind of, first of all not overwhelming to them but also gives them a chance that they’re understanding there are real parameters: “I’m talking exactly to the friend that I know at this exact moment,” and, and then if we can find ways to kind of allow them to do that, where we want them to do more writing, we want them to do more kind of crafting of their own language, but make sure that it is a one-to-one channel and that you know what’s kind of coming back and forth at the same time is really important.

Delia Pompa: Deb, and the same thing: is there a way that parents can evaluate whether a good, a TV program is good for their children to watch?

Deborah Linebarger: Actually, that’s a great question. We have been struggling with that as a group, as a research group, trying to determine how we best evaluate educational claims that different kinds of media make. And so, what we’ve boiled it down to are the best kinds of programs have a group of experts, they have a curriculum, and they’re willing to share it with you, versus saying they have a curriculum but not providing you with a curriculum document. It’s very much more than a one-page document. So you could look at it and you could say in literacy, you know, the scientifically-based reading research principles from the National Reading Panel report- vocabulary, phonics, phonemic awareness, text comprehension, and fluency- those are addressed if that’s the particular age group that you’re looking at. So, the experts, the curriculum that’s really detailed, and you have use of strategies that you know as a teacher, help kids learn in your classroom: are they using those?

Those are the kinds of things that you, that I would look for and that we have coded that have sort of distinguished better shows from poor shows.

Delia Pompa: what about how the characters interact and their behavior? Is there anything looked at there?

Deborah Linebarger: That’s such, that’s such a big area, and it’s one of my biggest issues with programming with my four children. It probably drives them crazy, but, the relationships between characters are so important because they’re very powerful models of interaction. And so the programs that treat parents as dumb, or teachers as dumb or clueless, or they call each other names, or they’re mean. You know, there’s one way to do conflict resolution that’s appropriate, and then there’s another where it’s just mean-spirited.

And so I would definitely say either you could use those as a model of not what to do, but I certainly as a parent or, and as a researcher would not ethically feel comfortable showing those kinds of programs either as an alternate stimulus. I can’t justify the negative relationships, because the prosocial effects in some ways I think are more powerful even than some of the educational effects.

Delia Pompa: This is such terrific information. Thank you, everyone. So far we’ve discussed the research happening in the field and what to look for in a quality educational media. Next we’ll explore how to put all this information into action. Please join us for part 3 of this web cast when we’ll be looking more closely at how parents and teachers can make the most of screen time. For more information about how you can help the struggling reader in your life, and to watch the rest of this web cast, please visit us at

Thank you for joining us.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Educational Media in Action

Delia Pompa Media is in living rooms, classrooms, and even the palm of your hand, so how can parents and teachers get the most out of the time kids spend in front of the screen? Please join me for Educational Media in Action, part three of the Reading Rockets webcast, Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Delia Pompa Hello, I’m Delia Pompa. In the previous segment of this webcast, we discussed the impact of educational media. In this segment, our panelists will talk about some practical options for making media an education tool. Welcome Dr. Linebarger, Ms. Lewis, and Ms. Guernsey.

Lisa, when it comes to media, you have some guidelines you call the three C’s. Tell us about those.

Lisa Guernsey: Yes, they are content, context, and your child. And I arrived at these, actually, after reading the research. I came to it thinking I would find some guideline about how much time children should be spending in front of the screen at say age 2, 5, 7. Instead, the research really pointed me to how much the content matters, which is something we’ve talked about quite a bit, right, but making sure you see what’s on screen, you know, understand that the characters are really using techniques to help children learn what is onscreen. That it’s appropriate for them and their age level.

Context might be something that we don’t hear quite as much about, but I think it’s just as important, which is how- number one- how does it fit into the child’s day. Number two; is it something that’s building on what they’ve already learned? Does it help them connect to something that’s already happening in their world? Say there’s something that they’re seeing on the screen that’s about the beach. Maybe there can be a moment where a mother could bring in some context by saying, “hey, we went to the beach last week. Look, they’re going to the beach this week.” Or, “Look, they built this sandcastle.” You know, “Hey, maybe next we’re at the beach, let’s make sure to build one. We can do it better than that.” You know, these are perhaps for younger kids, but that’s the kind of context I’m talking about. And then also making sure that the screen is not just background noise to children, that they’re really having purposeful interactions with what they’re seeing. That it’s really a storytelling moment for them instead of just wallpaper background that they’re really just playing around and not paying attention to.

And then there’s, thirdly, the “your child” piece, and that’s just really understanding that all children are different. Their age matters so much, and they’re gonna bring different levels of understanding to this based on what age they are, but also their developmental age matters, meaning that some five-year olds may be ready to fully kind of understand or grasp some literacy concepts that other five-year olds are not yet ready to grasp in that way. So parents and teachers really have to tune into the individual child and find out, okay, what’s going to be most appropriate for this kid at this moment in their learning experience?

Delia Pompa: Deb, you had an interesting experience in this field. What happened and what did you discover?

Deborah Linebarger: Well, when I was trying to come up with a dissertation topic, which was really challenging, my now 16-year old, who was then 3, was messing with the TV buttons. And I knew I wanted to do something in television in literacy, and he got the closed-captions stuck, and for weeks my husband and I could not figure out — of course, we threw the manuals away — couldn’t figure out how to turn them off. And so as we were sitting there watching, and I was sort of bemoaning that I didn’t have a topic, my husband said, “You know, for the last, like, four weeks, all we’ve done is read the television. Why don’t you do something with that?” And at that same point, my graduate advisor was at the summit at the White House on early learning, and she came back and said it. It was like, you know, sort of aligning of the stars. So my dissertation examined on-screen print in the form of captions with elementary school kids. And they did learn.

Delia Pompa: I was gonna say so what did you learn from your dissertation?

Deborah Linebarger: They were able to read specific words, and I carefully constructed those with appropriate, you know, numbers of repetitions and the script and everything, and I followed up and got a grant from the Department of Ed, and found that it extended into commercially available programs, so on-screen print is really powerful. Now, kids only look at it about 10 percent of the time, but when they do, it can contribute to better word recognition, better fluency, and better comprehension.

Delia Pompa: So what else can parents do to make screen time more educationally sound for kids?

Deborah Linebarger: Well, in that same study, the other half of it was co-viewing. So we are trying to really understand what parents could do to co-view with their kids, and so part of the issue is — you know, I could give you all these wonderful co-viewing strategies. You know, stop and preview and all of that, but parents aren’t going to do that, so we had to be realistic. And so we tried all these strategies. At one point, we turned the volume down, and a couple of the kids actually got up and left. So we decided that was probably not the best strategy. But we came up with taking your child’s spelling list and asking them to watch — we were using captions at the time &mdash and circle the words on their spelling list that they saw on the captions, or we gave them an alternate list, you know, the Dolch word list, like the most common words in the K through 3rd grade primers. And then the other part that they did was write down words that they thought were interesting to the story. And when the kids did these kinds of things, we took it into homes and tested it out, and the kids who did that performed significantly better than the kids who watched just the captions alone, who did better than those who had neither of those.

Delia Pompa: Lisa, walk us through an example of how a parent can watch a TV show with a child.

Lisa Guernsey: I think there’s two routes. There’s the more intensive one, which is really you’re literally sitting on the couch with your child, and you’re saying, “We’re gonna take this moment to watch the show together.” And it’s really — it’s a very warm moment to for you and your kid, too, right? You’re snuggling up together, and you’re watching, and maybe you could even pause it once in awhile, right? And say, “Hey, what happen there?” And, “What do you think is gonna happen next?” And those can really help build some sequencing and some narratives and skills in kids. There’s the less intensive method, which is the one that I kind of used a little bit more in my home. Honestly, like, if I was gonna take the time to be on the couch with my kids, then that was book time. You know? That was when I wanted to be with the book with them.

So I would make sure that when they were watching, it was a time when I was kind of around. I was maybe folding the laundry and kind of — you know, seeing what was happening on screen, but not necessarily 100 percent engaged with it. Maybe I went around the corner and was unloading the dishwasher, or maybe I was finishing up, you know, some other kind of project around the house, but I was aware of what they were seeing, so that as soon as the program was over, I could kind of check in with them just for a second or two, you know? Maybe it was something silly, like, you know, that goofy character, you know, he reminds of your cousin, Aiden. Or I could actually ask them, like, “Did you get it? Like, did you get that thing that Clifford was saying there at the end? What do you think they should’ve done At the end of the show?” That can just provide your child with a sense that your mom, your dad thinks that this TV program is something that you can learn from, and you can get something from. So, if a child starts seeing you start asking questions around it, they’re gonna just be more prone to tune into it that way, to understand it as something that’s informational or that’s something like a book. Instead of just, “Oh, this is veg-out time. This is when my parents aren’t paying any attention to me whatsoever.”

Delia Pompa: Let’s take it back to the classroom. Marnie, you’ve encountered some skepticism, you noted, when trying to integrate educational media into the classroom. What do you think is at the root of that skepticism, and how do you respond when you encounter it?

Marnie Lewis: I don’t think it’s so much the material, I think it’s getting past the technology. Part of my job is to make sure that the technology works. So first you got to get them the technology, then you’ve got to make sure in works for them, and it’s reliable because it teaches time is so valuable, and if they consistently though to the technology and want to show that educational media and it doesn’t work again and again, then what happens is they stop using it. So that’s the number one frustration, I think, that my teachers have is when it doesn’t work. But I feel like I’ve kept it working where they are actively using the educational media.

I think the other struggle is that it’s overwhelming. There’s so much out there. Currently, we have subscriptions to two video databases that are subscription based, and they basically focus on one. They haven’t even migrated to the other one because they’re so robust a number of videos in the Discovery Streaming, that they can get to Learn 360. So, those are the two main things, I think, that keep them held back.

Delia Pompa: It would help us a lot if you could describe a classroom that’s doing a good job of integrating educational media into the curriculum.

Marnie Lewis: Sure. I have a couple teachers. One, for instance, she’s an amazing science teacher, and she’s teaching these complex ideas. And at any turn, she has gone on the web and she’s looked for those simulations, simulating volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, and tectonic plates, and she’s looked for video clips. And she’s taken that 30 seconds or that two-minute video, and she’s ready to play it at the time when she’s instructing. And she does a phenomenal job, and it really brings it home for these kids. And the test score show that they’re learning.

Another component is when you have your class in a lab setting, you, once again, there’s a lot of sites that they can use. And I think Lisa brought this site up at It has amazing resources because it’s the full circle, where you can show a very short video that very clearly explains the topic at anywhere from reading to math to science to social studies, and on any topic. And they actually have a Brain Pop, junior for the younger level, K-2 and even 3. And along with that component are quizzes. There’s an easy quiz, a hard quiz, and then there’s activities that the kids can actually choose to do. So if a teacher is properly going in and doing this, they are gonna show the video, maybe as group setting. There’s moments to pause while you’re playing the video, talk about it, question, continue playing, let the kids go take the easy quiz or difficult quiz on their own, and then have them do an activity to demonstrate understanding.

Delia Pompa So it’s all integrating.

Marnie Lewis It is a full, integrated lesson. And it’s almost done for the teacher, which is why I love it and I pay for the subscription because I really believe in it. And it sort of takes that edge off the teacher, and it sort of models for them what a great, integrated lesson looks like.

Delia Pompa So Deb, how much research has been done on integrating media into the classroom, and education media in the classroom itself?

Deborah Linebarger: Actually, there is quite a bit. We find that when we can conduct things in classrooms, and we’ve compared classroom versus home, just strictly viewing, it goes back to a point that Lisa made about context. So where it’s occurring really affects how kids process it. So in that classroom, the issues that it really seems to boil down to are sort of the professional development issues. So when it’s seamlessly integrated, as Marnie is describing, then it’s just really powerful and really effective. But if you have to fuss with, you know, connecting the SmartBoards, I guess is the new thing, or the, the principal may be really excited about all the new technologies. My middle school principal got this fabulous television news production studio with green walls and everything. It’s, like, the coolest thing, but you know, is that enough? Can a teacher come in there? Do they know how to use it? And so it really comes down to someone like Marnie, who can really sort of help teachers get to the point where they can seamlessly integrate. Otherwise, there’s the gaps. Kids get bored. Kids and lose interest, and it becomes harder. And often kids — at least I’m finding with my own children — have way better media skills. And I always thought I was pretty savvy, but way better media skills than I do, and they don’t see each media device as a separate device. They see it as a way they get information, and so what we have to do, as educators, is really seamlessly transverse this landscape while helping them in terms of the conventions associated with it, and especially the ethics surrounding what you’re using and making good decisions. We really need to incorporate that in it as well, so they can be savvy about the kinds of content.

And I know this kind of thing actually does work. When my 16 year old was 7, he would go to people’s houses and say, “This is inappropriate content for someone my age. It has too much violence.” Now, that makes him sound incredibly geeky, and he’s really not. But I would get parents to call me and say, “Boy, you know, seven-year old telling me I’m a bad parent because I put in “Men in Black,” I think was the example. And, you know, my daughter, the same thing. The mom came in, and she was looking at the wall, and everyone else was watching the show. And she said, “Are you upset?” “No. My mom said this show is inappropriate. It really has too much violence, and the relationships aren’t very good.” And so I think it goes back to setting up the routines and the expectations. And that becomes very powerful, and if you can do that in the classroom, and help parents understand how to do that at home, it’s wonderful.”

Delia Pompa So clearly, sometimes kids know more about this than we do.

Deborah Linebarger: Oh, yeah.

Delia Pompa: But if we still have a responsibility to work with them, Marnie, so one of the hot button issues for teachers has been differentiated instruction. How can teachers use educational media to achieve the goal of responding to different kids needs?

Marnie Lewis: Yeah, it’s a wonderful opportunity, especially with the online media. The closed captioning is a great, new tool, especially with the Discovery Streaming because most of their videos now come with closed captioning options. Actually, Brain Pop does as well. And when the kids are watching this, the idea is that you can set each child up in a lab situation, or even a center situation, and they have their headphones, and they could watch it at their own pace. They can rewind it. “I missed that.” Because you want to set them up with an activity. So whether they have a list of questions that they have to answer, and activity at the end that needs to happen. They need to know what they’re looking for when they’re watching this media. Then they can do it at their own pace. And there, once again, there’s that audio component, along with the visual and the text, so all of this allows for that differentiated instruction from the highest user down to the lowest. If they don’t want to use the closed caption, they don’t have to look at it. But if they don’t need the audio component, they don’t have to- they can take the headphones off. So it allows for great diversity with ease.

Deborah Linebarger: Could I add one thing to that?

Delia Pompa: Actually, we’re gonna wait for the next segment

Deborah Linebarger: Okay. Great.

Delia Pompa: And you’re gonna add some more because you’ve given us so much to think about already in this segment. But before we wrap up this segment, let’s take a moment to look ahead.

Lisa, what are your thoughts on the future of this field?

Lisa Guernsey: Well, I think there’s a couple of places where we need a lot more research. I feel like parents are asking lots of questions that are ahead of maybe where the research is. The first is differentiating between background and foreground TV. We’re seeing a lot of homes where TV is on all the time, or even something on the computer is on all the time, and we need to learn more about how that’s impacting children. We’re already seeing some real negative effects, particularly at younger ages, in language development particularly.

Then, the second piece that I’m pretty fascinated in is how we can use the creation of media to help kids learn literacy. So, you know, using video cameras, and their own kind of digital cameras to create books and new things online. That would be a new area for research.

Delia Pompa: Thanks. Deb, I was gonna ask you about the holes in research, but I hope you’ll also come back to your previous comment. But what are the holes in research?

Deborah Linebarger: You know, the biggest sort of emphasis right now in the effects literature has to do with kids two and under. So what are the problems and what are the benefits of media exposure with that age group. And then the second biggest question is this difference between foreground and background exposure. So we’ve actually been studying it in our lab, and we find that the more exposure to background television — it’s just on in the room, it’s not directed at you, but you’re there— It’s disrupting executive function, which is sort of self-regulation, emotion regulation, sitting still, attention to things that I think when these kids go to school, it really is very apparent. I mean, you could probably almost identify the kids who have more. There’s a body of literature on noise, and background television, I think, fits into that literature. And if I could say anything, if you’re not gonna believe me on the content issue, if I could just get you to avoid background television exposure, I would be ecstatic. And we’re also looking to see if background music is a problem as well.

Delia Pompa: So that’s where research is taking us?

Deborah Linebarger: That, and then the lowing – economically disadvantaged kids, and their use of media.

Delia Pompa: Marnie, now the big question. How do you see the relationship between educators and media changing in the future?

Marnie Lewis: What it becomes or what I hope it becomes? I would like to see that the educational media become non-negotiable, that it be required, not just sort of expected. I think the teachers are gonna be pressured by the students coming in and the parents demanding the changes in the usage of the educational media that’s available. And my hope is that educational departments and the higher-ups realize the value, especially through all the research that’s being done, that there is a tremendous amount of value in this resource, and that we need to really start harnessing it a bit better.

Delia Pompa: Thank you, everyone, again. That marks the end of my questions, but in part four of our webcast, our audience will have some questions of their own. I hope you’ll join us.

For more information about how you can help the struggling reader in your life, and to watch the rest of this webcast, please visit us at Thank you for joining us and take care.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

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Audience Questions

Delia Pompa: How can educational media help engaged reluctant readers? What is the role of libraries in this equation? What can this medium do for English language learners? For the answers to these and other questions from our audience please join us for segment four of the Reading Rockets Webcast- Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.

Delia Pompa: Hi I’m Delia Pompa. Welcome to the Reading Rockets Webcast- Educational Media: Screen Time and Literacy. In earlier segments, we’ve discussed the reach of media, its impact on children’s literacy skills and how it can best be used. Now it’s time to hear from our audience.

But first, let’s welcome back our guests, Dr. Linebarger, Ms. Lewis and Ms. Guernsey, my old pals here. So if you’re ready we’re going to get started with the first question from the audience.

Audience Questioner #1: What can libraries and media specialists do to help parents navigate the field of educational media?

Delia Pompa: Marnie why don’t you take this one?

Marnie Lewis: It’s a great question. They have an avenue through the web and also through newsletters. I think it would be great if more library media specialists would communicate and share the resources with the parents at home, whether creating a website for themselves on the web or creating a newsletter, or evening offering an evening session which I’ve done in the past to expose parents to the resources that are available to them.

Delia Pompa: Thanks. Lisa we’ve got one for you.

Audience Questioner #2: What value does educational media offer in terms of social development?

Lisa Guernsey: Well, if we think back to the context, the importance of context, we can gain a lot from educational media when it comes to the social component. We know that the way children play can have a really positive impact on their social development and their interaction with peers and their ability to kind of self-regulate, hold themselves back, not be too impulsive. If we can think about using educational media as a platform for better play, for more play, for more creative scenarios that children can set up then it can be a great trampoline for them.

But we have to make sure that we give them some time when they don’t have it always on. We do need to give children some moments where we turned off the TV and they’re not in front of the computer, and they can just go and play with their friends and use the themes and the ideas that they’ve learned from the media and then really take it from there.

Delia Pompa: Okay well let’s go to the media ourselves to electronic media and we’re going to take an e-mail question. This one comes from Ryan in New York and Ryan asks how can educational media be used to help improve the literacy skills of English language learners. Deb would you like to take that?

Deborah Linebarger: Sure. I’ve done a number of studies, and there is a growing body of literature with English language learners; that one of the key features and it’s not unique to this population of children but media is incredibly engaging. And so what it can do is motivate them in ways that traditional instruction may have difficulty and they can feel confident with it. And we have found the actually more robust effects with English language learners than with some other populations of children who are struggling to learn to read. And I think a lot of that comes from the way that language is used in educational media really can support the needs of an English language learner and it’s sort of coupling it with the whole engagement appeal factor.

Delia Pompa: We’ve got so much to learn. We have a person waiting at the mic right now and I believe this question is going to be for Marnie.

Audience Questioner #3: How can this medium be used to help motivate reluctant readers?

Marnie Lewis: I think the key is engagement where we’re talking about characters that are known to these students that they find to love it. So it encourages them to maybe explore new topics in the library when they go back to school or even with their parents when they go to the local library, is to find out more about dinosaurs or to find out more about the rain forest that they learned about by watching Zoboomafoo or by watching Arthur when he travels. So the educational media gives that visual queue to say hey this is really interesting: go out and learn more about it.

Delia Pompa: Lots of information. We have another question in the studio audience.

Audience Questioner #4: A growing trend is to put TV’s in children’s bedrooms. What impact does that seem to have on a child’s literacy development?

Delia Pompa: Deb, I think you’ve done some research on this.

Deborah Linebarger: I’ve done some research and this is another one of those five years ago I would have clearly said absolutely not and I mostly stick by that because usually the kind of exposure is unmonitored. Kids with bedroom televisions as a whole tend to watch more media, they also tend to have video games; a lot of unsupervised, unmonitoring going on.

However, in a recent study with American Indian Alaska-native preschoolers who all lived below the poverty threshold, all lived on reservations, when those children who had bedroom televisions actually didn’t have books in the home or had very few, their literary scores were actually at the same level as the kids who had the traditional roots to literacy. So, I wondered if this was a cultural phenomenon or was this a resource phenomenon.

So we just completed a large parent survey, we oversampled American Indian Alaska-native children again; this is from eight months to eight years. We also had a large sample of economically disadvantaged children. I tested it with language this time and found the relationship again with American Indian Alaska-native preschoolers, and I found it in a low income sample. So what I think it provides for these children, low income and minority children tend to watch more media, they place more value on it and watching more and valuing it more has in other kinds of research led to learning more from it. And so what I think is going on is it provides a resource. One of my favorite papers by Keith Mielke in 1994- I cite it in practically every paper I write- is educational television in his case can provide an unduplicated educational resource for these families. And in this regard, I would say that a bedroom television can help kids who may not have the traditional roots to literacy.

Delia Pompa: Well while we’re on controversial questions, let me go to the e-mail where we have a question that might also press some buttons. How should parents deal with the recommendation from pediatricians that kids under two years old should not be exposed to television or any screen time. Lisa?

Lisa Guernsey: Yeah, well I get that question quite a bit and I really understand the reason behind it. First let me give you some context. The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1999 said, “We really don’t think that there’s any value at all to a child under the age of two being exposed to media, and we recommend that parents have zero screen time for children at that age.”

Since then there’s been more and more media available to children at that age, and parents I really do believe parents just are really stretched. I mean, two parent, two income families, there’s very little time to do the things they need to do around the house. So they’re trying to find these kinds of times and when you have the very, very young kids it’s incredibly time-intensive. What I’ve been saying to folks when they ask me that question is let’s think about what the AAP was doing when they put out that information. They were looking at the research that we know on how much social interaction matters to young children; how much they need to hear mom and dad talk to them, converse with them, even when they’re as young as nine months old, even when they’re as young as six months old, even younger. They need to have that back and forth. That’s so important to them, and there is the worry that screen media would replace that.

What I tell parents is: if we’re going to use media with children at these very young ages, just make sure it’s not replacing any value in that direction. Don’t ever think it’s better what you can provide as a parent. What you can provide is the best thing for your kids which is that really loving kind of one on one interaction with them in that language that they can hear and respond to.

Delia Pompa: It’s the more, not the instead of. We want to get in more questions so let’s go to the microphone.

Audience Questioner #5: Hi. How can educational media be useful for students with learning disabilities?

Delia Pompa: Marnie you have some experience you want to share with us around that.

Marnie Lewis:Definitely. I think this goes back to differentiating. The set up is similar in that most of these educational medias are multimodal in that there is a visual, there’s audio, and there’s tactile opportunities for learners with disabilities to meet their needs across the spectrum. So I think we’re doing a good job in developing educational media that serves the needs of this population. The educator needs to be there to reinforce its usage.

Delia Pompa: Thank you. We’re going back to the e-mail inbox for our next question which is from Mary in Delaware and Mary asks how much do we know about screen time’s impact on a child’s brain development? Lisa?

Lisa Guernsey: We don’t know as much as we think we do. I think that’s a short answer there. We certainly know a lot more about brain development in young children. And we know much- as I said this kind of really language-rich conversation, rich experiences, are important to young children. And we’re learning more about how if a child could perhaps have some sort of language rich experience through a screening, maybe they’ll get that same benefit.

What we don’t know are long-term what are the effects of this, we don’t know how to slice by content area very well in terms of what is happening in the brain when a child sees something really aggressive on-screen or something really scary on-screen, how is that impacting them in the short term and the long term. So there’s just a lot more that we need to focus on there in terms of what’s happening up there with the synapses and the connections that are being made in the brain that children watch.

Delia Pompa: Thanks. Let’s go back to the studio audience for the next question.

Audience Questioner #6: How will mobile technologies like iPods and cell phones change the landscape of educational media?

Delia Pompa: Lisa would you take this one also?

Lisa Guernsey: Yeah, well I’ve been looking at some of the research that Sesame workshop’s been doing with the iPod and I find it really fascinating because I think that we may be getting to a place where children are becoming- even at very young ages, six, seven years old- they’re interacting with cell phones, they’re interacting with iPods. My seven year old has an iPod for instance, and they’re very adept with that. They like the touch screen technology that we see on the iPhone and it enables them to manipulate things in the way they can’t with the tiny little keyboards right? So, over time we may find that those become as much an educational device for young children as books and as larger screens do. But again, we need more research and let me just finish this. Sesame workshop research was looking at how parents and young children could interact with an iPod-like device when they show a video of a particular word. Say, the word of the day is “persevere” or the word of the day is “crayon” or whatever is appropriate for that age group; and then they would show a video related to that word and then they would give tips to parents through text messages- tips to parents on how you might use this word later as a way to kind of reinforce it. And so maybe and over time we’ll start seeing that those can be used in educational context more readily.

Delia Pompa: That’s a good place to end looking at the future. Thank you, everyone for your thoughtful answers. I’m going to put you all on the spot just one more time. Could each of you leave us with one final thought about screen time and literacy and let’s start with you Deb.

Deborah Linebarger: I guess my final thought and my mantra is, it really comes down to content and content is key. So Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement that the medium is the message- no it’s not, the content is the message. The message is the message. So, if we can help parents understand what good content looks like I don’t think it’s going to matter which device brings it to their children. It’s really going to come back to content and how that content is created for a particular age group.

Delia Pompa: Thanks Deb. Lisa, a final thought?

Lisa Guernsey: Yes, I would just stress that we know that educational media is not going away, and we know that screens are this new kind of window on the world for children. So, we’ve got to start thinking about how to use them as a jumping off point than to the rich or social interactions that we know are so important to kids; and to the content knowledge that we know is so important for reading comprehension in the later years. And we shouldn’t be thinking of it as just another wedge out of time where we’re not really going to pay attention to what children really need. We have to understand it as an information window.

Delia Pompa: Close it out for us Marnie.

Marnie Lewis: I think it comes down to moderation as with anything in life. It may get purposeful, and the experiences for children need to be guided. We need to model, we need to show them at this young age the appropriate ways to use the technology, to get the best benefit out of it and if you just put the time in early on as with any kind of discipline with your child, any kind of rearing, you’re going to find that the benefit outweighs the exhaustive time that it’s going to take you maybe to teach those basics. But it will pay off in the end. So take the time, make it guided and moderate it.

Delia Pompa: Thanks Marnie. Thank you all so much and thank you for joining us. To view all segments of this webcast and for more information about how you can help the struggling readers in your life, please visit us at

Again, thank you for joining us.

Announcer: Funding for the Reading Rockets Webcast Series is provided by the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.