Friday, November 14, 2014

Educational Technology: Using the Power for Good



I sit across from my 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, patiently waiting for our dinner to be served at a well-known chain of family restaurants. My mom has joined us for a quick bite to eat, but the service is taking longer than expected. My stomach growls impatiently. Im surprised because my children seem unaffected by the delay. Usually by now one of them would be voicing a complaint by kicking the other under the table.

I follow my sons gaze to see the reason for his rapt attention. A TV. My daughter, not normally shy about expressing herself, also seems unphased by the delay. I think she is absorbed in the conversation at the table, but she, too, is enveloped by the allure of another wall-mounted, kid-anesthetizer. My mom and I look around the small dining room and count no fewer than seven TV screens in plain view. What could be so enticing? Golf. My kids have never shown any interest in the sport. Has that suddenly changed? No. Its simply the lure of a moving picture.

As an editorial director for a childrens educational publishing/media company, I wonder:
*  What if the appeal of that digital screen could be used for good instead of, well, Angry Birds? 

     *  What if teachers and parents could harness that attention so that all children could learn to be strong, confident readers?

What plagues so many kids and adults is that reading is something we have to be taught. English is a very difficult code to decipher in part because, for every rule, theres an exception to that rule. In order to succeed in school and in life, every child must learn how to read.

As a former special educator and researcher for Sesame Street, I know the statistics about the impact of illiteracy on the nations children:

 





                          37% of children today are entering Kindergarten without the skills necessary to begin learning to read and write. 

                  How reading is a gateway skill to learning. The better a child can read, the better he can learn all other subjects.

Over the past several decades, as a nation, we have seen a decline in U.S. academic performance. Concern about how future generations will remain competitive with other countries has led the majority of states to adopt the new set of educational guidelines, the Common Core State Standards. A list of what children should know, grade by grade, from Kindergarten through 12th grade in math, English and literacy, the CCSS were intended to develop the critical-thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills students will need to be successful in college or the workforce.

While CCSS is being rolled out in the majority of states, it is not without its challenges. It has proven to be a highly controversial issue and roll out is being threatened in several states. NY Times columnist Bill Keller wrote that,[Common Core] is an ambitious undertaking, and there is plenty of room for debate about precisely how these standards are translated into classrooms. In fact, a new survey of 20,000 teachers found that the majority are enthusiastic about implementing CCSS in their classrooms. However, more than three-quarters of the teachers reported that they need more time to find teaching materials and develop lesson plans that align with CCSS. In addition, many school districts across the country face budgetary shortfalls and larger class sizes, which means that providing an adequate number of computers in schools to administer the Common Core assessments is also challenging.

With all this in mind, I came across a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. The study looked at screen time and childrens behavior. It found that kids ages 2-10 spend almost two hours a day on digital media. Then the study looked at how much of that time is well spent on educational media, as reported by parents. The researchers learned that 78% of the media consumed by 2-4 year-olds is educational. But the percentage of time spent on educational media goes down to 44% for 5- to 7-year-olds and a dismal 27% for 8- to -10 year-olds.

These numbers would be less concerning, in my opinion, if kidsoverall media consumption didnt rise precipitously as children get older. A different study from Common Sense Media focused on media consumption of children ages 0-8 and found that between 2011 and 2013, the amount of time children spent using mobile devices in a typical day tripled.

These two studies revealed a gaping hole to me that seemed like a huge opportunityand a huge responsibility.

 •      Could tried-and-true reading programs take proven methods of teaching kids to read and rethink them as digital apps that kids would actually want to do and still teach them to read?

*   •      Could these apps be aligned with CCSS and function as an effective teaching tool for educators, seeking lessons and materials that teach to these new standards?

With school budgets being slashed from coast to coast and average class sizes on the rise, classroom teachers need all of the support they can get. Could educational apps be a cost-effective means of supporting instruction in the classroom?

Teachers who use educational media and technology say that they do so for a multitude of reasons.

·         Students are highly motivated to use digital resources.
·         Electronic media can allow students to go at their own pace and choose their own level and settings.
·         Interactive media can maximize learning by providing immediate corrective feedback to students, not allowing them to progress until the answer is correct.
·         Digital resources can help maximize learning in small groups and allow teachers to provide targeted instruction.

Even the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and theFred Rogers Center recently teamed up to publish a joint position on the use of technology and interactive media for young children (ages 0-8). It states, When used intentionally and appropriately, technology and interactive media are effective tools to support learning and development.  Their position is that effective uses of technology and interactive media need to:

·         Be active, hands-on, engaging, and empowering
·         Give the child control

·         Provide adaptive scaffolds to help children progress in skills development at their individual rates. . . .

·         Be used as one of many options to support childrens learning. . . .

·         Expand childrens access to new content and new skills.

·         Become routine and transparent . . . [so that] the child or the educator is focused on the activity or exploration itself and not on the technology.

In the future, I hope to see more standards-based, effective and fun educational apps developed for school and home use. Educators can seek out guidelines (like those offered by the NAEYC/Fred Rogers Center) for evaluating cost-effective interactive media for young children that is also Common Core aligned. All of this, of course, is in an effort to ensure that no child gets left behind.

Unfortunately, its not hard to see that as long as there are places that we as a society have to wait (restaurants, gas pumps, the DMV), electronic media will be there, ready and willing to sedate our childrens brains with the likes of least-common-denominator programming or Candy Crush. In the meantime, I vow to fight the good fight and provide children with media options that will help them become readers, thinkers and problem solversbefore society introduces them to the newest wave of reality television shows.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Report Card Season: Confessions of a Social Butterfly


It’s that time of year again: the long-awaited, and often dreaded...Report Card Season! As a child, I remember leading my parents (usually my mom) through the familiar halls of my school, introducing them to my teachers, waiting for the inevitable “Julie’s doing well in school, but she’d do so much better if she didn’t talk so much in class.” I was always puzzled. Wasn’t that what school was for? To share your feelings on the latest episode of the Brady Bunch and play Cat’s Cradle under your desk with your best friend while stuffing wads of Bubble Yum in your mouth?

Unlike parents nowadays, my parents didn’t have an email relationship with my teachers. Back in the Stone Age, parents relied on phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and hand-written notes pinned to our coats with straight pins (of all things!), which inevitably stabbed you in the cheek by the time the note reached its intended recipient.

Now, as a parent of two elementary-age children, parent-teacher conferences take on a whole new meaning for me. In some respects, I feel like my kids’ grades are a reflection on me and my husband (although he would probably disagree with that statement) and how well we’re doing as parents. I know that’s ridiculous, because children are their own people and it’s just my mommy guilt (okay, with a touch of narcissism) coming through. I do believe my job as a parent is to help my children learn to be responsible for themselves and take pride in doing a good job for its own sake, rather than to make someone else happy. But that’s often easier said than done, especially when your kids are little. And, of course, sometimes there are extenuating circumstances preventing your child from learning effectively.

Fortunately, our daughter has taken to reading like a fish to water. However, as much as I love her 3rd grade teacher, I think we all made a mistake. At the beginning of the year, she told Katie that she was the best reader in the class. While that made us proud, it also seemed to give Katie permission to take it easy and coast a bit. As a result, at Katie’s recent conference, her teacher told us that Katie is losing ground compared to her classmates and her grades went down. She’s also spending too much time “chit-chatting with her friends during class.” Hmmm...I wonder where she gets that?

Recently, I read about a study that showed that children who were praised for “working hard” did better in school than those who were praised for being “smart.” Researchers found that praising a child’s behavior (studying, thinking, discussing, etc.) positively affects school outcomes more than telling children that they’re intelligent, which is considered a fixed characteristic and doesn’t encourage them to work for good grades. Here’s a link to an extract of the research: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&id=1998-04530-003

After reading this research, and seeing it first hand with our daughter, my husband and I decided to start Katie on the next Hooked on Phonics reading program, Master Reader. We’re hoping that the interactive computer-based games will make it more fun for her to work on improving her fluency, comprehension, and flow. Now, all I have to do is figure out how to get my daughter’s friends to come over and chit-chat about reading (instead of Pokemon) at the same time then I’ll have the perfect solution. I’ve got it: a kids’ book club! As long as food and friends are part of the equation, it’s sure to work for me—I mean!—her.

How did your child do on his last report card? What feelings did it bring up for you as a parent?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Turtle Rock's Hooked On Phonics Experience

Watch the experience of the children at Turtle Rock center using the Hooked on Phonics program. For more information, please visit us at www.tryhookedonphonics.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

15 Minutes (Okay . . . Seconds) of Fame


I don’t usually like being in the spotlight. I’m a children’s book editor by trade. So I enjoy sitting under a tree (or behind a desk, if I must), polishing a manuscript until it becomes a shiny, new book. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a people person by nature—particularly little people. One of my favorite things in the world is reading with children and talking about what we’ve read. It’s amazing what 3- to 6-year-olds come up with.

I’m no stranger to TV, either. I used to work for the children’s television show, Sesame Street. But I worked behind the scenes in the research department—although I did get to peek inside Oscar’s trash can once during a tour of the set, hoping to see his pet elephant Fluffy. (Big disappointment!) As a researcher for the show, I got to spend my days in the New York Public Library (back in the days BEFORE the internet, when we used to go to work in a horse and buggy). Or, I’d get to travel to daycare centers and talk to preschoolers about what they’d learned from the shows we were about to air. Then I would give suggestions to the writers and producers about how to adjust the shows to teach what we were hoping it would.

But when it came time to shoot the Hooked on Phonics infomercial, I was not permitted to stay in my comfort zone—safely behind the camera. Since I’m the editorial director, they wanted me to try my hand at being onscreen. Plus, I had actually used the program with my 5-year-old son, so it made sense. What I didn’t count on was that my son was even more nervous about it than I was. He loves to read and has done amazingly well on the program: He actually went from not being able to sound out words in January to reading at kindergarten grade level by the end of the school year. His teacher was thrilled!

But when it came time to read for the camera, my own little “success story” wanted nothing to do with it. The only way we got Eli to cooperate was to have his big sister, who LOVES the limelight, sit next to him and bribe him with Legos®.

Later, as our production crew criss crossed the country talking to people, we found one amazing Hooked on Phonics (HOP) success story after another: There was Olga who struggled to get from Cuba to the US and used Hooked on Phonics with her daughter, Michelle, 20 years ago. Michelle had such great success with the program that Olga ended up using HOP over the years with other neighborhood kids who were struggling with reading. And now Olga is in the process of getting certified as a reading instructor herself. There was Wannika who used HOP as a child, who is now a teacher and uses the new version of the program with her son and with her students as the school’s phonics curriculum. There was Jennifer and Randy who used the same HOP program with three of their children—each for a different reason: to help their struggling reader catch up, for their typical child who was on track, and for a third child to give her a head start.

Eventually, there were so many incredible HOP stories that Eli’s story ended up on the cutting-room floor. I can’t say that I'm not relieved that my face isn’t on national television. But I’m mostly happy to have been able to personally meet these people first-hand and see the difference that Hooked on Phonics has made in their lives. The whole experience made me both proud and humbled at being able to say that I’m associated with the product.

If you’d like to take a look at Eli’s story that didn’t make it in the infomercial, it lives on in YouTube. Here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqHpuwVKd54

Do you have a Hooked on Phonics success story? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Share it with us here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

President of the Children's Reading Foundation speaks about Hooked on Phonics

Watch what Nancy Kerr, president of the Children's Reading Foundation, has to say about Hooked on Phonics. For more information, please visit us at www.tryhookedonphonics.com.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Brooke's Hooked on Phonics Story

Watch how Brooke used Hooked on Phonics over 20 years ago and how it has changed her life. For more information, please visit us at www.tryhookedonphonics.com.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wannika's Hooked on Phonics Story

Watch how Wannika used Hooked on Phonics with her students and the results they saw. For more information, visit us at www.tryhookedonphonics.com.