I’ve recently been corrected about a long-time impression that I’ve held. Between you and me, I don’t always receive correction gracefully, but in this instance, it opened up possibilities for thinking about how media and literature can come together for the good of kids.

    I’ve never been a big fan of books that replicate what happens in a television show or movie. To me, these books seem both uncreative and unnecessary – why have a book tell the same story that a show did perfectly well?

    That’s where Dr. Sebastian Wren, Senior Program Coordinator at Literacy First of UT Austin, stepped in with some guidance for me. He trains AmeriCorps members to provide early literacy instruction to young readers, and he knows both the research on literacy and the minds of kids. “Actually,” he said, “knowing the show may help a young reader figure out the words in the book, which can be very exciting.”

    Here’s the tricky part for us non-literacy experts. If the reader is young and hasn’t yet started to crack the code of reading, telling a story by flipping through a book can be a perfectly wonderful activity. In telling a child’s version, she is relying on memory, imagination and the sense of how a book works, all of which are very important pre-literacy skills. That said, if a young reader is working on the actual task of reading strings of words and making meaning from them, we want to ensure she focuses on the words in front of her and not making substitutions based upon guesses or memory. Success comes when words are both read correctly and make sense to the reader. And when they match the story, the child already knows, it’s time to celebrate! Conversely, if the child is clearly frustrated or substitutes words for what’s on the page, she may not be ready for that level of difficulty yet.

    Technology has brought yet another means to experience stories and contribute to learning. Several children’s shows now have accompanying podcasts, where the stories from television episodes are recast as audio adventures. If a child already knows the episode, she can identify how the audio version differs. If the stories are new, the podcasts create opportunities for a child to hear rich vocabulary and visualize episodes in her mind. PBS KIDS now has four podcast series – “Pinkalicious & Peterrific,” “Odd Squad,” “Molly of Denali” and “Arthur” – with more on the way.

    May your July be filled with great shows, exciting audio and lots of good books.



    Benjamin Kramer, PhD, is the director of education for Austin PBS.

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