Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Television and learning

I don't know what most teachers think about television--I suspect that they resemble much of this country and have mixed emotions about the so-called boob tube.  I happened to grow up with this new medium so that it and I seem comfortable with each other.  When I see something that I am not interested in I either switch channels or turn it off.  In recent years I have become quite happy with the ability to set up my computer or my television to record programs that I can view at a latter date.  Cool!

But I read on the web and in some newspapers that there are those who are concerned about the use of television and children's learning.  Some researchers suggest that it retards the learning of children's speech--some authors even suggest that no television will improve SAT scores.  I can hear a number of parents applauding now across this continent.   However I suspect even in those homes of cheering parents one would find at least one if not more television sets.  It is a medium that is hard to ignore.

I once had a graduate assistant who said in a class one day that her family did not have a television.  Here she was in an instructional technology course learning about media and she did not have a television set.  Amazing!  On closer questioning from me she did admit that her family (husband, wife and two kids of school age) did have a television but it was under the bed that she and her husband used.  So I asked, is it then just stored there?  "Oh no, it is hooked up and useable but it is kept under the bed."  Not sure where this was going I asked if her husband watched football on the television?  "Yes, on Sunday's he watches the Seahawks."  So I asked, do you bring it out and set it up in the room somewhere?  "No, he lies on the floor and watches the game."  "In fact when ever someone needs to watch something, they turn on the tv and lie on the floor watching under our bed."  To this day I'm not sure I understand their use of the television in their family.

Still, the TV is a part of our society.  I'm always fascinated with the public television and its relationship to the children.  From Kermit the Frog to reruns of being Welcomed to my neighborhood children have learned.  But someone has to make sure those channels are on and that the children have to watch.  Actually, they have to learn to watch......

Let me switch subjects just for a moment.  How do children learned to read?  Optimally, Mom or Dad sits down with their child and says let me read you a story and then proceeds to read a simple story to their child pointing out the pictures and turning the page.  "Turning the Page!"  That is how children learn to use a book.  Then we read them another book and pretty soon they begin to see a relationship between those strange markings on the bottom of the page and what the parent is saying.  And as they become familiar with the story the child may ask to please read the story again.  There isn't a parent today that hasn't been bored with a child's beloved story being read to them for the nth time.  Indeed, some parents have reported changing the story and having their child say, "No, that is not what you read last night!"  "Read it like you did before."  Oh Happy Days.

But how many of you parents have helped your children to "learn" television.  How to watch and how to listen.  Very few I suspect.  In the early seventies, I found some parents who would work with me and their children.  I'd have them put in a tape (before DVDs), then tell the child what the tape was about (mostly Disney's short films).  Getting a sense of what is to come is important to children's learning, sorta like setting goals.  Then the parent and the child watch....together.  In fact the parent needs to say things like, "that is funny" or "Oh no, he's going to be caught."  Reacting to the TV is good.

After the tape or DVD is over, the parent needs to ask questions like--"who was your favorite person, animal, whatever, in the show?" " What was the best part?"  "Did you know what was going to happen?"  Questions like this help the child learn to interpret the television signal much like learning to decipher those strange marks on a page of a book.  

Now a warning to parents who do this with their children.  Those kids will want to watch that show over and over.  And they will want to tell you what is coming in the next scene.  Boredom city for the parent but a delight for a child.  They even begin to memorize the lines in the movie.  Which indeed is learning to speak in longer sentences as they grow older.  It is a learning situation.

Parents can't always watch with their children.  But after initial watching of some shows, parents can set up a movie and then proceed to get dinner ready, e-mails answered and so on.  When the child is finished with the tape, Mom or Dad need to sit down for a short moment and ask, "what was the show about?  "Did it have good parts that you enjoyed?"  "Would you like to watch it sometime again?"  All of these types of questions leads the child to watching with more intensity and not just being a passive receiver of the message.  

Hey Teachers-you too can help in "teaching" television.  When showing a movie (I use tape, DVD, film, movie and shows interchangeable in this type of writing) teachers ought to put special words on the blackboard, ask the students to look for certain activities or findings.  In essence, get the students to look actively for something rather then passively watching and trying to recall.  In the movie "Hemo, the Magnificent" I learned to put scientific words on the board early in the day and the kids could either look them up or just think about them.  When they were said in the film, hands would go up.  This is important--it made them successful in watching a movie.

I have one more major point I want to make about using television in your home or school but it will wait until next time.  I use to do this with my kids.  Show them a movie about a kid breaking the glass on a greenhouse and just as he is about to be caught turn off the TV.  Tell them they can see it tomorrow.....after they write me an ending.  Writing an ending for TV?  What a thought.  I got some of my best writing from the kids doing this trick.  Learning English and Television.  My oh my.

So what do you think this major point will be?  Any idea?  If you do have some thoughts, write me.....OR go thank a teacher who taught you to anticipate.

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