Of all the technology that I looked at, the “Arthur” constellation was by far the most complete package. In form, “Arthur” is exemplary. It consists of a daily television program that is aired in the morning and afternoon on PBS. A teacher’s guide is available that contains an immense variety of supplemental activities, video cassettes of the television program, the same stories in print, audio cassettes that accompany some of the print stories, a Web site with a variety of activities and two CD-Roms that have an “Arthur” story and a game. Because there are so many “Arthur” stories, it’s easy to use the Arthur series as a curriculum anchor throughout the year.
This variety of formats is important because it ensures that schools and homes that don’t have access to much technology will still be able to use some forms of media. This is especially important in terms of how students can use this material at home. The only format that is not used for “Arthur” is radio. It would be great if PBS put the program on the radio at a different time than the television broadcast. This would provide another inexpensive opportunity for children to have access to the program.
The television show, the video tape copies and the audio cassettes do not require reading ability or the presence of adults, so the children can, on their own, experience “Arthur” stories as often as they want. If their parents are not strong readers, they can watch or listen to the stories with their children and do not have to read a story to them. The CD-Roms would probably stay in the classroom. It is also possible for a child to use it without knowing how to read, but s/he might need some help getting started.
The Web site would be available to parents that had the computers and access to the Web. It is focused more towards classrooms than home use, although there are activities listed that parents might want to do with their children. There are many opportunities for children to be active participants. The teacher’s guide has an incredible number of activities that teachers can do with students that allow them to analyze the stories, produce their own stories, and send stories or pictures to the “Arthur” Web site. The activity guide has hundreds of suggested activities that relate to the stories. In addition, the Web site also has many of the suggestions from both of the guides.
I decided to look at the “Arthur” series because I found it’s technology package met my format criteria best. However, in terms of content, it falls short because it’s goal is not to increase vocabulary size, but help beginning readers. Because of this, the vocabulary tends to be very simple. In order to meet the needs of vocabulary development, unfamiliar words would have to be added to the stories and the teacher’s guide would have to provide activities that focus on the new vocabulary words.
Despite the lack of unfamiliar words, the content does meet the criteria of engaging subject matter and analytical discussions. Children will find the stories interesting because they focus on children in their age range with issues they will find relevant, like getting along with siblings or learning to ride a bicycle. The teacher’s guide presents many activities that will engage the children in analytic discussions of the story.
There is very little media that is specifically designed for early vocabulary acquisition. While the “Arthur” series is an excellent example of the kind of format that is needed, the content is not really designed to address vocabulary development. Other software contain some aspects of vocabulary acquistion, but they are generally incomplete. Because technology can be such a powerful tool for this age group, it is hoped that new products will be developed that contain both a variety of media and a focus on vocabulary.
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