Learning to Read is as Easy as Eating Some Alphabet Soup


In his 1985 article, Learning in the Age of Television, Neil Postman wrote “…We know how that ‘Sesame Street’ encourages children to love school only if school is like ‘Sesame Street.’ Which is to say, we now know that ‘Sesame Street’ undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents”. Postman is discussing the role that television had begun to play in the education of American children and how this audio-visual technology was reshaping parent and educator understanding of what learning could look like if they revamped what the traditional classroom setting looked like. 

For many of us, imagining what the traditional classroom looked like has something like this image imprinted in our minds: 

Related image

As Haiming describes in her blog post, the teacher is placed at the front of the room, students sit in rows of desks and there is little visual stimulation in the surroundings. This classroom is rooted in behaviourist learning theory in which the teacher transmits the knowledge to the student. This image did not align with what Sesame Street taught us to thinking about learning. 

Postman writes “In searching the literature of education, you will find it said by some that children will learn best when they are interested in what they are learning. You will find it said–Plato and Dewey emphasized this–that reason is best cultivated when it is rooted in robust emotional ground. You will even find some who say that learning is best facilitated by a loving and benign teacher. But no one has ever said or implied that significant learning is effectively, durably, and truthfully achieved when education is entertainment”. Postman is arguing that a shift in learning theory needed to occur at this point in history from behaviourist to constructivist and beyond to connectivism as it relates to modern education. The group presenting this week asked some important questions about how our class thought AV technology impacted learning. Some responses were that AV technologies created opportunities for connections with others, that auditory and visual concepts were closer to real life than text and therefore easier to understanding, AV appeals to different styles of learning and can evoke emotion which in turn activates prior knowledge to create meaning (possibly through digital storytelling, songs or podcasts, etc.), and that integrating AV was more engaging that traditional styles of teaching. Many of our class’ ideas aligned with Postman’s arguments. 

The introduction of audio-visual technology began almost a century ago with tape recorders and overhead projectors and has evolved over time to include technologies such as iPads, smart projectors, robots and virtual reality devices being used in classrooms today. The importance of using AV technology in the classroom should not be underestimated and “there are two reasons for this; one, learning via AV creates a stimulating and interactive environment which is more conducive to learning; two, we live in an audio-visual age which means that having the skills to use AV equipment is integral to future employment prospects. Therefore exposure to AV technology in education is imperative”. AV technology has become important in the classroom in “facilitating improved productivity and student engagement, offering flexible applications that can create dynamic learning environments for wide-reaching audiences…technology also allows groups from all over the world to connect and collaborate in real-time” (Source).  In 2018, this information shouldn’t be surprising when we have statistics like these to suggest the relevance of AV technology in our lives. 

Today’s technology capabilities are likely beyond what Postman imagined for education in 1985 but many of the positive implications of AV technology remain relevant. If we think solely of our EC&I 833 course and the opportunities made available through Zoom which allows people to connect from various locations (Alec taught one class from Hong Kong last Winter semester!) for one common goal, it really is quite amazing! Further, if we think about how technology is being integrated into classrooms now through Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs that integrate the culture of smartphones, the use of educational programs through Youtube, and the many applications used to connect classrooms globally, the implications for learning are vast. In my own practice, AV technology enhances learning by showing students content rather than simply having them read about it or listen to me teach about it. AV technology provides another lens and context through which students are able to make meaning of the world around them. As previously suggested, students can learn more when they are engaged and interested in what they are learning. Finally, the integration of AV technologies in today’s classrooms allow for 21st century learning to take place. 

The use of AV technologies in the classroom is conducive to understanding new literacies such as digital literacy. Pitts argues 

“all communication is multimodal, that writing alone is not enough for learning, and that all modalities are ‘equally significant for meaning and communication’ …In this context written language, then, is but one part of meaning making. Moreover, it is no longer the dominant part. A literate individual is no longer one who can simply read and write, but one who can place language within a broader context – a multimodal world. As information can be expressed through multiple modes, the ability to interpret and connect the multiple modes through a variety of literacies (e.g., print, digital) becomes essential”.

New epistemoligies in a digital age: Ways of knowing beyond text-based literacy in young adult leaners

In conclusion, AV technologies have the power to revolutionize learning in many contexts and make learning more engaging, empowering and connected. Teachers have a responsibility to use this information to transform their teaching and the role that traditional classroom models continue to play in modern classrooms. After all, according to author Malcolm Gladwell, “Sesame Street was built around a single breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them”. How are you holding your students attention? 


6 thoughts on “Learning to Read is as Easy as Eating Some Alphabet Soup

  1. Great post. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on AV in classroom settings and the benefits it provides for learners. Our course, EC&I 833, is a great example of how technology can foster a community of learning and make it engaging, empowering and connected.

  2. Pingback: My Thoughts on Sesame Street and Traditional Teaching – Amy Cross

  3. Great post! I often wonder with schools becoming more in tune with AV within their buildings and it starting to become an integral part of education, where can funding come from to assure this is happening in every school. I know with the political climate it’s going to be difficult but could there be outside agencies that could sponsor schools?

  4. Pingback: Education through Entertainment – Nataly Moussa

  5. Pingback: Resistance to Embracing Technology in the Classroom, Then and Now – Technology: Forever Evolving

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