When two Georgia Regents University professors developed an interactive DVD in 2010 that used nursery rhymes and fairy tales to improve kindergartners’ literacy, it seemed they found a magic potion.
After nine months of using the DVD, 459 Richmond County kindergartners showed an average 20-point increase in mean vocabulary skills. In giving each student a copy of the DVD to bring home, they also found it exposed young parents to classic nursery rhymes and stories at risk of dying out.
Now after successfully integrating their 10-hour literacy DVD into all Richmond County elementary schools, GRU’s Walter Evans and Paulette Harris are developing a supplement to the digital storybook to feature video games and auditory vocabulary puzzles. They hope to have the supplement in all kindergarten rooms by the fall and believe it could boost literacy skills even higher than before.
“So many of our students, even our teachers, don’t know the nursery rhymes and fairy tales and other literature,” said Evans, project director and GRU English professor. “I want the kids to have an opportunity to love it.”
The two started developing the DVD about seven years ago when they saw a need in Richmond County’s demographics for more exposure to classic stories and a need to enhance comprehension at a younger age.
“Kindergarten is really the last chance to instill these skills,” said Harris, co-project director and GRU education professor. “Studies show not reading on level by the end of third grade is directly correlated to the high school drop out rate.”
The team compiled hundreds of stories and rhymes, paired them with colored photos and recruited GRU students and professors to record readings of tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Jack and the Beanstalk.
Before giving the DVD to students, Evans and Harris put 34 teachers through several weeks of intensive training to clarify the cultural relevance of the tales, the benefits of rhyming and how auditory comprehension leads to literacy.
And after working with the pilot group, the school district made about 15,000 copies to give to all elementary schools.
C.T. Walker Elementary School teacher Jenny Landrum said she saw results almost immediately.
“The kids in here who struggle with reading can do this,” Landrum said. “And when they hear themselves reading, it builds their confidence. They like exciting words. So with this, they are learning how to read ‘dinosaur’ before they learn ‘wise.”
The voice on the DVD reads a tale out loud, while text of the story and pictures are shown on an overhead projector. Rhyming words are highlighted in separate colors and students learn concepts like onomatopoeia – the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it – and word families.
After watching the DVD, Landrum reviews concepts like rhyming and sequence with books and flashcards.
The new digital supplement being developed will help with this reinforcement stage, Evans said. Teachers will not be expected to replace books or written materials with the digital supplement, which will be played on computers, but to use it as an additional tool.
Richmond County Language Arts Coordinator Karen Cliett said a voice on the auditory supplement will read a vocabulary question out loud, and pupils can move their computer cursor over each pictured word to have the choices read to them.
Cliett said pupils are not expected to be able to read when leaving kindergarten but should master the concept of sounds and how letters form to make words.
She said auditory comprehension plays a huge role in the process, which the DVD and supplement can help with. Often children in poor areas don’t have families who are able to expose their children to outside experiences or reading time at home – which can play a large role in literacy.
“Kindergarten especially is really and truly about children learning sound and being able to match print to sound,” Cliett said. “Children that ... go places with their parents and take vacations with the parents and their parents read to them, that’s the most important part that develops that sound and listening comprehension. Not all children get that.”
Evans and Harris said at least 40 teachers will be trained this summer to use the DVD supplement when it is complete. They are confident they will see the same effect on vocabulary skills they saw in 2011, or even more.
The end goal, they said, is to spread the DVD and supplement outside of Richmond County – even worldwide.
“In truth we have a whole group of generations who have not heard nursery rhymes and fairy tales,” Harris said. “We’re trying to get the students, the parents, we’re trying to hit everyone out there.”