08 January 2013 ~ Comments

The Hidden Reading Tutor

Students around the country are now back in school following the holidays.  This year, though, the break meant a unique assignment for some elementary students in Memphis, Tennessee.

The homework was simple.   Students were instructed to watch television.  They could watch cartoons, movies or other programming that aired before 7:00 pm to help ensure that the content was age-appropriate.  The only catch was that they were required to turn the closed captioning on while watching television during that time.

Research has shown that reading closed captions while watching television can help improve literacy.  Upon hearing this information at a reading seminar, Raychellet Williamson, the principal of Shannon Elementary in Memphis, created the closed captioning assignment for her students.  The goal was to ensure that students continued to read while away from school.

A prime example of how reading closed captions can help improve literacy is found in Finland.  Finnish children do not begin formal schooling until they are seven years old, but they earn the best reading scores in the world. Finnish families are also some of the highest users of closed captioning in the world. According to Jim Trelease, the author of the New York Times bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook, closed captioning can serve as “the hidden reading tutor” available to television viewers.

Raychellet Williamson loved the idea of introducing her students to this new reading tutor.  “You are actually reading while you watch TV,” Williamson said in an interview with commercialappeal.com. “Hearing the word as it is said and then seeing the action, to me, that sounds like free Hooked on Phonics!”

Now that students have returned to school, Williamson has received positive feedback from both students and parents.

Whether for children just learning to read, adults struggling with illiteracy, or people that are learning English as a new language, closed captioning continues to be a beneficial resource.  The next time you sit down to watch television with children, be sure to turn on the closed captions and take advantage of the hidden reading tutor.

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