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Learning vocabulary from television: Does onscreen print have a role?

Vocabulary acquisition associated with watching high-quality educational television has been documented in a number of studies. One lingering question is whether adding strategically placed onscreen print to a program can enhance vocabulary acquisition beyond those effects attributable to viewing educational content alone. The present study was designed to test this question with 4- to 8-year-old children (N = 121). The moderating role of family socioeconomic status (SES) was also tested. Children were living either at or below the U.S. federal poverty level (low socioeconomic status; L-SES) or above the U.S. federal poverty level (working-class socioeconomic status; WC-SES). All children were asked to view 16 different episodes of the program Martha Speaks at least one time during a 4-week viewing phase (mean number of views = 24). Half the children (n = 61) viewed with target vocabulary words displayed onscreen when the word was first introduced in an episode, whereas the other half (n = 60) viewed without print. There were no direct effects associated with onscreen print. Instead, L-SES children identified more program-specific vocabulary words at the posttest when they saw the program without print, while WC-SES children identified more program-specific words at the posttest when they saw the program with print. Repeated exposure benefited L-SES children regardless of the presence or absence of onscreen print. In contrast, WC-SES children in the onscreen print group did not show additional gains from repeated exposure, whereas WC-SES children in the no-print group evidenced declining vocabulary scores with repeated exposure. (author abstract)
Resource Type:
Reports & Papers
United States

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