Sunday, September 2, 2007

WordGirl Conquers Literacy

About a week ago, I posted a blog about television dummying down America. That blog claimed that viewing television at an early age had a detrimental effect on children's vocabulary. Can the new PBS television series WordGirl help reverse that slide?

Imagine the heroine, a fifth-grader Becky Botsford from Planet Literacy, metamorphosing into her alter-ego, WordGirl, and flying to the rescue donning her red-cape and flinging words at her enemies. Her monkey friend, Captain HuggyFace, sure to appeal to the young set, accompanies her on escapades challenging evil counterparts, tongue-tied Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy and word-mangling Butcher. Words like "preposterous" and "cumbersome" flummox them, baffling and distracting them, while she wins another conquest.

The show is aimed at children 4 to 9 years in age. The actors voicing the characters come from improv comedy and shows like Saturday Night Live. Chris Parnell of SNL does the voice of the narrator, Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development does Mr. Big, and Fred Stoller of Everybody Loves Raymond voices for the Sandwich-Making Guy. The program's goal is to be upbeat while reinforcing vocabulary in comic scenarios in the standard cartoon-format that appeals to both tikes and children midway through the elementary grades.

The program's creator, Dorothea Gillim, envisions parents sitting to watch the show with their children and reinforcing the vocabulary lessons. The show originates from a curriculum explained in Bringing Words to Life: Robust Vocabulary Instruction, a book authored by two University of Pittsburgh researchers. Its premise is that vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy.

Scholastic, the media mega-star in children's literacy, has plans underway for a book series complementing the show. WordGirl's producers have also explored options like sending a new word a day to children via the Internet or cell phones.

For a preview of the show's companion websites, check out: ,,

View this YouTube Jim Lehrer interview with WordGirl, , or this YouTube preview for the show to be broadcast in mid-September:

What creative ideas do you have for promoting literacy among young children? Do you agree vocabulary is the linchpin to literacy? Do you think we are facing a literacy crisis in the US? Do you believe a program like WordGirl will bolster children's verbal skills?


Alyssa said...

Ok, so she throws big words at them. But my question is, does she define these big words for the viewer? Because if al she's doing is attacking "villains" with words, children will be familiar with them but have no idea what they mean.

Kasha Kamianowski said...

Personally, I think that we are on a verge of a literacy crisis here in the US partially because many children are growing up in environments that are almost completely revovling around text messaging and instant messaging where words are reduced to only a couple of letters. Many other children's shows also comtain elementary language so this new idea for a children's show can do wonders as long as it is able to maintain a childs attention long enough for him/her to be pulled into the show, and ultimately learn without knowing it.

Victoria said...

Overall, it sounds like a good idea but it has a lot of holes. The creator says she expected parents to sit with their children and reinforce the new vocabulary words. Many parents put their children in front of the tv as a babysitter.
Another thing is that just because these children are learning these words, it doesn't mean that they know how to spell them.

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