Spotlight: Around the Corner: Improving Pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten Using Technology

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Robert E. Slavin and Nancy A. Madden, Success for All Foundation

What was your grant trying to achieve?  Our i3 development grant created and formatively evaluated Around the Corner, a technology-enhanced approach to early literacy that combines the Success for All Foundation's Curiosity Corner preschool and KinderCorner kindergarten programs with content from the award-winning PBS show Sesame Street, additional new content by Chris Cerf, a creator of much of Sesame Street, and other multimedia content.  In particular, we created home links, content sent home four days each week on DVDs.  Each day, a home link show presented theme material (e.g., weather, markets, countries around the world, health) with rich vocabulary, a letter of the day, an illustrated story read out loud, math activities, and music and movement.  Each 15-minute “show” was like Sesame Street itself, except that the content aligned with what students were doing in school that day.  Parents almost invariably (96%, according to surveys) watched with their kids.  So in addition to reinforcing themes and content from the preschool or kindergarten, the home links communicated to parents what was happening in school, so they could follow up.  For example, if the theme was markets, parents could take their children to the market and point out the vegetables or explain how the cash register works.  If the math unit was on shapes they could look for triangles, squares, and circles in the neighborhood.  If the letter of the day was “J”, they could help the child point out things in the neighborhood starting with that letter.

After development and piloting in collaboration with our partner schools, a formative evaluation of Around the Corner was carried out, with qualitative measures and then a quantitative evaluation with random assignment of students to conditions within 12 schools. One outcome was a fully developed program ready to be more broadly evaluated and disseminated nationally.  On achievement tests the students in Around the Corner score only slightly better than those in the usual form of Success for All, which are already known to be positive from previous research.

How is technology playing a role in the grant? The DVD videos helped the students refresh what they learned and the parents to both find out what their children were learning during the day but also to augment this with family experiences aligned to the lesson.

What are some of the grants’ successes and findings? Based on questionnaires and interviews from parents and teachers, and on observations of children, reactions were very positive.  New components were very well received. Reception from parents was fantastic – over 90% of parents reported that the kids watched these 10-15-minute shows 3-4 times / week, and over 80% of the parents watched with their kids. In 90% of the families, somebody – whether it be a parent or other family member – watched these videos with the kids. In one site in Phoenix, about 50% of the parents were English learners. These parents appreciated the videos for helping them learn as well.  Although test score outcomes did not show a difference in outcomes, the core SFA preschool and kindergarten programs had already been evaluated and shown to be effective, and since the videos add little or no cost, they are a practical enhancement to the existing programs.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered in the grant, and how have you addressed them?  We encountered and overcame many difficulties.  Some parents did not have DVDs, so we sometimes set up DVD players in the school for use during or after school hours.  Some parents complained that the narrated books were too long, so we wrote shorter books. 

What advice could you give to new grantees, based on your experience thus far? Listen to and learn from teachers, parents, and students.  No original idea will work out as planned, and parents and teachers are the best sources for ongoing feedback.