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Making the Most of Screen Time

Faculty Susan Neuman

Susan Neuman, professor of childhood and literacy education, recently received an award from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. Neuman’s research team will be using the four-year, $1.5 million grant to study how screen media can be used to support preschool-aged children in their learning and language acquisition.

“This is exploratory work – what makes children learn and how can we improve their knowledge?” says Neuman. “The focus on content knowledge for preschoolers is unusual; most people think only about vocabulary and language development at this age, but we think these young kids have an inherent interest in learning about their world.”

The award for this study, titled “Reducing Knowledge Gaps for Low-Income and Educationally At-Risk Pre-Kindergartners through Taxonomically Organized Books and Screen Media,” is the fourth that Neuman and her team have garnered from IES. 

With a previous grant, Neuman and her Co-Principal Investigators – Ashley Pinkham, assistant professor of psychology at West Texas A&M University, and Tanya Kaefer, associate professor of education at Lakehead University – discovered that the right types of screen media correlate to accelerated vocabulary development in children, especially those from lower socioeconomic brackets.

With this current IES grant, the team will be looking to discover the right blend between books and screen media to positively impact children’s vocabulary and comprehension. The team will use some of their funding to work with media producers to create screen materials that are more consciously developed to support contextual learning in young children.

“When producing work for children, screen media producers have lots of goals, like being creative, funny, and imaginative,” says Neuman. “But they can often miss opportunities for kids to use this medium as a learning strategy. We’re excited to be working in New York where there are lots of professionals already here and interested in creating these kinds of media and apps that we can consult with.”

The team’s research will carefully examine children’s attention when they view the screen materials the team will use to start with, as well as the resources they develop along the way. Trained Steinhardt graduate students will use eye-tracking technology to examine which on-screen phenomena hold children’s attention, which means a greater likelihood that they’ll remember/learn it.

Research will commence in universal pre-kindergarten classrooms with children aged 4.0 to 4.11 in New York City’s District 7 in the Bronx

“At the moment, there’s a great variation in the materials available in different preschool classrooms,” says Neuman. “Our notion is that once we develop the materials and test them appropriately, we can create both physical and screen media to be used by classroom teachers in the NYC Department of Education. We want to be able to give stronger bootstraps to both new and established teachers throughout New York City.”


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