Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program

PBS TV Program Partnered with Classroom Activities Demonstrate Significant Improvement in Student Vocabulary Across Florida

During the 2012-2013 school year, Florida public broadcasting stations across the state implemented The Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program, an educational outreach program that demonstrated noteworthy improvement in vocabulary acquisition and comprehension for elementary school students. Implemented in 19 schools across 16 school districts, more than 1050 children participated in this literacy project.

Specifically designed as a companion piece tied the to the nationally televised PBS television show, Martha Speaks, the intent of The Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program is to develop and enhance vocabulary acquisition and comprehension in elementary school students.  Florida PBS stations created The Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Project which paired fourth or fifth grade “big” buddies with kindergarten or first grade “little” buddies. Together, buddies watched segments of the Martha Speaks episodes, talked and played games reinforcing key vocabulary concepts from the show, read a literacy rich book, and spent time writing together about their experience. The program included 10 sessions, which targeted four vocabulary words per session.  In total, 36 kindergarten or first grade and 36 fourth or fifth grade classrooms throughout the state of Florida participated in the evaluation, which compared pre- to post-test gains of students in a treatment group with a comparison group.

The research study investigated the effects of the Martha Speaks Reading Buddies Program on big buddy and little buddy vocabulary acquisition and comprehension. Students were tested on target word knowledge, general vocabulary knowledge and reading ability. Results showed that both kindergarten or first grade (little buddies) and fourth or fifth grade students (big buddies) showed gains in retaining and understanding words from the Martha Speaks Reading Buddies training.

These results are highly encouraging, given the important role of vocabulary in successful reading development. This study effectively demonstrates that PBS programming and resources have a positive educational impact on children’s vocabulary development when combined with appropriate, research-based instructional practices.

Another interesting result from this study is the overwhelmingly positive response from the participating teachers who appreciated the books and resources provided as well as the turn-key approach  that provided lesson plans and instructions that allowed them to easily and effectively integrate the program into their classroom curriculums. Having free access to the lesson plans and resources online is yet another way that public television is reaching and positively impacting teachers and students throughout the nation. Of the Florida educators who participated in this program, almost 90% indicate that they will continue using these materials and the PBS Martha Speaks program to help their children achieve vocabulary gains. And not only will the initial group of educators implement the project again, they have also shared it with colleagues at their schools who will now utilize these resources with their students when the 2013-2014 school year begins.

With 90 percent of the participating schools planning to continue Martha Speaks Reading Buddies in their classrooms in 2013-2014, Florida public television stations are targeting 15 additional schools to expand the program.

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