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The Impact of Sesame Street on Preschool Children: A Review and Synthesis of 30 Years' ResearchShalom M. Fisch; Rosemarie T. Truglio; Charlotte F. Cole Online publication date: 17 November 2009
To cite this Article Fisch, Shalom M. , Truglio, Rosemarie T. and Cole, Charlotte F.(1999) 'The Impact of Sesame Street on
Preschool Children: A Review and Synthesis of 30 Years' Research', Media Psychology, 1: 2, 165 190 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1207/s1532785xmep0102_5 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/s1532785xmep0102_5
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MEDIA PSYCHOLOGY, I, 165-190. Copyright O 1999, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
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A Review and Synthesis of 30 Years' ResearchShalom M. Fisch Rosemarie T. Truglio Charlotte F. ColeChildren's Television Workshop
Thirty years after its broadcast premiere, Sesame Street continues to pursue its mission of entertaining and educating children around the world. This article assesses the impact of the U.S. Sesame Street and several international Sesame Street coproductions, through a review of research on the series' effects on children's academic skills and social behavior: Consistent patterns of data collected over 30 years indicate that Sesame Street holds significant positive effects for its viewers across a broad range of subject areas. Measurable effects can endure for as long as 10 to 12 years, and many have been found to be consistent across countries and cultures as well.
November 1999 marks the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Sesame Street on American television. For 30 years, Sesame Street has entertained and enlightened children across the United States and around the world. It is difficult today to realize what a revolutionary departure Sesame Street was from the existing state of children's television in the late 1960s. Although television series for children had been produced and broadcast since television was developed, no series prior to Sesame Street had attempted to address a set of specified educational goals: to teach a curriculum. Moreover, at the time, virtually nothing was known about the potential of television to serve as an Requests for reprints should be sent to Shalom M. Fisch, Children's Television Workshop, One Lincoln Plaza, New York, NY 10023. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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educational tool. Few systematic studies on the impact of educational television existed; few empirical data were available. Thanks to Sesame Street, that would soon change. Early on, the Sesame Street team realized that it would need substantial and ongoing involvement by experts in education and early child development. This realization led to the creation of what would eventually come to be called the CTW (Children's Television Workshop) Model (e.g., Mielke, 1990), an interdisciplinary approach to television production that brought together content experts, television producers, and educational researchers to collaborate throughout the life of the project (Fig. 1). This collaboration would not be pro forma, nor would it be limited to the occasional involvement of educational consultants. Rather, producers and researchers would work hand-in-hand at every stage of production. Sesame Street's first Executive Producer, David Connell, and Research Director, Edward Palmer, observed that "if Sesame Street was an experiment-and it very definitely continues to be one-this notion of broadcasterlresearcher cooperation was the most bold experiment within it" (Connell & Palmer, 1971, p. 67).
Figure I . The CTW Model.
Research studies conducted in support of Sesame Street and all CTW projects fall into two broad categories. Formative research is conducted before and during production to provide information that can guide the production of new material. Summative research is conducted after production to assess whether the material has met its goals and to examine its impact on the series's audience. By 1999 Sesame Street had certainly become the most heavily researched series in the history of television. More than 1,000 studies have examined
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and its impact in areas such as literacy, number skills, and promoting prosocial messages, as well as its formal features as they pertain to such issues as children's attention (see CTW Research Division, 1989, for a comprehensive bibliography of studies through 1989). As a growing number of international coproductions of Sesame Street have appeared (such as the Mexican Plaza Stsamo or the Turkish Susam Sokagi), this research has also assumed an international scope, with studies conducted by local researchers to assess the impact of these series in their native countries and languages. This article reviews research that spans the past 30 years to examine the impact of Sesame Street on children. The first portion reviews several key studies on the impact of the U.S. version of Sesame Street on school readiness. Next, the review examines research on the series' impact on children's social development. Finally, the focus expands beyond the domestic Sesame Street series to discuss the process by which Sesame Street coproductions are created in countries other than the United States, along with evidence on the impact of some of those coproductions.Sesame Street
SESAME STREETAND SCHOOL READINESSFrom the very beginning, one of the chief motivations behind the creation of Sesame Street was "to foster intellectual and cultural development in preschoolers" (Cooney, 1966), that is, to help preschool children-particularly those from minority and low-income families-become ready for school. Of course, "ready for school" is a very broad phrase that encompasses not only skills that are traditionally considered academic, such as number skills and learning to read, but also personal attributes, such as self-confidence, and interpersonal skills, such as cooperation with peers (Zero to Threemational Center for Clinical Infant Programs, 1992). This section reviews selected landmark studies on the impact of Sesame Street on children's performance in literacy, mathematics, and other "academic" subjects, with a particular emphasis on longitudinal studies that have assessed the impact of preschool children's viewing of Sesame Street on their later school performance and academic skills. Impact on interpersonal skills is addressed in the next section, Sesame Street and Social Behavior.
Early Research on ImpactThe educational impact of Sesame Street was first documented in a pair of studies conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS; Ball & Bogatz, 1970; Bogatz & Ball, 1971). The first of these studies, conducted after the first
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season of production was completed, assessed Sesame Street's impact on a variety of cognitive skills. A geographically and ethnically diverse sample of nearly 1,000 children aged 3 to 5 (most of whom were considered to be from disadvantaged backgrounds) were either encouraged or not encouraged to watch Sesame Street (at home or at school) during a 26-week period; across the sample, exposure ranged from zero times per week to more than five. Before and after this 26-week exposure, the children were tested via an extensive battery of measures that covered several dimensions: knowledge of the alphabet and numbers, names of body parts, recognition of forms, knowledge of relational terms, and sorting and classification skills. The results of the study indicated that exposure to Sesame Street had the desired educational effects across these dimensions. Those children who watched the most showed the greatest gains between pretest and posttest, and the areas that showed the greatest effects were those that had been emphasized the most in Sesame Street (e.g., letters). These effects held across age (although 3-year-olds showed the greatest gains, presumably because they knew the least when they came to the series), sex, geographic location, socioeconomic status (SES; with low-SES children showing greater gains than middle-SES children), native language (English or Spanish), and whether the children watched at home or in school. The second ETS study (Bogatz & Ball, 1971) consisted of two components. One was a replication of the earlier study, using Season I1 sh