Beyond Reading: Getting Them to Eat Their Vegetables through Transmedia

For many children (and adults), reading is the broccoli of the entertainment world.

We all know it’s good for us, but it’s bitter and takes a long time going down the gullet.

For too long, a battle has waged between the sweet delights offered to us through film, gaming, television, and streaming media versus the healthy, cerebral benefits a good book provides.

The act of reading is a magical thing. It may not feel like it, but when we are looking at words on the page, our brain is running several simultaneous processes, from word analysis and auditory detection to vocalization and visualization, to the experience we know and love (or loathe entirely).

According to a study by Emory University, engaging with words on a page does 5 things:

1. It heightens brain connectivity.

2. It puts readers in the characters’ shoes, figuratively and biologically.

3. It rewires the brain and creates new white matter (the brain creates more white matter which improves communication within the brain. The results suggest that reading deficits in children can point to specific problems in the brain’s circuits that can be treated and improved with reading).

4. It expands our attention span (Reading involves several brain functions, including visual and auditory processes, phonemic awareness, fluency, comprehension, and more. According to the ongoing research at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in from of us).

5. It increases the capacity of your working memory.

These are all great things, I know, but the reality is, if this blog took more than two minutes to read, it would become the broccoli you refused to eat.

In her article, Reading Books vs. Watching TV — Is One Really Better for Us? Diane Wagman pointed out:

“In 2013, Hikaru Takeuchi, at Tohoku University in Japan, found that the more TV a child watched, the lower her verbal reasoning and the higher her levels of arousal and aggression. The child’s frontal lobe actually thickened.

But recently another investigation by criminologists Joseph Schwartz, of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Kevin Beaver, of Florida State University, concluded that genetics has the greatest effect on how children react to TV. A kid with aggressive tendencies might prefer watching television to being with other children. Same with a child with a tendency for depression.”

So, as the battle rages on between the vegetables that are good for us and the desserts we just can’t resist, the question remains:

Can we find a happy medium between dinner and dessert?

I believe, YES, we can, if we’re willing to take a transmedia approach that bridges the gap between education and entertainment, between literacy and learning.

From a child’s perspective, it requires a bit of the tail wagging the dog ( a little cheddar cheese on the broccoli, if you will), like the storytelling program we did at Folktellers earlier this year.

After the award-winning release of Book I: Phases of the Moon in our Guidebook Series, we set out to promote reading and create storytelling adventures using transmedia right in the classroom.

In a partnership between the Folktellers team the staff, students, and administration at Upton Elementary, 40 fifth graders took part an exciting movie storytelling contest. Over the course of 90 days, students read Book I: Phases of the Moon and then worked in teams to design, develop, and produce their own “folk-tale” film inspired by the book series. These mini-movies were hosted on Folktellers YouTube Channel and voting began.

Based upon subscriber voting, we announced the winners at our inaugural 2019 FOLKIE Film Awards.

The program was such a success that 5th Grade teacher Kim Piccirilli sent us this kind note:

Dear Folktellers Team,

Our class just finished reading Excerpts From An Unknown Guidebook: Book 1: Phases of the Moon by Josef Bastian.

This book was an exciting journey through the eyes of young storytellers, Aaron, Wendy, and Jake. Its mystical adventure kept us wondering and intrigued with what would happen next.

Students could relate with the characters in the story and would often talk about how they can see themselves playing that part in the book. One of the most amazing experiences my students had during this book was when they had the opportunity to share their own stories in the form of a short movie clip.

Their imaginations began to illuminate and the power of storytelling took over. This book has helped my students recognize that each of their own stories are meant to be told. They can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Thank you, Folktellers, for helping us all recognize the true potential of our storytelling!

Mrs. Piccirilli- 5th Grade Teacher, Upton Elementary, Royal Oak, MI

The capstone to this pilot storytelling program was the coverage we got from our NBC affiliate in Detroit, capturing the energy and excitement our young Folktellers got from reading the series and taking an active part in the storytelling:

https://www.clickondetroit.com/tech/tech-time/tech-time-local-filmmakers-inspire-students

In this case, we took a transmedia approach to engage children with video and movie-making, while fostering a new love for reading. Through this innovative program, we promoted literacy by engaging students in the visual arts and entertainment.

Ultimately, the benefits of reading and literacy are well worth the investment in time, energy and creativity required to truly engage an audience that will continue to be distracted by the bright, colorful candy on every shelf of the sweet shop.

As Mary Poppins so aptly put it, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

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A new way of storytelling — Saving the obscure from oblivion using multimedia

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Josef Bastian

Josef Bastian is an author, human performance practitioner and often an odd duck.