Communication Sesame Street
by
Silvia Lovato, Alexis Lauricella, Ellen Wartella
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0176

Introduction

When it premiered in November 1969 with its diverse cast of humans and furry monsters, Sesame Street was an experiment. Sesame Street’s co-creators, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, believed that television could be used to help preschoolers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, learn about letters, numbers, and skills that would prepare them to succeed in school. Sesame Street was the first program to integrate curriculum experts and educational researchers into its production team. In addition, it used techniques that made commercial television attractive to children, such as high production values and upbeat music, to engage them with a preschool curriculum that was seamlessly integrated into each segment. To ensure that children were in fact learning from their program, they developed a research-based production program in which each segment was piloted and tested with children, so that the team could understand how engaging and effective the segments would be and allow for changes to take place prior to airing the show. Another part of the research plan was to ensure that summative evaluation was conducted to measure how well it was reaching its educational goals. Sesame Street is now the longest-running children’s television program in the United States, with over 4,000 episodes produced and numerous awards, including over one hundred Daytime Emmys. It is shown in 140 countries around the world, including over thirty co-productions, where characters and curricula are customized and often created new to fit each culture. It is also the most researched program in the history of television, with over a thousand studies published about it. It is hard to overstate the importance of Sesame Street in the evolution of children’s educational television as we know it today. By bringing together curriculum writers, cognitive scientists, and television producers to make a program with measurable learning goals, the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW), later renamed Sesame Workshop, pioneered an original model of production that showed that television, used thoughtfully, can accomplish much more than was considered possible at the time. This bibliography includes the most important and highly cited research studies evaluating Sesame Street, as well as articles documenting the history of the program. It should be noted that many internal, unpublished studies of Sesame Street exist, but only articles that could be obtained publicly are included in this bibliography. Additionally, this search was limited to publications related to Sesame Street and its co-productions and other videos or shows created using Sesame Street characters. For example, publications on the Talk, Listen, Connect initiative are included because it is based on videos with Sesame Street characters, but research on outreach materials without video or characters is not included.

Historical Context of Sesame Street

This section includes the original research report Cooney 1967, in which Joan Ganz Cooney lays out the novel idea of using television to educate preschoolers, forming the basis of the funding requests that made the project possible. Two other titles, Polsky 1974 and Lesser 1974, cover the years just before and just after the establishment of the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW). Finally, Morrow 2006 and Davis 2008 look at a longer time frame in the history of the program, both from a more removed perspective (Cooney, Polsky, and Lesser were all directly involved in the making of Sesame Street).

  • Cooney, J. G. 1967. The potential uses of television in preschool education. New York: Carnegie Corporation.

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    The original research report written by Sesame Street co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney, where she explores preschool curriculum, the developmental needs of preschoolers, and what an educational television program for 3- to 5-year-olds might look like. Includes findings from numerous interviews with educators and cognitive scientists that provide details about the context of how Sesame Street was developed, with a focus on supporting school readiness skills for lower socioeconomic preschool-aged children.

  • Davis, M. 2008. Street gang: The complete history of Sesame Street. New York: Viking.

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    Speaking to a general audience, television reporter Michael Davis chronicles nearly forty years of Sesame Street production, including many personality descriptions and anecdotes.

  • Lesser, G. S. 1974. Children and television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Vintage.

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    Lesser, a Harvard professor who was an educational advisor for Sesame Street from the beginning, details how the various teams involved (television producers, talent, curriculum writers, cognitive scientists) worked together to make the Sesame Street plan a reality and what was learned in the process.

  • Morrow, R. W. 2006. Sesame Street and the reform of children’s television. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Based on materials in the Children’s Television Workshop archives that now reside at the University of Maryland, Morrow offers an account of the development of the ideas and negotiations that led to the development of Sesame Street and continued to support it as it evolve through the first thirty-five years.

  • Polsky, Richard M. 1974. Getting to Sesame Street: Origins of the Children’s Television Workshop. New York: Praeger.

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    This book focuses on the initial establishment of the Children’s Television Workshop prior to the debut of Sesame Street, how it was funded and organized, and how the original idea of a research-based program for preschoolers turned into a concrete initiative.

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