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The Technology of Teaching Reading: New Literacy Tools Coming to the Classroom

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In one vision of the classroom of the near future, toddlers will wear headsets and read texts aloud while navigating computer programs that utilize speech recognition technology.

Behind the scenes, its technology listens to each student and spits out dozens of lines of code, assesses the pronunciation of individual sounds and words in sentences, and tracks the timing of every utterance.

By the time each student reads the entire sentence aloud, the software maps where the student stands based on the hundreds of finite skills required to become a fluent reader.

The dashboard lets teachers know if students need help breaking words into their constituent parts, or if they consistently mispronounce certain sounds, and offers helpful games and exercises. Teachers receive different feedback from each student. Students range in skill level from knowing how to read themselves to not being able to recognize their own names.

The education technology industry hopes that this scenario—a technology hypothesis created by multiple companies—is the future of how reading and writing are taught in American classrooms. Speech recognition software will become a natural part of reading education, integrated with physical books. Students are continually assessed by technology, unwittingly, and teachers provide individualized learning tracks, empowering students rather than pushing everyone ahead regardless of how many of them have mastered previous skills. help.

“Technology can be an essential aid if it can help us understand what is good and what is bad and what is nonsense,” said Ralph Smith. proficiency of children from low-income families.

The ultimate goal is to lift America out of its decades-long reading crisis. Just over one-third of her seniors across the nation were able to read and write above proficiency in 2019, according to a benchmark test widely used by the federal government called the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It became clear. The proportion, which peaked at 37% in 2017, is feared by many to be exacerbated by the pandemic when new his NAEP results are announced in the fall.

Learning to read by the end of the third grade is very important, according to educators, so that children can start using reading to learn the rest of their subjects.

Underpinning new technology tools is the science of reading. In this science he divides reading into five elements. Phoneme recognition, or learning the sounds that make up words. vocabulary; fluency; and reading comprehension. Proponents of science-based approaches have opposed those who promote methods that downplay phonics and focus on holistic understanding since the middle of the last century. Several states are in the process of retraining teachers in phonics-intensive methods.

As K-12 students return to school this fall and beyond, more students may have access to tools powered by child-specific speech recognition technology, such as those created by Dublin-based SoapBox Labs. The company has been working with the technology since his 2013, training it to pick up on the nuances, dialects and choppy nature of a child’s speech in ways that can be misinterpreted by traditional voice command systems. . In June, we released a new version to help toddlers assess their ability to identify and pronounce letter names and sounds. This allowed companies to obtain licenses to create text-to-speech products sold to schools.

Microsoft has developed its own text-to-speech program that uses speech recognition. A new feature records students reading sentences aloud and guides them through problem words. Publisher McGraw Hill is developing a system that tracks hundreds of reading and writing skills and displays them on teachers’ dashboards. Other apps and computer programs use games to teach children to read and write, use sound effects to make storytime more engaging, and give students access to hundreds of digital books. The purpose is that.

Some educators and literacy experts are skeptical, saying technology could be useful in the fringe, but that there is no substitute for quality education and continued literacy practice.

“At the heart of where we’re seeing improvements in schools, it has very little to do with technology,” says Karen Bates, a literacy advocate in New York.

Traditionally, the teacher sits next to the student and reads aloud, timing the time with a stopwatch, and marking where the student stumbles, inserts the wrong word, or says something that is not written. We have measured students’ reading fluency by adding

Many new tools under development aim to automate that process, letting computers do the work of teacher assessment, allowing teachers to spend more time focusing on teaching and grouping students by level. can be

Shannon Griffin, a 4th grade teacher outside Columbus, Ohio, said:

A screenshot of a game-based reading program developed by Los Angeles company Age of Learning.


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age of learning

Over the years, Los Angeles-based Age of Learning Inc. has identified and mapped over 400 skills and concepts that children in preschool through second grade need to master to read. This underpins the company’s new game-based reading program. For example, before students can read a simple one-syllable word like “cat”, they should know which letters represent which sounds and that words are made up of individual sound combinations. and verbally blend these sounds to form a single spoken word.

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The Harlingen Integrated Independent School District in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, last year piloted the company’s software, called My Reading Academy, with preschoolers ages 3 to 5. According to Carmen Alvarez, the district’s director of early childhood education, most students are economically disadvantaged and often first encounter books at school. “Many parents are faced with the choice of offering their child food or offering their child a book,” she said.

Alvarez says it was helpful for teachers to be able to see the exact sounds students were struggling with and see which concepts they mastered. Previous programs simply indicated whether students were making progress.

Lost skills “may, and usually do, come back to haunt you later,” Alvarez said.

McGraw Hill’s team of engineers, data scientists, and content developers have created a unique map of the hundreds of skills required to read. It is linked to all 50 state standards and can be viewed by teachers on a dashboard to track student progress. A test version is scheduled for next spring.

Shawn Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for K-12 at McGraw Hill, said:

Smith said McGraw-Hill is discussing its long-term vision with testing firms. McGraw Hill is also piloting a read-aloud program using SoapBox’s speech recognition system. .

Patricia Scanlon, founder of Dublin-based SoapBox Labs, has developed a speech-recognition technology tool for children.


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Raise Tay

When SoapBox founder Patricia Scanlon saw her daughter struggling to interact with an educational program, she set out to create better ways for technology to capture children’s voices. Children have narrow vocal tracts, squeaky voices, and often do not follow linguistic rules, which can confuse speech recognition software. Parents know that when a child says “geen,” it means “green,” but computers probably don’t.

SoapBox processed thousands of hours of audio data from around the world to develop the platform.

Shannon Lazarus, a kindergarten teacher in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, said: In the past, she said, teachers used her PVC pipes to build “read-to-speech phones” so that students could hear their voices amplified.

Classroom teachers say they are willing to give technology a chance, but some expect glitches and additional upfront work early on. Widespread adoption also requires parental buy-in and assurance that student privacy is taken seriously.

Joel Kupperstein, Head of Curriculum Development at Age of Learning, said:

write destination Sara Randazzo sara.randazzo@wsj.com

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