Speech recognition, mobile apps help build reading skills

This week’s eSchool News (free registration required) reports that while reading scores have remained relatively flat for the past 40 years, there’s renewed hope that technology might provide a breakthrough and help struggling readers.

The article caught our eye because it highlights Reading Assistant, a program from Scientific Learning that Be Amazing Learning recently began offering. Reading Assistant uses speech-recognition technology to create a virtual reading tutor for students, identifying areas of difficulty like mispronunciations and hesitations and providing students with the necessary support. The program also automatically calculates fluency rates (a process that would otherwise be performed one-on-one with a teacher), which correlate highly to comprehension.

Jacky Egli, executive director of Bridges Academy in Florida, said she’s used Reading Assistant for about two years and is constantly amazed by the confidence that students build using the program. Bridges, a private school for students with disabilities, focuses on helping students close the academic gap. “You see changes by January or February. Reluctant readers are becoming more confident readers,” she said.

We’re pretty firm believers in Reading Assistant, so we weren’t particularly surprised to hear the vote of confidence in the program from Bridges Academy. But we were a little more intrigued by the new research into the opportunities afforded by mobile technology:

An April paper, written by Nian-Shing Chen, Daniel Chia-En Teng, and Cheng-Han Lee and presented at the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education, looked at the attempt to integrate the strengths of mobile technology into paper-based reading activities to enhance learners’ reading comprehension.

“While conventional print text provides very limited information in fostering learners’ comprehension, integrating mobile technology with paper prints is a possible way to offer learners essential content-related resources to make sense of the text,” they wrote.

And, as parents of young children who are constantly begging for a turn with our phones, we were particularly interested in a PBS study that showed that students who download mobile applications to their smart phones can boost their vocabulary significantly within just a few weeks:

The study found that vocabulary improved as much as 31 percent in children who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party app, based on the popular PBS Kids’ television series Martha Speaks, about a dog who eats a bowl of alphabet soup and gains the power of human speech.

Technology doesn’t replace reading instruction, but technology programs like Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant can be effective interventions for students who are struggling with reading because they are highly adaptive and offer a systematic and individualized approach to addressing reading problems. As new technology-based reading interventions come on the market critical consumers should continue to seek out research-based options. The Fast ForWord programs, for example, are based on over 30 years of university-based research into language acquisition and brain plasticity. And the programs have been the subject of hundreds of studies in a wide variety of settings. (We’ve got links to many of these studies on our Web site).

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: