A recent study by Elizabeth Baker, professor of literacy studies at the University of Missouri, finds that speech recognition apps used in early elementary classrooms can help give children who struggle to read an early boost in literacy. More than 71 million children and adults in the United States, or 22% of the population, are functionally illiterate. Past research shows that when schools support children who struggle to read early in life, they are more likely to become sufficiently literate and perform better in school.
“If speech recognition is available on mobile devices, then the mobile device becomes the proverbial pen,” Baker says. “This means that the student controls what they learn to read; that can be very empowering.”
In the past, an intervention strategy called the Language Experience Approach, which allows teachers to transcribe students’ words for them, was used to help students learn to read. Baker says the Language Experience Approach was effective with individual students, but it was a time-consuming strategy for teachers and gradually fell out of popularity.
Speech recognition technologies, on the other hand, can be used on mobile devices in classrooms to provide a similar individualized experience to students without overwhelming a teacher.
Baker observed a classroom of first-grade students who were learning to read by using the apps on mobile technology. She found that students who used the software were more eager to try new words and phrases, possibly because the apps allowed them to make mistakes and grow as readers without any embarrassment. A more significant result Baker found was students averaged a 97.4% accuracy rate on their post-study reading tests.
“Speech recognition technologies are supportive of the learner because it allows them to use personally, culturally relevant grammar,” Baker says. “Children all have different backgrounds, and this technology allows them to learn to read while using their own frame of reference.”
Baker says the technologies may not only be beneficial for young students, but also could be adapted to help elementary, middle and high school students, and adults who struggle to read. She warns that many apps on the market do not yet have the safety features necessary to protect young children and be appropriate for school use.
“There’s the possibility that a student says a phrase and an inappropriate word will pop up,” Baker says. “One teacher may not be able to monitor the screens for all the students; an app that has a child safety button would make this learning method more practical.”
“Apps, iPads, and Literacy: Examining the Feasibility of Speech Recognition in a First-Grade Classroom” was published in Reading Research Quarterly. Baker is contacting potential investors about the need for a speech recognition-based app that has all the necessary features to help keep kids safe while they learn to read.