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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Is technology the future of early literacy?

Speech-recognition technology could analyze young children's reading, rate their pronunciation of each sound and word, track their ability to sound out words, check their fluency and give the teacher detailed information on what each child needs to progress. Or, at least, that's the ed-tech industry's dream, writes Sara Randazzo in the Wall Street Journal.

It sounds as though it would be useful, but teachers have seen a lot of tech fail to live up to promises.

“Technology is and can be an essential aid, if we can figure out what’s good and what’s bad and what’s nonsense,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a network of community groups.

New technology tools can support the "science of reading," which breaks learning to read into "phonics, or tying a sound to a written letter; phonemic awareness, or learning the sounds that make up words; vocabulary; fluency; and reading comprehension," writes Randazzo.

Companies are mapping early reading skills and concepts and creating game-based reading programs and assessments.

“Every teacher can become their own data scientist and know in their own classroom what’s working and what’s not,” said Shawn Smith, McGraw Hill’s chief innovation officer for K-12. The publisher is piloting a reading program using SoapBox's child-friendly speech-recognition system.

There's little evidence that technology improves learning, writes Malcolm Moore in the Financial Times.

The One Laptop Per Child programme, launched in 2005, distributed low-cost laptops loaded with books and teaching software to millions of children in developing countries. But in 2012, the first large-scale study of its effects found no evidence it had improved recipients’ maths or language skills, although they did appear to score higher in cognitive tests. The kids mainly used the computers for typing, games and music.

Britain has spent heavily on education technology, Moore adds. While the tech splurge "seemed to improve outcomes in English and science, the impact on test scores in maths was 'very close to zero'."

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