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Scalable and Sustainable Technologies for Reading Instruction and Assessment

Under a grant from the Interagency Education Research Initiative (IERI), we plan to implement and assess a program of individualized, computer-aided reading instruction with the potential to dramatically improve reading achievement and learning from text in the State of Colorado and to be inexpensively scaled to school systems in other states. The goal is to create a population of students who read with fluency and comprehension well beyond current national norms and who are skilled at acquiring new knowledge through reading.

We have developed two sets of literacy tools, one based on speech and animation technology, and one based on language comprehension technology. An example of the first kind, the Vocabulary Tutor, focuses on developing reading vocabulary. It includes a 3D animated talking head synchronized with recorded or synthesized speech, paired with illustrations and printed words that can be entered by the teacher or by the child. Children look at the images, label the items they see, listen to the words, see their spelling, pronounce them, hear how to pronounce them, and receive feedback. An example of the second kind is Summary Street®. This tool is based on a statistical theory of meaning, Latent Semantic Analysis. Comprehension training is achieved by letting children write summaries of chapters in their own words. Summary Street automatically compares their writing with the text they are summarizing and provides feedback about the content and adequacy of their summaries. Both these tools have been classroom tested, and relatively little further work is required to make them into stand-alone applications that could be used by teachers without direct supervision. We shall start our work by putting these tools into more classrooms and further assessing their usability and efficacy in a collaborative design process with teachers.

This grant program will extend this foundation of technology and application development to comprehension training within a comprehensive program of reading instruction and learning, and will evaluate the program in a diverse set of schools in Colorado. in addition, we shall explore further pedagogical uses of these technologies. In particular, a system that integrates speech recognition technology with the analysis of meaning may open up some exciting new possibilities for instruction, for both regular and special populations of disabled students. Comprehension assessment will be possible not only for written text, but also for spoken texts. The technologies we have developed and plan to develop are will be used not only for instruction in reading skills but also for the assessment of reading comprehension and learning.

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