Reading in the digital Wild West

Thousands of apps claim to teach reading, but are only teaching basic skills. Michael Levine and Lisa Guernsey explain how some pioneering programs are effectively harnessing technology

TOUCHSCREEN TABLETS HAVE BECOME ubiquitous in schools and homes. Parents and teachers can be forgiven for feeling a little skeptical about this new trend, especially when it comes to claims about children’s learning. The iTunes App Store boasts more than 700,000 products and, as the Joan Ganz Cooney Center discovered in 2012, nearly 80% of the top-selling paid apps in the education category are aimed at children. Many of these apps claim they can help kids learn to read. But are they all they are cracked up to be?

What we know
Parents and educators face a digital Wild West:
● Literacy apps provide no information on effectiveness.
● Most popular apps emphasize letters and phonics.
● Few apps address reading comprehension.
Yet pioneering programs are helping parents and educators using:
● On-demand video for parenting education;
● Social media with parents and teachers; and
● Text messages to prompt storytelling and conversation.

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May 2013