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IES Contract

Title: Interactive Audio Technology to Build Phonological Awareness and Early Childhood Literacy
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Ramanathan, Aparna Awardee: Hoogalit
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (05/01/2021 – 04/30/2023) Award Amount: $900,000
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: 91990021C0044

Project Website:

Video Demonstration of the Phase I Prototype:

Purpose: In this project, the team will fully develop and test Sound Town (formerly PlaySchool Time), a voice application with automated speech recognition and natural language processing to support children ages 3 to 6 to develop phonological awareness, or the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in words. Research demonstrates that two-thirds of students in grade 4 are reading below grade-level expectations (The Nation's Report Card, 2019), and that students who struggle in reading are less likely to complete high school. Interventions that support early reading are critical for providing a foundation for later success in reading and school.

Project Activities: During Phase I in 2020, the team developed a prototype natural language processing engine to personalize the experience as students listen to stories and speak out loud to practice basic sounds that make up words (phonemes). At the end of Phase I, researchers completed a pilot study with 55 parents who used the prototype with their preschool children. Results demonstrated that participants used the prototype an average of 22 times for five minutes per session over the course of the four-week study. Parents reported that the prototype operated as intended, that children were engaged with the interactive stories, and that children continued to use the prototype even when unprompted.

In Phase II, the team will fully develop software including a web application with back-end integration, a one-year bank of activities with quick-check assessments and extension activities, and an offline option to access activities via phone call using a third-party software. After development is complete, the researchers will complete a pilot study to examine the product's usability and feasibility, fidelity of implementation, reliability and validity, and promise to increase children's phonological awareness. The study will include 25 preschool classes with 20 children per class and 500 students overall. Half of the classes will be randomly assigned to use Sound Town and the other half will complete business-as-usual activities. They will compare student scores on standardized pre- and post- learning outcomes using items from the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening for Preschool (PALS-PreK) assessment. The team will gather cost information using the "ingredients method" and will include all expenditures on things such as personnel, facilities, equipment, materials, and training.

Product: In previous research and development, the developers have created Sound Town, an interactive phonological audio tool for preschool-aged children to listen to passages and practice speaking basic sounds that make up words. In this project, the team will fully develop a new natural language processing software application with interactive audio lessons to individualize children's learning experience. The product will adjust lessons to personalize speaking basic sounds that make up words (phonemes), auditory discrimination activities, blending, segmenting, rhyming, and syllables. The team will produce a website that will include a dashboard to provide teachers with formative assessment results to inform practice, a library of stories for children to interact with, and professional development modules on how to integrate the app into their classroom practice.

Related IES Project: Interactive Audio Technology to Build Phonological Awareness and Early Childhood Literacy (91990020C0076)