The verdict is out! Voice technology can help kids learn to read: 5 lessons from our recent webinar

March 23, 2022

Rectangle Circle

Last week, an expert panel of education executives and advocates gathered to discuss the potential of voice technology to transform PreK-12 reading instruction and assessment. 

The panelists included:

  • Kai-leé Berke, Co-Founder of Noni Educational Solutions, Early Childhood Expert and Author
  • Ralph Smith, Managing Director of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
  • Rose Else-Mitchell, President of Education Solutions, Scholastic 
  • Martyn Farrows, CEO of SoapBox Labs
  • Tony Wan, Former Managing Editor of EdSurge and Head of Investor Content of Reach Capital 

And the verdict? Ralph Smith spoke for all the panelists when he concluded that, yes, “voice technology can help kids learn to read if thoughtfully applied with teacher and parent input.” 

Below are five key takeaways from the discussion. You can watch the recording here.

1. Solving the reading crisis is more urgent than ever.

Despite technological innovations and heavy investment in all areas of education over the past decade, Tony Wan kicked off the discussion by emphasizing that reading fluency levels for kids have stagnated. He continued: “The pandemic has only worsened the reading crisis, widening the gap between high and low performers.”

The pandemic has only worsened the reading crisis, widening the gap between high and low performers.

Tony Wan, Head of Investor Content, Reach Capital 

2. Voice technology is now advanced enough to understand young voices and mitigate bias.

Until very recently, voice tech worked well for adult voices only. “Children speak very differently,” said Kai-Leé Berke. “Their speech patterns are different; the way their voices sound is different.”

With the recent focus on kids’ voices and the resulting improvement in the accuracy of voice tech for kids’ speech, educators, teachers, and parents have become more confident in voice tech’s ability to offer valid, reliable, and unbiased learning experiences to kids — regardless of their age, accent, dialect, or background.

3. Voice-enabled reading tools can save teachers valuable instructional time. 

Not all literacy instruction requires one-on-one teacher-student observation, and voice-enabled assessment tools can free up teachers time and allow them to offer more personalized instruction. It also gives them more time to develop relationships with their students, and support their social-emotional, mental health, and wellness needs, said Kai-Leé. 

4. Feedback loops help students who are learning to read to stay focused and keep up their progress.

More than ever before, kids’ attention can be hard to get, and they exhibit impatience and intolerance when learning to read. As Rose Else-Mitchell put it: “Now you have to find ways to pull them through the text . . . Even kids that can read don’t always want to read, so we’re going to have to bring many of them back.”

When a student receives real-time feedback on their reading comprehension — whether that’s thanks to voice technology, their teacher, a reading coach, or companion — it motivates them to stay focused and keep reading. 

Even kids that can read don’t always want to read, so we’re going to have to bring many of them back.

Rose Else-Mitchell, President of Education Solutions, Scholastic 

5. Teachers need support to maximize the benefits of using voice-enabled tools for reading instruction.

Education and edtech companies need to partner with teachers and develop a relationship of trust between them and the voice technology they’re using in the classroom. “Teachers need to know that this technology is valid, reliable, and that it reflects the lived experience of kids in their classroom,” emphasized Martyn Farrows.

It’s not about machines replacing teachers. As Rose put it, it’s about asking: “What’s best for the teacher to do, what’s best for the machine to do, and how can they work together most effectively?” 

Download our white paper

The webinar expanded upon key themes from our July 2021 white paper, “Can Speech Technology Help Kids Learn to Read,” which features insights from some of our panelists, as well as other thought leaders in preK-12 education, like Sean Ryan of McGraw Hill, Sara DeWitt of PBS KIDS, Krista Curran of Amplify. Download your copy here

Have questions about other use cases of voice tech in education? Get in touch with us! 

Share this