Creating Literacy Apps for Pre-k Learners

May 4, 2021

“As many of you already know, we struggle with literacy in this country, with half of our fourth graders, even pre-COVID, unable to read at grade level.” – Reach Every Reader Executive Director Liz City

On April 29, members of the Reach Every Reader team held a discussion on their recently created literacy apps as part of the MIT Open Learning Talks series. The conversation was led by MIT’s Eric Klopfer and featured an introduction to Reach Every Reader by Executive Director and Harvard professor Liz City. The app creators, Harvard’s Joe Blatt and Rosa Guzman Turco, spoke to the importance of using technology to help facilitate conversation with young learners. 

“I’m guessing that those on this call are interested in education and are well aware of the crisis we keep reading about with kids arriving at school unequally poised to take advantage of learning,” said Blatt. “And how many are deprived later in their school experience because of a slow start.”

The apps are free to the public and do not require internet connectivity after installing. The three apps, titled Small Wonders, Photo Play, and Animal Antics, are designed to promote back-and-forth conversational turns between children and parents. Recent research by MIT’s John Gabrieli stresses the significance of these turns over what is described as word dumping, or talking at your children to increase vocabulary. 

“One of my favorite parts of this whole project was visiting families at their homes and introducing them to the apps and watching as they use them to see if they are engaging in the back-and-forth conversations we were hoping for,” said Guzman Turco. She went on to say that through the prompts and the scenarios that were created within the app, families were using the apps in ways that the design team had hoped as they were creating them. For example, with the Animal Antics app, the characters may be in a library or at the doctors office. These scenes provide a launch pad for conversations that would take place in those settings. “We know for a three year-old it’s hard to create a story on their own, but the prompts helped parents start conversations that they normally wouldn’t have with their child,” she said. 

The complete video of the Open Learning Talk can be viewed here. If you’d like to learn more about the apps and download, you can find them on the Reach Every Reader website

Reach Every Reader is a collaboration with educators, families, researchers, and product developers creating solutions to ensure that every child can unlock the wonder of words and stories. Led by Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and the MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili), this cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional effort focuses on developing foundational literacy skills, early screening and diagnosis, content-rich intervention, teacher and caregiver support, and reach for sustainable impact.