How can a map of tech-assisted interventions in early literacy be helpful?

Technology tools sit at our kitchen table, ride with us in our car, and take a place on our bedside table. Smartphones, tablets, TVs with video games, and computers are turned on ─and we’re tuned in, adults and children alike.

These developments are not lost on educators. Shayna Cook who studies an array of policy issues concerning birth through third grade for New America’s Early Education Initiative recently noted that: “Many early education programs around the country are beginning to determine how they might harness these [technology] tools to engage with parents, improve home-to-school connections, and otherwise augment efforts to help children develop early language and literacy skills.”[1]

Cook describes an interesting new effort led by New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop ─ the launch of an interactive U.S. map of early literacy programs categorized into five buckets:

  1. Professional learning programs
  2. Center and school initiatives
  3. Home visiting and parent engagement programs
  4. Library and museum programs
  5. Public media partnerships.

The just-released “beta” version of the interactive map lets you click on “pin-drops” categorized by these five types of programs. What you get when you click on the map is information about the literacy program; for example, where the program is located, what tech tools are used, and what evidence of impact there is on children’s reading skills through the program’s intervention. Each program provides information within the following 14 categories:

  • Program description
  • Summary
  • Story of program beginning
  • Program goal
  • Technological tool(s)
  • Purpose of technology
  • Technology concerns
  • Biggest challenges
  • Program documentation
  • Evidence of impact
  • Evidence of impact rating
  • Larger initiative
  • List of program partners
  • All locations

For example, when you click on the pin-drop positioned in central Ohio, up comes “Kids Read Now” which targets children ages 6-8 and is categorized as a center/school initiative. The description tells us that this program “seeks to eliminate the summer reading slide[2] by partnering directly with schools to enroll students in grades K-3. Students choose nine books, attend a Family Reading Night event where they receive the first three of those books, and then receive weekly phone calls/text messages/emails throughout the summer to remind them to read their books. These calls, placed using One Call Now technology, allow students to record books they have finished. When a book is reported as finished, the child is sent another book from his/her list through the mail. Children keep all books.”

While this program is available nationally, the statistics seem to come from Ohio and Indiana: “During summer 2014, we enrolled 4,000 students from 22 school buildings in Ohio and Indiana in this program. We estimate our program will serve approximately 5,000 students from 24 buildings during summer 2015. We have hopes of growing to serve a national audience and are limited only by the amount of funding we have in place.”

When you click on the pin-drop in New Mexico, up comes the “Great Reading Adventure” which is in the library/museum category. This is “an online platform to help families engage in the statewide summer reading program and track minutes read over the summer. [The] online platform allows participants to earn badges and complete early literacy activities as they participate in the summer between May and August.” Serving more than 10,000 students, the technology tools the program uses are touchscreen tablets, mobile apps, and computers online. The program is finding “a way to make it easier for families to engage and participate in the summer reading program by using technology to help overcome common issues or challenges such as transportation or lack of access.”

The challenges identified by the 28 programs on the U.S. map are interesting. For example, New Mexico’s program cites the lack of or unreliable internet access, lack of professional development (presumably for librarians and other staff), and concern about using technology with families with young children (see other Z House blogs on research calling for limits on “screen time” for very young children). The Ohio program cites lack of access or transportation as a challenge.

The name of the mapping project is “InTEL: Integrating Technology in Early Literacy.” Early feedback on InTel is promising ─ the map-makers report “positive feedback from state and program leaders who have been testing new approaches and need to be able to see the landscape and find examples with a solid research base.”

This map is really for an “inside baseball” audience ─ state and program leaders and researchers in early child literacy. This is not a map that seems to be designed for parents, teachers, librarians and others on the frontline working with children to improve their reading skills. But the map could in my view morph into a source of useful information for a frontline audience as the map is improved in the coming months and years. It may be useful, for example, to know what programs are operating in your schools, libraries and museums; and what programs are out there in other communities that would be helpful to adopt/adapt for your community to fill gaps in literacy programs for children.

Efforts are underway to improve the map. The current pin-drops were fed by data collected from a national survey conducted in February 2015. The survey has been re-opened to collect more information. So the good news is the InTEL map-makers will continue to update and expand the pin-drop sites. More good news would be expanding the use of the map ─from the “inside baseball” audience to the “frontline” audience who could help call for the adoption and adaptation of well-tested early literacy programs.

Would that the “pin-drops” become so numerous on the U.S. map that the map-makers biggest challenge is how to portray them!

reading map

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[1] “A Map in Progress: Integrating Technology in Early Literacy” (June 15, 2015): http://www.edcentral.org/beta-map-intel/

[2] “Slide” refers to students who lose their reading skills during the summer.

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