An exciting study from the University of Missouri found that speech recognition (SR) apps can improve the reading and writing skills of young people who struggle in this area.
“I think the potential for SR apps is vast,” Dr. Elizabeth Baker, professor of literacy studies at the University of Missouri College of Education, tells Parentology.
Baker spent a year as a teacher’s aide where she supervised a classroom writing center. There, students used school iPads and speech recognition apps, such as Siri, Alexa and Dragon, to convert oral language into written language. As students talked to these apps, they watched their spoken words appear as written text on the screen.
Why is this so significant? The ability to match oral and written words is a core component of learning to read and write. Students know exactly what they have said, and when they see that represented in print, they can connect their words to what they can see on the screen. In effect, they are reading.
Baker notes that this is similar to the so-called Language Experience Approach, which was used in the past. With this method, a teacher writes down what the student says. The student can then try to match what they said with the words on paper. This approach was very effective for students but time-consuming for teachers, so it’s no longer popular.
With a mobile device available to each student, SR technologies can be leveraged to give individualized assistance to students while allowing the teacher to attend to the whole class.
The Larger Picture
Overcoming reading difficulties can boost America’s literacy rates, which are a source of concern. Around 32 million adults in the US can’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy. In addition, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of US adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level. These shocking figures originate with youngsters who are unable to read fluently.
Baker believes that SR apps may help, and they can help in a fun way.
Baker found that students were not as intimidated to speak with the app as they were with an adult waiting for their response. Likewise, students used large, rich words in their everyday language, like limousine, dandelion, and unicorn. And on days when the school’s Wi-Fi didn’t work – and thus the apps didn’t work –students reverted back to writing words they knew how to encode.
“Limousine became car, dandelion became flower, unicorn became horse,” says Baker.
At the end of the term, students who used the apps achieved an average of 97.4 percent accuracy.
This isn’t a proverbial silver bullet for literacy. Baker notes that many of these apps don’t feature strong parental controls, so an app might transcribe a word that you don’t want a young child to see. And, as anyone who has voice texted knows, apps can make mistakes when transcribing language. Fortunately, Blake says that when children notice the mistake they will often respond with, “That’s not what I said!”
The bottom line?
“I don’t see this as a standalone solution where you don’t need a parent or a teacher anymore,” says Baker. But these apps can make great assistants.