Can Technology Teach Kids to Read?

Do you think technology can teach kids to read? Google CEO, Larry Page thinks that “technology’s just not there yet.”

In a speech at Zeitgeist Americas Page explains, “If you look at teaching kids reading, we know that an adult, or someone who knows how to read, can really teach kids a lot better, is what I think what the research shows, than any of the things we’ve come up with. Now that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with something, or that I’m aware of, probably there is something I’m not aware of. We can probably come up with things that can really help kids learn to read, we’re just, our technology’s just, not there yet.”

Like Page, I’m also not aware of any technology that teaches reading from start to finish. Probably because it’s a long process for kids to go from their first introduction to the alphabetic principle all the way to reading fluency.

However, I am aware of technology that can supplement the process. Here’s my list of favorite apps for teaching reading:

iPad Apps

First Words Deluxe by Learning Touch (or Animals, Vehicles, Professional, At Home, Christmas, Valentines, Halloween, etc.) – This is a fun word building app where kids drag and drop letters into words. In the settings on this app, you can choose U.S. English – Phonics so that every time the user touches a letter, it says the letter’s first sound instead of its name. The limitation here is that only first sounds are covered and only single-letter phonograms are covered.

Build A Word – Easy Spelling with Phonics by @Reks – Another fun word building app. This app is similar to First Words Deluxe with a couple exceptions. For one, it doesn’t use pictures. Also, it includes some multi-letter phonograms like th, ch and ng and blends like sl, fl and cl.

WordGrab! Phonetics by Bellamon – This app covers mostly initial sounds in words and then uses the word in a sentence. From what I can tell, it does not cover any multi-letter phonograms.

abc Pocket Phonics by Apps in my Pocket Ltd – This app has kids trace letters and then build words with the letters they traced. The app focuses on letter sounds instead of letter names, which I love. It also covers both single-letter and multi-letter phonograms, including some phonograms that make more than one sound. For example, the app has one set of activities for voiced TH and another set for unvoiced TH.

Phonics with Phonograms by Logic of English – This app has the best coverage of single-letter and multi-letter phonograms and intelligently handles phonograms that make more than one sound.

Movable Alphabet – A Montessori Approach to Language by Rantek – This app is great for free-form word building. It also does a nice job of breaking sample words into their individual sounds with embedded audio clips.

Montessori Letter Sounds – Learn Phonics with Tam & Tao by Les Trois Elles Interactive – This app includes a nice approach to bringing the “I Spy” game that’s popular in Montessori classrooms to the iPad. For that alone, the app is worth using. It has many other games and features. It covers letter sounds and multi-letter phonograms, but only covers one sound for each grapheme.

Word Wizard – Talking Moveable Alphapet by L’Escapadou – This is another free-form word builder, with the added bonus that each time a letter is added to the screen, an artificial voice reads out the partial or full word that has been built.

OG Card Deck by Mayerson Academy – This is a good reference app for phonogram sounds.

Starfall ABCs and Starfall Learn to Read by Starfall Education – These are good starter apps for learning the first sounds of all the letters and starting to build words phonetically.

Online Apps

Reading Bear – A free program including 50 lessons to teach phonetic patterns and phonics principles.

Starfall.com – This is similar to the iPad app, only online.

Today, these apps are great supplements to the process of learning to read.

However, in most apps, there’s room for improvement. I’d like to see reading apps go further toward incorporating complete phonics, as outlined in my post here, into the app design. I see way too many apps that have an incomplete approach to phonics. Some apps only cover short vowel sounds, some avoid the multi-letter phonograms, still others avoid second, third and fourth sounds for the various phonograms. The majority of apps never teach any phonics rules.

Did I miss any great apps for teaching reading? If so, please post about it in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Can Technology Teach Kids to Read?

  1. Thanks for the great list.

    It is important to consider, that no matter how sophisticated technology becomes with regard to teaching reading, it will never take the place of the relationship shared between a parent and child when the parent teaches his/her child to read in real life, teachable moments. Apps are a terrific “addition” to the process; but parents, who become the primary reading teachers for their children, provide not only the reading foundation for their children; but create lasting memories of wonderful experiences when it is done in a fun-filled, family-focused manner.
    Judy O’Halloran, WordyWormReading.com

  2. Hi Judy,

    Yes, I love when parents take the leading role in teaching.

    The only 100% tech approach I’ve seen so far is HiWEL’s The Hole-in-the-Wall experiment by Sugata Mitra (http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/). I’m interested in seeing where that leads in terms of using pure technology to teach English in places like the urban slums of Delhi. The article here (http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Res_Collab.html) suggests that children are learning English from a HiWEL learning station with specialized software and no adult supervision.

  3. Thank you for sharing this list and pointing me in the direction of your blog. I’m fascinated by how kids learn to read. I’m also completely new to all this! I’m looking forward to exploring your blog further and educating myself on how to educate my daughter.

  4. Hi Sally, I share your fascination! About two years ago I started exploring how to teach my daughter reading, just as you are now. This blog is the outgrowth of that. Now, I have a 1-year-old boy to teach, too. I see you blog! I’m going to add your blog to my Feedly!

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