Siri, teach me to read!

Speech recognition software is a tool for young readers.

Published on Show Me Mizzou August 25, 2022

Young girl using Siri to learn to read

Photo illustration by Blake Dinsdale

Betsy Baker waited 40 years for technology to catch up with the idea. Now a professor in literacy studies, she taught elementary school back in the 1980s, and when it came to helping students learn to read, she employed a little-used innovation: transcription. She would invite children who were learning to read and write to dictate their story, and she would write their words on paper in front of them. This enabled them to meld their own familiar words and ideas with printed words on a page. It worked remarkably well — except that it was too time-consuming to be practical. But now, each of us carries a smartphone that can transcribe anything we say. In collaboration with eMINTS, a program designed to help educators integrate technology into their classrooms, Baker has received a $4 million grant to figure out the best way to use speech recognition (e.g., Siri, Alexa) to help today’s young readers. Kids speak into the tablet, and the words appear on screen. “In a book, young readers might not connect written words to spoken words,” she says. “But if they dictate it, they make the match between what they’re saying and what they’re seeing.” Bonus: No more writer’s cramp for the teacher.

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