The economic well-being, health and democratic functioning of the nation all depend on a literate and informed citizenry. However, current instruction is not producing literate students. This situation arises largely because of a failure f America's education system. Despite overwhelming evidence that phonologically-based instruction is essential for skilled reading, there is widespread lack of knowledge, or denial, of this evidence among teachers and also instructors of teachers. In addition, there is strong evidence that phonologically-based instruction should include encoding instruction, however encoding instruction in today's schools is rarely present. The goals of this Phase II project are t improve reading and writing skills in America and to shift instructional practice to include phonological and encoding instruction. Specifically, the software development team of Talking Fingers, Inc. (TFI) will (1) develop for use on iPad, Android and online software, the last four of seven innovative applications with accompanying games that will deliver a 7-part curriculum (Talking Shapes), for providing explicit, direct, systematic, incremental (and highly motivating) phonological and encoding instruction to pre-schools, kindergartens and families, and (2) carry out scaled-up research with 192 pre-school and kindergarten students to evaluate the effectiveness of this 7-part curriculum for developing reading and writing skills. Product: In Phase I, three of seven apps were developed and evaluated independently by Dr. Carol Connor with significant results suggesting feasibility and efficacy. With 5 games per story, the seven stories (about two sisters who invented the alphabet "long, long ago"), will incrementally cover the 26 letters and 40 speech sounds of English. Children will use tablets/internet to hear the stories, draw letters, say and record words and play games to spell-out and read key words that use the sound/letter pairs introduced in each story. Progress assessment is built-in. Games will prompt student/teacher interactions. The research, carried out with 192 four and five year olds randomly assigned to 2 groups (control and treatment) for 14 weeks, will evaluate whether the apps are enjoyable, easy-to-use and effective in improving phonological awareness, articulation, spelling, reading and writing skills. The research will be carried out by Dr. Marjorie Gillis, Research Affiliate at Haskins Laboratory. TFI, a small woman-owned business and recipient of four previous SBIR awards for developing educational software, will collaborate with reading experts and professional programmers to develop and test these seven applications. TFI has successfully marketed previous software for over 20 years, and mobile devices offer a new and very rapidly growing opportunity. There are no similar incremental, phonologically-based curriculums currently available. A nationwide investment in pre-school and kindergarten with a focus on phonological and encoding instruction could raise literacy levels (and even I.Q levels) across America and result in a healthier, more productive, better informed citizenry, saving millions of dollars now spent on social services, health services, and prisons.

Public Health Relevance

The economic well-being, health and democratic functioning of the nation all depend on a literate and informed citizenry;however, current instruction in America is producing only 1/3 of students who can read proficiently. Despite overwhelming evidence that awareness of word sounds (phoneme awareness) is essential for skilled reading, successful methods of teaching phoneme awareness are not being implemented in most public classrooms. This SBIR II project will produce (and do research with) the last four parts of a 7-part curriculum for iPads, Android tablets and online computer access, using the most successful methods determined by research, and providing direct, systematic incremental phoneme-based instruction for pre-school or kindergarten;its use across the nation could profoundly change individual lives and improve the well-being of America's citizenry.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Small Business Innovation Research Grants (SBIR) - Phase II (R44)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-RPHB-R (13))
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Mann Koepke, Kathy M
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Talking Fingers, Inc.
San Rafael
United States
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