The COVID-19 pandemic has led to shelter-in-place and school closure in the majority of states across the U.S. Most schools are expected to be closed throughout the remaining school year, which will result in students not receiving in-person academic instruction continuously for approximately 6 months. This unprecedented closure will have profound impacts on the development of basic reading skills in the early grades, especially for those children in special education or at-risk for learning disorders where remote/online learning is more challenging. Indeed, extended periods without direct instruction, even in a typical 3-month summer vacation period can result in students losing the equivalent of one month of academic performance. A failure to support learning over the twice as long, COVID-19 closures could have dramatic educational implications. Thus, it is crucial to ask 1) Can remote-learning tools based in current research on reading strengthen key reading-related skills in the youngest learners? 2) What aspects of learning to read are amenable to remote technology? 3) Can digital technology that incorporates cutting-edge reading research in a game-based format overcome the decline in reading skills over the unprecedented length of the COVID-19 school closures?

One hundred educators across the U.S. and 2000 of their K-2 students, all prevented from in-person instruction as a result of COVID-19, will be enrolled in the project. Teachers will incorporate a research-supported, affordable, and technology-based reading instructional program that can be administered in the home to support the development of essential phonological and letter-sound decoding skills with instructional content identical to evidence-based reading instruction in the classroom. Children will be encouraged to play the games at home for 20 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for 12 weeks, proctored by teachers during instructional time. Standardized online reading tests will also be administered several times during the COVID-19 school closures. The research will examine critical factors that moderate reading gains with training, including onset of the training (relative to school closing), duration/intensity of practice, and individual differences in component skills at onset of the study. The research will also assess whether educational technology can serve to prevent closure-related deterioration in reading development by comparing pre- and post-testing for these children with comparable populations not enrolled in the study. Results from this investigation will allow researchers to assess factors that lead to successful learning through educational technology with minimal in-person guidance, which may guide future development and refinement of these remote learning tools. Further, the study is significant as it will not only assess the detrimental impact of COVID-19 school closures on learning to read but also provide direct means to potentially support educators and students who are in dire need of evidence-based remote instructional tools. Such knowledge can be helpful in possible future closures and can provide evidence-based guidance on how to teach students in remote areas within the U.S. where trained reading specialists are not readily available.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Haskins Laboratories, Inc.
New Haven
United States
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