(Princeton, NJ – May 7, 2020) – To further underscore ETS’s commitment to help improve literacy levels in the United States, the organization has launched Relay Reader™, a digital reading app built by research scientists in its Research & Development (R&D) division.
The app’s research and development, led by Senior Research Scientist Beata Beigman Klebanov, was a three-year project as part of ETS’s long-held efforts to help equip those in the United States with foundational literacy skills, setting them up for lifelong success. The Relay Reader app is unique as a reading tool, not only in the amount of research that was conducted prior to development, but in the fact that it is one of the few reading tools that engages readers in a full-length book for the sake of the story, in this case, The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. Other reading tools only reinforce the reading of short passages for the practice rather than entertainment.
“Reading is a tool that belongs in everyone’s toolbox,” said Beigman Klebanov. “To read for learning and pleasure, one must be a fluent reader who understands what one reads — but that is not the case today for too many young learners. We hope that our app can help change that by delivering an immersive, engaging and extended reading experience.”
Instead of giving the reader a simplistic story matched to an assumed level of the reader’s skill, Relay Reader challenges the reader with literature that is worth reading for its own sake — and helps the inexperienced reader meet the challenge. The reader is helped by having half the story – every other page – read out loud to him or her by a skilled narrator. During the narrator’s turns, the child will be exposed to many of the words that he or she will have to read when it is his or her turn and will be able to use the listening time as a “break” to build reading stamina.
The app records learners’ reading and measures their reading fluency unobtrusively, without interrupting the flow of reading. Multiple-choice questions focused on the plot, relationships between characters or important descriptive details are asked periodically and are designed to help improve focus and monitor comprehension. Readers also can listen to their own readings, compare those to the narrator’s, and re-record themselves as often as they like.
“With its foundation built on years of high-quality, rigorous research, this is the first of what we intend to be many similar projects to come out of the R&D division at ETS as we work to help address some of the biggest challenges facing education today,” said Joanna Gorin, vice president of Research at ETS. “We have continuous plans to make learning tools a cornerstone of our contribution to the field of education. As a leader in the educational assessment and learning space, ETS is dedicated to addressing the low literacy levels of children in the United States and to developing tools and strategies to help make a positive impact.”
Before its release, the app underwent significant testing with children in elementary classrooms and summer camps as well as some early encouraging testing with low-literacy adults. In the summers of 2018 and 2019, the Relay Reader app was used as a part of the six-week summer camp program at Camden Dream Center in Camden, N.J., by approximately 50 third-grade to fifth-grade students. According to Dr. Tunde Onitiri, director of STEM Practice, CTE Consulting and Perkins Funding at Camden Dream Center, Relay Reader was “the perfect app for self-paced reading and literacy improvement. It is also one of the fastest ways we’ve seen to get students interested in reading.”
Researchers will continue to work on refining the technology for use in later versions. For example, future iterations will aim to provide formative feedback that’s personalized to individual readers. Also coming is a library of additional books for both children and adults giving readers more choices to extend their practice.