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When paired with proven content, voice-enabled learning tools make literacy instruction more efficient and effective

April 01, 2023 5 min read
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is here to stay. It’s been present in our lives for some time, influencing how we make decisions and complete tasks. AI also is (and has been) in our classrooms, saving teachers time, enabling increasingly individualized instruction and assessment and changing the way students obtain information. While the implications of AI’s role in education are still evolving, it’s clear that carefully designed AI created with the realities of student and teacher experiences in mind has the potential to be transformative.

Voice AI, for example, can be a powerful tool for supporting literacy instruction. Voice AI built for students, paired with proven content and pedagogy, can make teaching children to read a more effective, efficient, and equitable process.

The right voice technology:

...Is made for students. We know that children are fundamentally different from adults in a variety of developmental and cognitive ways. Just as instructional materials are constructed from our understanding of learning science, the voice AI used in education must be designed to suit the needs of young minds. Context is also important – the ways and settings in which elementary school students use voice AI are different from the ways and settings in which adults use this technology.

...Is accurate. While it may sound obvious, the importance of AI’s accuracy when used in the classroom can’t be underestimated. Voice AI’s power is largely in its accuracy – at its best, voice-enabled reading tools can capture minute nuances of student’s reading abilities and translate that wealth of data into actionable insights for educators. However, voice-enabled tools that misunderstand children and return false negatives or positives can misguide educators or limit the confidence and potential of learners.

...Is leveraged alongside proven content and pedagogy. Technology like voice AI is a game-changer, but the content and pedagogy through which the technology is leveraged remain the foundation for learning. Voice-enabled learning tools are only as powerful as the instruction embedded in them. Considering the urgency of teaching students to read, proven pedagogy is critical.

Accurate voice AI made just for students meets a proven reading program

SoapBox Labs is a voice AI company whose proprietary voice engine has been built to fulfill the needs of PreK-12 learning tools by delivering accuracy for all kids’ voices down to the individual phoneme. SoapBox understands the power and potential of Voice AI in the classroom – their voice engine caters to the complexities of children’s speech and is built to work effectively in noisy environments. It also accommodates the wide diversity in children’s accents and dialects. According to independent evaluations, SoapBox’s voice engine performs a par, or surpasses, human-level accuracy.

SoapBox’s voice AI is now leveraged within McGraw Hill’s Reading Mastery Transformations, a comprehensive K–5 ELA curriculum that explicitly and systematically teaches students foundational literacy skills, and how to read, comprehend, and write narrative and informational text of increasing complexity while building oral language fluency skills. Reading Mastery has been teaching students to read for over 35 years.

Reading Mastery Transformations uses SoapBox’s voice AI to power Oral Reading Fluency Assessments. It works like this: Teachers assign an assessment to a student so that the student can read a passage on a screen out loud into their computer speakers. Their speech is recorded, evaluated, and reported back to the teacher. But the teacher won’t just receive a recording of the student speaking. SoapBox’s technology decodes and deconstructs the student’s speech down to the phoneme level, assessing each word (and phoneme) in the passage for errors, such as substitutions and deletions, and returning data on accuracy, words correct read per minute, and more. Oral Reading Fluency Assessments – a normally arduous and time-consuming process – are now more efficient, and more effective. 

Reading Mastery, Student View
Reading Mastery, Teacher View

With voice AI powered by SoapBox and proven pedagogy, teaching students to read becomes more efficient, effective, and equitable.

AI in any educational capacity should empower rather than replace meaningful human interaction by creating efficiencies that reduce manual workloads and enable educators to spend more time doing what they do best – connecting with students and creating powerful learning moments.

AI should also be implemented purposefully within instruction, where it will have the most impact on outcomes.

Sean Ryan, McGraw Hill School president, believes that by leveraging SoapBox’s voice AI for Oral Reading Fluency Assessments, teachers using Reading Mastery Transformations will have a range of insightful data about a student’s progress at their fingertips, data that was collected in a fraction of the time that they would have spent conducting manual assessments:

“As educators work to bridge wide learning gaps and serve increasingly diverse classrooms, we must use technology to create efficiencies and reduce educators’ administrative workload wherever possible. Voice-enabled tools powered by SoapBox provide educators with the data they need to deliver effective, personalized reading instruction – and they can be confident that the data they’re working with is remarkably accurate and equitable.”

When it comes to voice AI, accuracy and equity are inextricably linked. Here’s SoapBox CEO Martyn Farrows on voice AI’s implications for equitable reading outcomes:

“To use voice-enabled technology in the classroom, the voice AI that powers it must treat all kids’ voices equally regardless of age, accent, dialect and socio-economic background. In development since 2013, SoapBox’s voice engine is built on kids’ speech data from 193 countries and returns accurate pronunciation scores down to the level of individual phonemes. Our voice engine is accurate, reliable and equitable across the wide ranges of accents and dialects you’d find in a modern U.S. K-12 classroom. In fact, SoapBox is the first AI company ever to be independently validated by Digital Promise for mitigating bias in AI design.”

McGraw Hill’s literacy team believes the potential for voice AI is vast, envisioning a future for voice AI beyond assessment, powering meaningful student practice experiences with immediate, detailed feedback.

For more on how SoapBox’s voice AI powers efficient, accurate, and equitable literacy instruction in Reading Mastery Transformations, see:

Integrating voice technology built for children with proven literacy instruction