Project

SpeechBlocks

LSM

Groups

SpeechBlocks is a self-expressive literacy app that helps young children explore alphabetic principles through manipulating letter blocks. Phonemes and words are heard when letter blocks are tapped, put together (blended into words), or pulled apart (segmented into sounds). There is no correct combination of letters, so children can create real and nonsense words. SpeechBlocks encourages children’s intrinsic motivation by avoiding extrinsic rewards such as points or prizes. Words from a "word shelf" and letters from a “letter shelf” serve as scaffolds that children can use and remix.

SpeechBlocks is a self-expressive literacy app that helps young children explore alphabetic principles through manipulating letter blocks. Phonemes and words are heard when letter blocks are tapped, put together (blended into words), or pulled apart (segmented into sounds). There is no correct combination of letters, so children can create real and nonsense words. SpeechBlocks encourages children’s intrinsic motivation by avoiding extrinsic rewards such as points or prizes. Words from a "word shelf" and letters from a “letter shelf” serve as scaffolds that children can use and remix.

Piloting SpeechBlocks in the Classroom

In collaboration with Susan Fine from Northeastern University, we used SpeechBlocks as an early literacy learning tool and created a “Literacy Station” in a preschool classroom with 16 children. Each child received a mobile device with SpeechBlocks that they could use while engaging in different open-ended activities. These activities included free-play, building words related to their favorite characters, co-creating words to finish a story, making words to build sentences, and writing their own story book. During these activities with SpeechBlocks, children engaged in letter-identification, word-building, storytelling, and peer collaboration. During play, each interaction with the app was recorded, so we can not only see what words children made, but also get a unique process-based view of how children built these words. We have created a Play Observatory, which integrates children’s replayed log data of their screens with the video data from each session.

Variations of SpeechBlocks

Hindi SpeechBlocks

Hindi is the largest spoken language in India. Written in the Devanagari script which is used for over 120 languages, it is also the fourth-most spoken language in the world. Keeping this in mind as well as the low literacy rates in developing India, we are in the process of creating a Hindi version of Speechblocks. We hope this can be used to complement formal education or be a learning tool in the lack of schooling—for children and adults alike. 

Bilingual SpeechBlocks

It can be difficult for bilingual children to differentiate between two languages, especially ones with similar alphabets where letters may look the same but are pronounced differently (e.g. Spanish and English). Allowing children to tinker with pronunciation in both languages may help them distinguish between languages at the phonetic level. We are in the process of designing a Bilingual SpeechBlocks that runs on a tablet, where children can create any real or nonsense Spanish or English words and hear how they are pronounced differently in the two languages.

Social SpeechBlocks: Word Pong

We are experimenting with ways to incorporate social elements into our SpeechBlocks prototype to add meaningful ways for children to interact within the app. In this video, you can see children sending their words to one another through characters.

SpeechStickers

A major motivation for children to write is to leave their mark on the world. Speech Stickers provide them with this opportunity by moving outside of the screen. Children can use Speech Stickers to label their toys or compose letters to friends and family. A computer vision app on the smartphone will assist the child with this as well as with reading the messages of others.