Rocket reader will be an educational app that will help parents, teachers and children work together on a tablet, or multiple tablets to learn sight reading, and fluency for pre-kindergarten up. Initially, English will be the target language, but I hope to be able to engage educators of other languages, and tailor localized versions for different languages.
In teaching our kids to read, and with guidance from their teachers, my wife or I would sit down with the child and a piece of paper with a long paragraph containing a variety of words (around 100 total) on a given topic (Space exploration, geography, science, literature, history, etc) we start a timer, and the child starts reading aloud while tracking his location with his/her finger.
If the child stumbles on a word, or misses a word, we say "stop" and correct the error by pointing to the word, and asking "what is this word?" If the child cannot read the word, we read the word aloud, and say "Please spell <the word>" the child spells the word, we then say the word together with the child, and the child continues to read.
When the child completes the paragraph (100 or so words) the number of mistakes is subtracted, and the child is scored on Words Per Minute. We do this exercise a once a day for 15 to 20 minutes. The importance is not placed on comprehension, rather on the ability to quickly read words with the intent that comprehension will come separately. And we always try to make it a fun and enjoyable time together with lots of praise, and awards for reaching goals.
I would like the app to be an immersive experience of this process that helps the child improve reading fluency, and provide clear guidance and instant feedback, as well as long term feedback so parents can track the a child's progress and share the progress with educators to better aid in the child's reading development.
Description of App
Rocket Reader will be an application to facilitate the teaching of reading fluency to children. The app will consist of 2 basic parts, the parent interface and the child interface.
The Child Interface will take up the bulk of the screen, and present the child with a paragraph, and allow the child to track with his/her finger the words in the paragraph while reading aloud. The app will use speech recognition to validate the child's reading real-time, and text-to-speech to provide feedback.
The Parent Interface will be a fly-out from either the left, top, or right side of the screen. This will allow the parent to sit next to the child, or if the tablet is laid flat, across from the child, and interact with the basic controls of the parent role (start, stop, correct, etc) as the child reads. The parent at any time can press the correct button, which will pause the reading, and bring up the most recent sentence, the parent can then tap a word that the child missed or struggled with, and go through the correction process with the child.
Additionally, I want to implement a remote interface so the parent can tap his/her tablet or smartphone to the child's tablet, and have the parent controls on the remote device with a completely clean screen for the child. This interface will have more widgets on it than on the main tablet, which if enabled on the main tablet would distract the child from reading. Additional widgets would be along the lines of current words per minute, current time, remaining words, missed words, etc.
If the parent/teacher is not available, the child can also practice alone with help from the speech capabilities of the app.
If the child is able to take his/her tablet to school, the teacher can use the app as well, and send feedback/messages to the parent within the app to help guide the learning process.
The app will keep track of the words per minute, and will also track when the child hesitates, or misses words, and can give ongoing help, and statistics for those words / phrases.
Awards will be given for reaching goals in the game such as a rocket flying across the screen, fireworks, etc. Also, parents can set goals for the child and can offer online and offline treats such as Xbox points, toys, free game time, etc.
Parents will be able to add their own paragraphs, and paragraph packs will be downloadable in game for different ages and abilities. Parents and educators can also share their own paragraphs and import other people's paragraphs via the cloud, or social media using the share charm.
I have discussed this app with several of my son's teachers, and they are all quite excited about it. I plan on engaging them in the early stages of development for feedback, and additional insights, and plan to develop a clear focus on what features will be the most beneficial to helping a child learn most efficiently. As development proceeds, I anticipate getting prototypes of the app in front of teachers and children to work out any UI related issues as I expect the gesture support, and speech interaction to be the most complex part of the application.
I expect to develop the application using C#, and XAML. I will likely be using VS 2013 Preview, and Blend for the UI design. I will also be using the Win 8 Proximity API to facilitate tapping, and Charms for sharing. I will need to develop some custom controls, to handle the child's input (tracking of the finger across the sentence) and have some deterministic logic to be able to detect when the child struggles with a word. I will also be using the Speech APIs for voice recognition, and text-to-speech.