Reflections on #TechEarlyLit

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Reflections on #TechEarlyLit

written by Katie A. Paciga, PhD

As the TEC Center’s Early Career Research Fellow, I thought it would be prudent to synthesize some of the research shared on December 10, 2015 at the Breakthroughs in Parent Engagement and Early Literacy forum, co-sponsored by New America, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, and the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center at Erikson Institute. My goal in synthesizing is to stimulate reflective conversation with teachers around their own parent/family engagement, especially at a time of year when the holidays naturally nudge us to think about our relationships with families, our engagement with them, and to reflect on the goals we set for ourselves when the school year began.

I’m utilizing a table to help me compare and contrast the components of the projects presented. The main emphasis of the forum was on identifying and connecting what the research demonstrates as research-supported, effective ways to utilize technology to engage families in early literacy (a full summary of the event is available through the Erikson Institute’s News). In the first column below, you’ll find an index of names of the projects that shared research findings at the conference as well as hyperlinks to their websites (when applicable). In the remaining columns you’ll see a breakdown of the technologies used to engage the parent/adult as well as an indication of the domains of impact on the child’s literacy development.

Project Name*
[InTEL impact rating]
Who’s directly engaged through the technology?            
What kinds of technology are used?
How is the child’s literacy affected?

[not rated]

parentsonline fillable form, text messagesprovides assistance to parents in need of access to early learning offerings, getting the children into school/center-based programs sooner

[not rated]

parents (prenatal)app, text message, online videosprenatal care reduces risk for developmental delays and other issues that can impede language and literacy development
Innovations for Learning3 (TutorMate)


tutors, childrenindividualized online reading curriculum (web app), phone, Skype/webcamearly reading intervention with outcomes measured by the DRA and Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessments
Play and Learning Strategies (PALS)4


parents and caregiversvideo tutorials, video-recorded adult-child interactions with     reflection with coaching, Skype/webcam, text messageimpact on child’s skills related to cooperation, social engagement, positive affect, joint attention, word use, vocabulary, and complex language skills
Parents and Children Together (PACT)5


Head Start parentsapp, tablet, text messagetime parents spent reading with children increased as a result of goal setting and texted-reminders of goals set for time reading with child and progress toward them each week


parentstext messagesmessages sent to parents prompted families to engage in more learning activities with their children
Thirty Million Words Initiative7


parentsaudio recordings of parent-child interaction with LENA digital language processor, video tutorials, tabletintervention targets parent-child oral language interactions which impact the child’s listening comprehension and content vocabulary when they become school-aged; parents set goals for increased talk and interaction
The Ounce of Prevention8 (Pocket Literacy Coach Project)

[not rated]

parentstext messagesmessages sent to parents prompted families to engage in more learning activities with their children

* organizations and institutional affiliations for the projects indexed in this table are included at the end of this post

Many of the projects listed above are indexed in a new tool, called InTEL (Integrating Technology and Early Literacy) that is housed on the New America Foundation’s Atlas. The InTEL map, created in collaboration with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center,plots projects that utilize technology as a component of its early literacy intervention. In addition the map provides an interpretation of the impact the project has on children’s early literacy (more information on InTEL is available here).

Two of the five projects listed above that have earned the highest impact ratings on the InTEL tool (as indicated by [strong] in column 1, above) are those that have utilized goal-setting and “behavioral nudges” as a part of the parent/caregiver intervention. Asking parents to set goals has a long history of efficacy. Nudging parents/caregivers to continue to make progress toward their goals and providing positive encouragement is not new or revolutionary. What’s unique about these projects with strong ratings is how the technology was leveraged in the process. In the Parents and Children Together (PACT) project, parents/caregivers set the goals through a web app, and a text message was used to remind them of their goals and their progress toward their goals. In the Thirty Million Words project, LENA technology was used to provide feedback and analysis of their language-based interactions with the child and then parents received feedback on paper regarding progress toward goals.

As we turn our calendars from 2015 to 2016, we invite you, the TEC Center community, to reflect on your relationships with parents and caregivers: How has technology given your relationship with parents and their children a boost? In what ways do you ask parents to set goals? How effectively have you utilized technology this year to engage families? What has been the impact of your efforts on the child’s early language & literacy skills? In what ways can you integrate this information into your practice in 2016? We’d love to hear your stories, comments, and reflections. Tweet us!

*Organizations & Institutional Affiliations Presenting/Discussing at Breakthroughs in Parent Engagement and Early Literacy

TEC Center at Erikson Institute

New America Foundation

Joan Ganz Cooney Center

Institute for Educational Leadership


Too Small to Fail, Clinton Foundation2

Innovations for Learning3

Children’s Learning Institute at University of Houston4

BIP Lab at University of Chicago5

Stanford University6

Thirty Million Words Initiative7

The Ounce of Prevention Fund8

Joyce Foundation

US Department of Education

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