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The Read Read - Breakthrough Inclusive Literacy Device Transforming Children of All Abilities Into Readers and Their Parents Into Teachers

The Read Read empowers children of all abilities to independently learn to read using best practice, manipulative-based pedagogy & feedback.

Photo of Alex Tavares
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Updates: How has your idea changed or evolved throughout the Prize? What updates have you made to this submission? (1500 characters)

We have recently finalized the design of our production unit. We are working with the engineering department of a major university to fabricate injection molds for our first manufacturing run. We have collaborated with a professional Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designer and have finalized the designs of our electronics and peripheral components.

Name or Organization

T-var EdTech

Geography

Team members are based in Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • For - Profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Describe your submission in one clear sentence

The Read Read is the first device that empowers children of all abilities to independently learn to read using best practice, manipulative-based pedagogy & digital feedback, while parents scaffold as children's first teachers.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Child development experts agree that early literacy is the linchpin of life-long academic success. Unfortunately, the vast majority of children in the US enter kindergarten without foundational literacy skills, as current methods require that parents or caretakers be proficient in literacy instruction. Parents and caretakers who are not trained in literacy instruction are already using the Read Read to teach children early literacy skills, thereby serving as children's first teachers, and giving children the early literacy skills critical to academic success.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Product: A new or enhanced physical product that creates value for end beneficiaries.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

The Read Read is a patent pending phonics teaching device that automates the most time-consuming step of phonics instruction, allowing students of all abilities to learn foundational reading skills without requiring an expert teacher’s direct instruction. Parents and caretakers who are not trained in literacy instruction are using the Read Read to teach children early literacy skills, thereby serving as children's first teachers, and giving children the early literacy exposure that child development experts identify as critical to academic success. There are structures and resources in place that allow children to succeed academically, given that they enter kindergarten with a strong literacy foundation: unfortunately, this is not the status quo. The majority of children enter kindergarten not knowing the sounds that letters make (phonics). Children’s toys and educational programming focus on having children identify the names of letters. Parents also instinctively focus on teaching their children letter names, as they have not been trained to teach phonics. Fortunately, children learn letter sounds as easily as they learn letter names – unfortunately, current methods of teaching letter sounds require a trained instructor, optimally in a one-on-one setting, which early education centers and schools usually cannot provide. The Read Read allows children of all abilities to learn phonics, without a trained instructor, optionally while scaffolded by parents and caretakers.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

There is a literacy crisis in America: 60% of US children enter kindergarten unprepared to read; 64% of US 4th graders cannot read at grade level. Many low-income parents do not have the time or skills to teach their children foundational literacy skills - illiteracy correlates with school drop-out, unemployment, and incarceration. The most critical brain development occurs before age 3, yet there is no way for parents to provide best practice literacy instruction during this 'sensitive period'.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Based on our pilots, we believe that parents who use the Read Read with their 2- and 3-year-old children will report that they are able to help their children learn how to read in a way that was previously not possible, without formal training. To test this assumption, we will be providing the Read Read to parents of children with special needs: visual impairment, blindness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech/Language Pathology, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc., and collecting data in the form of surveys and assessments to gauge parent perceptions and learning outcomes. Because of the Read Read’s alignment with and automation of existing phonics instruction best practices, the device is poised to become an essential learning tool in every household and classroom in the world. To ultimately achieve this impact and market share, we have devised a dual-phased approach for market entry and penetration.
 Phase 1 Our initial market is the parents and grandparents of children with visual impairments. We will reach this market by communicating the success of our device pilots at the Perkins School for the Blind online via community outreach and targeted Facebook ads. In each case, we will direct parents to our website where they can order the device. This entryway has been selected for three reasons: members of this niche demographic are accustomed to paying high prices (thousands of dollars) for assistive technologies, braille instruction is an ideal and easy-to-grasp use case for a device comprised of physical manipulatives, and there are currently no technologies that allow people to learn braille independently. We are confident in our success in this market because we have already conducted pilots at the Perkins School for the blind, where the Read Read has been enthusiastically received as a supplement to existing curriculum. Additionally, we have already received hundreds of completed pre-order forms without an outlay of marketing capital. The revenue generated by these sales, coupled with revenue generated by sales to schools for the blind, will fund the costs required to produce the device at greater scale and segue into the next tier of our beachhead market: the approximately 6,700 teachers of the visually impaired. Acceptance by both the parents of children with visual impairments in combination with case studies from our pilots at Perkins will endorse the Read Read for use by this wider community of teachers. Our plan is to work with the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), which administers the Federal Quota for purchasing assistive devices. The Federal Quota currently provides teachers with about $600 per visually impaired student per year, and allows them to use this funding to purchase assistive technologies through APH. This positions us for the second phase of our go-to-market strategy.
 Phase 2 The second phase of our plan for market entry entails moving into the mainstream K-3 education market. Adoption of the device by teachers of the visually impaired will extend to special education teachers, who may use the device to teach braille, but will also employ it to supplement phonics instruction for students with other disabilities. We will leverage our existing customer connections to crossover into the K-3 education market. We intend to arrange additional pilots in inclusion classrooms and early learning centers, where we will seek to demonstrate with a larger sample size that the device can serve any student learning phonics, not just students with visual impairments or disabilities. During these pilots, we will use built-in hardware to collect engagement metrics on how often students are using the device. With this information in hand, we will up-sell to districts, generate case studies, and use the material to drive further marketing efforts. The success of the pilots and associated marketing campaign will aid in transitioning to school and district-wide adoption. Once the K-3 market has been largely addressed, a consumer version of the Read Read will be developed that will allow a parent to purchase the device as a completely automated reading teaching tool for children. Use of the Read Read in classrooms will be the catalyst for its adoption as a general consumer product. Further research and development will make this product available in multiple languages, and expansion packs will allow the device to perform additional functions, such as teaching mathematics, music notation, and computer programming. We will work with a major research university to conduct formal efficacy studies, and use the results of these studies to convince the Department of Education and NGO's to disseminate the Read Read as a cost-effective intervention for gaining early literacy.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The Read Read creates three main beneficiaries: children, parents, and teachers. Children: The Read Read allows children to independently learn foundational reading skills. The long-lasting positive correlates of early literacy are well-documented, and include high academic performance, high educational attainment, and high rates of employment. The Read Read is accessible to children with various disabilities, and thereby mitigates feelings of isolation experienced during 'pull-out' instruction. Parents: Parents naturally want their children to have the brightest future possible, and are aware that literacy plays a large role; however, most parents are unable to help their children acquire foundational reading skills as teachers do. The Read Read provides the curriculum that would be taught by a reading specialist, allowing parents with limited time and content knowledge the ability to productively scaffold their children's instruction. Teachers: Increased standards and class sizes and declining student readiness have made it very difficult to teach in low-income, US public schools. The Read Read allows students to learn foundational reading skills before they ever enter the classroom, thereby eliminating the need for teachers to give remediation. We have piloted the Read Read extensively with our beneficiaries, and collected surveys and interviews: all three enjoy the play-based format of the device. Students learn happily, thereby pleasing parents and teachers.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

By the end of 2018, we will complete our first manufacturing run, and deliver units to several schools for the blind, including the Colorado School for the Blind, the Ohio State School for the Blind, and the Perkins School for the Blind, and to the hundreds of parents who have already pre-ordered the device through our website. We expect that students with multiple disabilities who had been classified as non-readers will be able to use the device to learn to read print and braille, using the results of our pilot at Perkins as precedent. Using our network of manufacturing partners, we believe we can deliver 500 units by year's end. By the end of 2019, we will conduct in-home and in-school pilots focusing on serving students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Speech and Language Pathologies, and Dyslexia. By streamlining our manufacturing, assembly, and testing protocols, we believe we will deliver 2,000 units by the end of the year. Many of these units will be used in schools, where many students will benefit from a single device. We will cooperate with teachers to receive DIBELS scores at the beginning and end of the school year for students who do or do not use the device, while controlling for literacy-related variables. In 2020, we will have OSU conduct a formal, large-scale study on the efficacy of the device in order to obtain large government grants. During that time, we will focus our efforts on manufacturing and marketing, and we believe we will deliver 4,000 units.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Low-income children are among those with the lowest levels of early literacy, mainly due to the low educational attainment of their parents, and the limited time their parents spend in the home. In the US, a high proportion of low-income parents are English Language Learners who never learned English in school. The Read Read has been piloted in the households of low-income, ELL parents (native Spanish speakers), who have been able to use the Read Read to scaffold their children's learning of foundational literacy skills, while they themselves incidentally learn English phonetics and orthography. Children as young as 24 months have independently used the Read Read to practice foundational literacy skills. The economies of scale of injection molding will allow us to provide the Read Read at lower costs with scale. Our business model allows for the donation of units to children whose parents cannot afford the device, and once our large-scale efficacy study is complete, we will partner with the US Department of Education and NGO's to subsidize the dissemination of the Read Read to children in low-income families and to schools and early learning centers serving predominantly children from low-income families. This activity is central to our mission of 'literacy for all'.

Innovation: What makes your concept innovative? (1500 characters)

Until now, best practice phonics instruction required an expert teacher to provide one-on-one, manipulative based instruction to students. Without formal training, or the wherewithal to contract a professional tutor, parents have been unable to teach their children how to read. The majority of children enter kindergarten without the literacy skills necessary to begin reading. The Read Read is a disruptive hardware technology, because it fits within existing best-practice teaching approaches, yet changes the dynamic of instruction: instead of being taught instructively (wherein the teacher provides constant input), the child is able to learn independently, at his own pace, with as much repetition as needed. The Read Read is a powerful tool in classrooms and early learning centers, because its manipulatives resemble the static manipulatives used in best practice phonics instruction, the device is instantly useful to teachers and early learning center staff. For children with visual impairments and blindness, specialist time is scarce: the Read Read allows these students to learn to read independently, optionally while being scaffolded by their parents and caretakers. Kate Crohan, lead braille teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind, said, "the Read Read can change the course of history for kids who are blind." At a recent Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Expo at Harvard, the Read Read won the award for 'Best New and Innovative UDL Technology'.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

From its inception, the Read Read has been designed to scale. The manufacturing processes of the device consist of injection molding and automated PCB assembly via pick-and-place technology. Thus, with scale, the cost of the device will plummet. Being a social enterprise, we will mirror the falling cost with falling price, in order to reach as many children as possible, especially children living in poverty. We have received extensive consulting from our advisor on scaling, Harvard Professor Christopher Dede, author of Scaling Up Success: Lessons from Technology-Based Educational Improvement. By examining user demographics ($1.3 billion), school spending ($4 billion), and industry revenues ($9 to $26 billion), it appears that we are entering an approximately $2-$6 billion industry in the US. Importantly, the Read Read in its current form may be used by children in any anglophone country, and easily adapted to achieve the same learning outcomes for children learning to read in any language. We have received many international orders and requests to produce a version of the device in several different languages. Our initial growth margin will allow for initial scale in our beachhead market and into follow-on markets, and partnerships with Governments and NGO's will allow for subsidized dissemination at large scale in the following years.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Team leader Alex has been working full-time to bring the Read Read to market, and the team is on the precipice of doing so. Funding and guidance from openIDEO will accelerate that launch. If funding is secured, one of the team members, who has worked professionally for a large company in district implementation of educational technologies, will commit to working full-time to coordinate district-wide implementations of the Read Read. We have an impressive collection of advisors, who are world-leading experts in the fields of Early Childhood Education, Literacy Instruction, Business Strategy, Manufacturing, Marketing, and Research. Our full, 35-page business plan has received extensive revision from Business Professors at Harvard and leaders in educational technology, and has won multiple business plan competitions. We have partnered with a large US university to fabricate injection molds so that our first production run may be delivered by September. We are working with a professional Printed Circuit Board (PCB) designer who has finalized the design of the device's electronics. We have several hundred pre-orders from schools, organizations, and parents which we will fill in our first manufacturing run. The margin provided by these sales will allow us to purchase electronic components, raw materials, and optimize our manufacturing protocols for our second manufacturing run. We will maintain our margins in order to remain self-sustaining. Once we are purchasing electronic components in the tens of thousands (by year 6), we will be able to dramatically cut our costs and price. Once we are purchasing electronic components in the millions (by year 10), we will reach another dramatic reduction in cost and price. We will continue to contract employees and consultants with disabilities, as doing so is central to our mission and the diversity created by this endeavor strengthens our organization.

Business Viability: How viable is your business model? (1500 characters)

With respect to our beachhead market, which is comprised of the parents of children with visual impairments and blindness, there is an urgently unmet need due to the severity of the braille literacy crisis. The connectedness of these parents in social media groups has allowed us to reach tens of thousands of parents with no marketing outlay and without a marketing professional. The value we bring to the general market is that our product is so similar to existing products that veteran teachers understand it immediately, yet differentiated in that it automates best practice instruction. The fact that we will be able to tap into the existing spending on phonics programs, while providing our program at a lower cost with the digital differentiator, makes the Read Read a 'no-brainer' for superintendents. Production: Though we will continue to keep the design activities in-house, to utilize and integrate more effective functional and production technology over time, we will contract out for production of all product components, as well as for assembly and test. We are in conversation with a contract manufacturer that employs blind and visually impaired adults. Marketing & Sales: Direct sales to the American Printing House for the Blind, the agent that purchases assistive technology for blind students under the Federal Quota, and to school districts, through line items in their budgets for assistive technology for Special Needs students and later through literacy budgets.

HCD: How have you used human centered design to build or refine your concept? (1500 characters)

The Read Read has undergone multiple rounds of iterative, parallel prototyping, with design iterations informed by users and experts in special education, braille, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Expert braille users and teachers at the Perkins School for the Blind have consulted on the design and user interface of the device. User feedback from children was recorded during each piloting session: 3D printing and electronics reprogramming allowed for design recommendations to be rapidly implemented and tested throughout piloting. For example, during our five-month pilot at Perkins, we would observe in the classroom on Tuesdays and elicit user feedback; Tuesday evening we would redesign based on user difficulties and begin 3D printing a modification; on Wednesday we would make necessary electronic and software modifications and rewire the prototype; on Thursday we would re-pilot the new prototype, and elicit feedback to be implemented the following Tuesday. This allowed for approximately 40 design iterations throughout that pilot alone. Among the experts that have consulted on the device are representatives from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Perkins, National Braille Press, Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, and CAST (Center for Applied Special Technologies). Children who have piloted the device have attended early learning centers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Ohio. We have also piloted the device with children in home-care settings.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Team leader Alex's backgrounds in earning a Master of Educational Technology, working as a literacy instructor, and studying as a Neuroscientist/Cognitive Scientist, converged to produce the Read Read. As an undergraduate, Alex studied neuroscience, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics at Oberlin College, where he learned of the power of the associative learning paradigm. This method of learning, the same one that teaches you not to touch a hot stove a second time, is the same type of learning experienced by children when they use the Read Read. While working and volunteering as a literacy instructor for over 15 years, Alex realized that over 85% of the time he spent with students focused on acquisition of the phonemic code: he would sit beside a student, point to a letter, and articulate the sound that it makes, and then task the student with repeating the procedure. Alex sought a tool that would automate this task, so that his students could practice independently between their sessions - no such tool existed. Further research revealed meta-analyses which demonstrated that computer programs and apps that attempted this task were useless - they provided no benefit to children when compared with children who had not used the apps. Alex decided that he would create the tool that the world needed, and make it as simple and as accessible as possible. Alex went to Harvard to work with world leaders in education, child development, and business in order to bring his invention to the masses. Alex was awarded a fellowship through the Harvard Innovation Lab, won the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition, won the award for 'Best New and Innovative UDL Technology' at a Universal Design for Learning Expo at Harvard, and won the Get Started RI Business Competition. Early childhood is the most critical portion of a child's developmental trajectory: parents instinctively protect their young children and ensure their safety, yet less intuitive is the notion that we should make early childhood as educationally rich as possible for our children. This is a message that Harvard's Center on the Developing Child espouses, and what Alex knows to be critical. Oftentimes, especially for children from low-SES households, a message to parents is insufficient, and a clever intervention must be thought up. This is what the Read Read seeks to be - a tool that children can use just as they would any other toy, while receiving the same best practice instruction that would cost tens of thousands of dollars if administered by a specialist. Our team and advisors are champions for equal opportunity for people of all backgrounds and abilities. In addition to being comprised of leading scholars in the various fields of education, our team and advisors embody the humanitarian vision that is critical to solve the world's problems in a way that is both academically rigorous and compassionate.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (500 characters)

All of our manufacturing partners and protocols are in order. We have the team needed to accomplish our objectives. We also benefit from an impressive network of resources and advisors: the Harvard Innovation Lab, the Center for the Developing Child at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Perkins, National Braille Press, the American Council for the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, and CAST (Center for Applied Special Technologies).

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

We look forward to collaborating with mentors from openIDEO and its affiliates to discuss marketing and scaling to the general education market, and partnering with other organizations participating in openIDEO's mentoring to create synergies and share lessons learned. We are also seeking help finding distribution channels in the EdTech space on the West Coast, and know that openIDEO will be very helpful in catalyzing those relationships.

Mentorship: How was your idea supported? [Relevant only for our early submission participants] (1500 characters)

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

[Optional] Biography: Upload your biography. Please include links to relevant information (portfolio, LinkedIn profile, organization website, etc).

Team leader Alex is the inventor of the Read Read and a recent graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he earned a Master of Education in the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, and collaborated with Dr. David Rose of CAST, Dr. Jack Shonkoff of Harvard's Center on the Developing Child, and Dr. Thomas Hehir, former director of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. www.TheReadRead.com www.linkedin.com/in/alex-tavares-edm

[Optional] Attachments: Please upload relevant attachments or graphics or show us how you prototyped.

[Optional] Video: You are invited to submit a 30-60 second video that introduces you and/or your team and your idea.

https://youtu.be/q3BlGcaaUWg Edited micro biography of team leader, Alex, and profile of the Read Read produced by the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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