By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education
Providence Talks is an early childhood intervention program aimed at increasing early childhood literacy development in Providence, Rhode Island, a city whose school-age population includes 87% of the students on free and reduced-lunch. The purpose of the program is to combine technology and parental coaching to help students from low-income households arrive in kindergarten better prepared for academic success. The objective is to increase the amount of language these children are exposed to. The program is based on “word count” – the number of words a child hears and utters in a day. The children will be equipped with a recording device, and the data obtained will be used to create specific vocabulary building exercises for the parent and child.
The project is using LENA (Language ENvironmental Analysis) technology that will be used to record and analyze children’s word exposure twice a month for 12-16 hours each time. The software, which will analyze the input, is able to distinguish between actual human interactions and background noise such as television. A pilot study conducted by the developers of LENA found that the project can increase children’s word exposure by as much as 55%.
The program proposal was awarded the $5 million grand prize in the 2012-2013 Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge. This national competition promotes innovative ideas to solve major challenges and improve city life. The pilot program will start with 75 families and increase to 500 families by the end of 2014 and will be conducted in conjunction with Brown University. The goal is to reach 2,000 families.
Although there are some skeptics about the program, including some linguists, the city of Providence is hopeful of its success. Other large cities around the country will be watching this project with interest to see if it is something they can tap into in order to boost literacy among the urban poor nationwide.
To read more about this project, which begins this spring, google “Providence Talks.”
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