Plans for WatchKnow Reader

Larry Sanger

All, finally I thought I’d tell you about my plans for what I’m tentatively calling WatchKnow Reader, and ask for your input.  I might ramble on — apologies in advance.

As many readers of this blog know, I taught H. how to read largely by using a series of about 1,000 flashcards arranged into sets that illustrate different (increasingly difficult) phonics rules.  (The word list was taken from Rudolf Flesch’s controversial pro-phonics polemic, Why Johnny Can’t Read.)  I wanted to make phonics flashcards because I have long been convinced that learning the rules of phonics explicitly makes better readers of kids.  There were four words per page, as large as I could make them on the page, with an illustrative image on back (grabbed from somewhere online).

Now, I’ve seen a wide variety of flashcard tools, from hand-made and commercial flashcards, to PowerPoint presentations that simply replicate flashcard content, to fancier customizable things like Little Reader, to plain old videos that include the contents of flashcards.  Heck, Your Baby Can Read is basically just a series of fancy video flashcards, with some nice songs interspersed.  But I’m not merely setting out to build a better mousetrap.  If I thought the aforementioned tools could do the job well enough, I wouldn’t bother with this.  But frankly, I don’t think those tools do the job quite well enough.

There are a couple problems.  First, YBCR and Little Reader are both excellent, but they both cost money, and for some people, it’s a significant amount of money.  Second, my flashcards are free, but it’s a lot of work to download them, print them out, and cut them out.  Moreover, they don’t have all the bells and whistles of something like YBCR, which would make them more interesting to a mass audience.  To the committed mommies I know online who as a serious hobby are teaching their kids to read, my flashcards are perfectly usable.  But to the many more people who, not being convinced, barely have time to make use of YBCR, they’d never consider such a tool.  In fact, ease of use is usually necessary, and will probably become only more so, for any Internet resource to get much traction — and of all these tools, only YBCR and commercial flashcards are very easy to use.

For these reasons and others, I’ve been asked to develop a “free replacement for YBCR,” although that isn’t really how I think of WatchKnow Reader.  What I’m going to produce will be usable with beginning readers of all ages.

So, first, let me explain what my plans with Reader are, and then, I hope, you’ll be able to give me specific requests about features you want.

To begin with, Reader will be a Macromedia Flash application (which we will port to an iApp, probably) that contains around 40 presentations.  In each presentation, there will be around 30 words, grouped phonetically.  (The first word five sets are CVC words for each of the five vowels; then there are the simplest blends, and so forth.)  For each word, say, “dog,” my notion is that there will be the following slides:

  1. The word sounded out slowly, displayed karaoke style
  2. The word sounded out quickly, displayed karaoke style
  3. The word blended together slowly, displayed karaoke style *
  4. The word blended together at normal speed, displayed all at once*
  5. A picture or video illustrating the word (with voice-over)
  6. A sentence using the word, displayed karaoke style
  7. A picture or video illustrating the sentence
  8. Maybe the word (alone) again—same as 4
  9. After several words, to break things up, we might have something else, I’m not sure what (e.g., music and art).

* By default, on these slides, there would be a little “face” icon in the corner; clicking the face would bring up a video of a person saying the word at the normal speed.  If, in the options, the user chooses to display the person saying the word, it appears between slides 3 and 4.

The app will allow users to log in and track their progress, showing how many times a user has seen each set, remembering where they last left off in a set, making recommendations for the next presentation to look at, etc.  There would also be four or five different “modes” of viewing a presentation; there would be video mode, in which the user could do nothing but play, pause, or rewind, a simple mode without the sentences, and the full-fledged mode which would do 1-9 above (and other modes too).

If this reading tutorial works well, then as soon as the reading tutorial app is finished, I’ll be turning to making a whole bunch of presentations similar to the ones you can see here (only better).

I’ve already put in a request for an estimate for the coding cost for a demo (the first set of words).  In January, we’ll be working to create this demo.  A lot of the important decisions about this app will be made then.  So, please, if you have any comments, get them to me by early January!

Suggestions, comments, etc., please!

And now, just for fun, Jan Van Eyck’s Madonna with the Child Reading –>

Bet you didn’t know that Jesus was an early reader.  (Just kidding!)

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