MIT STEP Lab Presents

Reach Every Reader

Building capacity in parents and teachers to strengthen early literacy


Reach Every Reader is a collaboration across Harvard, MIT, and the Florida Center for Reading Research, supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. The goal of the larger project is to bring together a number of strands to create a support system that enables every childto become a strong, confident reader. Our work focuses on the adult capacity building strand, helping parents and teachers of pre-readers understand what they can do, and what they are already doing, to build a strong literacy foundation in their children. Working closely with researchers at HGSE, we are designing technology-supported experiences that bring adults and children together to enrich their book reading experiences and everyday conversations with practices like dialogic reading, future talk, and other conversational approaches that research has shown contribute to early literacy skills. Our guiding design principles include research-based literacy practices, co-design with users, and playful interactions.

R.E.A.D.Y. Early Literacy App

grey bunny rabbit named floppy

Engaging emerging readers in back-and-forth dialogue is important for foundational literacy skill development (Leech,Wei, Harring, Rowe, 2018). The R.E.A.D.Y. early literacy app is focused on building adult capacity to engage pre-readers in back-and-forth dialogue around hard copy children’s books as they are read aloud. The app is made up of two parts: a Resources portion containing short videos introducing parents/caregivers to basic dialogic reading strategies; and an AI-integrated Read Aloud With Floppy portion that employs Smart Speaker technology to listen in as parents/caregivers read books aloud with children. At specific points in each story, Floppy, a child-friendly character (and artificially intelligent virtual agent intended to playfully model dialogic reading strategies for adult co-readers) interjects with questions to spur back and forth conversations between the parent/caregiver and child. The app is designed to be a companion to reading and not the focal point, so the user interface of the app is purposefully simple, straightforward, and easy to navigate. (Note: The name R.E.A.D.Y. is an acronym to help parents/caregivers remember basic dialogic reading strategies including: Recalling the past,  Explaining new words or ideas, Asking questions, and Discussing the future. The ‘Y’ stands for ‘You can make a difference!’).



Papers include:

Grace C. Lin, Ilana Schoenfeld, Meredith Thompson, Yiting Xia, Cigdem Uz-Bilgin, and Kathryn Leech. 2022. ”What color are the fish’s scales?” Exploring parents’ and children’s natural interactions with a child-friendly virtual agent during storybook reading. In Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’22). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 185–195.

Thompson, M., Lin, G., Schoenfeld, I., Uz-Bilgin, C., Leech, K. Taking Advice From a Virtual Agent: Usability of an Artificially Intelligent Smartspeaker App for Parent and Child Storybook Reading. (CLS2022 research paper submission and presentation.)

Conference Poster:

Pedonti, S., Leech, K. A., Lin, G., Schoenfeld, I., & Uz-Bilgin, C., (2022, April). Preliminary evaluation of a “Smart Speaker” app to increase parent-child conversation during shared book reading. Poster presented at the Biennial meeting of the Cognitive Development Society: Madison, WI.

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Project Specifics


3-6 year old children and their parents, caregivers, and teachers

Content Area


Project Contact

Ilana Schoenfeld