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This Baltimore-built mobile app uses speech recognition tech to teach students to read

Reading Hero teaches the "sight" words. Patterson Park-based founder Anthony Schultz talks about how it got started.

The Reading Hero team: Anthony Schultz, Josh Glazer and Erick Gil. (Courtesy photo)
When it comes to learning to read, some of the most basic words should be instantly recognizable. These “sight” words — think “the,” “it,” “we” — aren’t supposed to require sounding out. But it takes practice to ensure they’re memorized.

In the classroom, Anthony Schultz, who previously worked in various roles in Baltimore County schools, saw how essential this education is. When the teaching process played out, it was one student at a time saying as many words as they could recognize. “It didn’t seem like an efficient way to do it,” he said.

Around this time, Schultz was also learning more about voice capabilities for mobile phones through Apple’s Siri and Google Voice. He saw an opportunity to create a new way to provide the feedback that would indicate to students whether they were on the right track.

Combining the classroom and tech learnings, the Patterson Park resident set out to create the Reading Hero app, and about 18 months later, longtime friend and developer Josh Glazer joined the effort to help build the product.

“That’s when it really started to take off,” Schultz said. Once they arrived at a working product, designer Erick Gil started helping with the look of the product. Even as they had other jobs, they’ve been meeting once a week. It’s a regular check-in that they’ve kept for four years.

Last year, they launched Reading Hero on the App Store and Google Play.

The free app sets up an activity where students say a word out loud, then gets a verbal feedback right back. It shows a word, and a student then says it back. Drawing on the APIs offered by voice technology, it then uses speech recognition to identify whether a word is said correctly, then provides feedback on whether the word is correct. It also adds gamified elements with multiple levels to choose from.

So far, Schultz said the app has 2,000 downloads, and has extended to include an international reach with downloads in 19 countries on five other continents. Closer to home, it’s also recently started to be used at Dorothy I. Height Elementary in Baltimore city.

Going forward, Schutlz said the team is looking to build out a version that works on Google Chromebooks, and potentially expand to additional reading levels.

Schultz said he has always been interested in technology, too. He credits a game his father built using an old Texas Instruments computer with being his first edtech exposure, though the term wasn’t used at that time. Now he’s working in an area that’s known as an edtech hub.

At the same time, he said it’s imperative for teachers to learn about the new tools that are being created.

“It’s a teacher’s responsibility: If something’s out there, they need to investigate it to see if it could help their kids,” he said.

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