Ivan Sysoev

SpeechBlocks is a medium that allows children (4-5 years old) to engage in open-ended play with writing. They can build arbitrary compositions out of words and associated images, which can become cards, signs, stories, and "books." We hypothesize that such creative, self-expressive play can foster development of basic literacy skills, like phonological awareness. However, because users of SpeechBlocks are not yet in command of writing, it is necessary for the system to scaffold and guide them. We study a variety of ways to accomplish this.

Sound Creatures

One way to scaffold development of phonological awareness is to establish strong mnemonics for sounds. We developed a set of characters that represent various sounds of English language. They do so through onomatopoeia (sound mimicry), producing their respective sounds through some action.

In Search of the Optimal Block

Perhaps the most important design decision for a construction kit is choosing the set of building blocks. A good block functions in a simple, straightforward way that doesn't change much in different scenarios. From this standpoint, letters are not very good blocks, because their pronunciation strongly depends on the context. We experiment with using sounds directly as blocks for early writing.

Invented Spelling Recognition

Early spellers often have creative ways to write words: e.g., KT may mean "cat," "kite," or "carrot." These invented spellings are significant intellectual accomplishment for the child, and encouraging them was shown to help with literacy development. SpeechBlocks recognizes and supports invented spellings.

Guiding Sound-by-Sound

SpeechBlocks can also provide step-by-step guidance for the child in building a word, by sounding the word out and suggesting which sound creatures to use. But how does the app know which word the child wants to make? There are several ways the child can tell it, among which are:

  • Using voice recognition;
  • Grabbing a word from the environment using text recognition;
  • Exploring the network of related words.

Related Work

The current design of SpeechBlocks is based on several years of experimentation by several graduate students in the lab. Please follow the links to see early SpeechBlocks and PictureBlocks, which influenced the current design.