The University Record, January 11, 1999

Pinkard's computer program, 'Say, Say Oh Playmate,' helps African American children learn to read

By Amy Reyes
News and Information Services

A series of newly developed computer software programs, designed to teach African American children to read by using their everyday experiences, has been proven to make significant improvements in their reading skills.

The programs, “Say, Say Oh Playmate” and “Rappin’ Reader,” teach students to read by taking something seemingly insignificant the students know and can relate to and molding it into a computer-based educational program. “Say, Say Oh Playmate,” for instance, is based on playground songs.

“What we are trying to do is to design a system that will interest the students by designing it around their individual experiences,” says Nichole Pinkard, assistant professor of education, who developed and continues to test the effectiveness of the software programs.

The programs are created using Lyric Reader, which allows you to design programs tailored for individual students.

“Say, Say Oh Playmate” is specifically designed to teach and enhance the reading skills of African American girls who have not been motivated to read. Pinkard found that few instructional materials are designed with the African American child in mind. She also found that few computer-based learning programs are specifically designed for girls in general.

“Since technology is playing and will play an even greater role in the way our kids are educated, I’m interested in making sure that technology becomes a key factor in how all students, particularly ethnic students, are educated.

“Basing the software on their lived experiences is important because they can identify with the character on the screen,” Pinkard says. “Plus, it holds their attention. If we can hold their attention, then they are willing to sit down to construct a song and in the process, develop their reading skills.”

Pinkard notes that the technological benefits the girls gain from the programs are equally valuable.

“The new AAUW (American Association of University Women) Educational Foundation study reported that technology is going to become the new boys club of the next century. If I can design a system that would interest girls by being designed around their life experiences, our girls will have many more educational and technological successes in school,” Pinkard says.

“Say, Say Oh Playmate” uses clapping games, such as “Miss Mary Mack,” to teach students word recognition skills. It uses whole language, phonics and rhyme to create one-on-one reading lessons for the student. The program was tested on 12 African American first- through sixth-grade girls who live in a Chicago housing project. Results of the pre-test show that students correctly identified 17 words out of 41 words (41 percent). After using the software program for 70 minutes, students correctly identified 26.7 words out of 41 words (65 percent), an increase of 24 percent.

“Rappin’ Reader” was designed with African American boys in mind because they tend to know rap songs. A study of that program revealed that students improved their sight vocabulary by an average of 21 percent by using “Rappin’ Reader,” and that African American students performed as well or better than white students.

“Lyric Reader allows you to design a system for whatever audience you are trying to target,” Pinkard says. “You should be able to design individual lessons around this system. So, hopefully, in one classroom you could have five or six different systems.”

Pinkard originally developed the system while completing her graduate work at the Institute for the Learning Sciences at Northwestern University. It eventually will be marketed as an educational tool. She currently is conducting trial studies at an elementary school in Detroit.

Research for this project is funded by the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement and the Center for Highly Interactive Computers in Education at the U-M.

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