Personalized Texting to Parents Can Bump Reading Skills in Their Kindergartners
- By Dian Schaffhauser
There's something about texts most of us can't turn our attention away from. Researchers have glommed onto that reality as a way to produce educational benefits for children. One recent research project out of Stanford University studied the effects of a text-based program specifically for parents of kindergartners, in which general texts were tested against more differentiated and personalized messages. The study found that children in the second group read at higher levels compared to the control group. Also, parents were more engaged in reading activities with their kids.
The project, described in a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, started with a baseline program modeled after READY4K, a free text reminder program for pre-K parents. READY4K grew out of previous Stanford work and is now administered by ParentPowered, a public benefit corporation.
The researchers followed the first cohort of participants from that original experimentation into the kindergarten school year. It also recruited additional families to participate and randomized the entire lot of 794 families so that some received the control messages, texts unrelated to literacy, general literacy texts or literacy texts that were changed up depending on the recipient. The messages received by the other families included updates on how well their children knew skills based on formative assessments and distinguished them further by aligning the activities recommended in the texts based on their children's specific skill levels. The goal: to generate "greater parental response" and increase academic gains in reading.
Every family participating was paid $10 per month as long as they stayed in the program, in order to cover the texting costs for parents without unlimited texting plans.
Texting started at the end of October 2014 and continued for another 10 months. Families received three texts a week: a "fact" text on Mondays, a "tip" text on Wednesdays and a "growth" text on Fridays. The tip and growth texts, specifically, were changed up for people in the test group.
Fall first grade literacy assessments were used to measure the primary outcomes. The differentiation and personalization not only boosted parental pick-up of the program (based on parental survey responses), but it improved their students' reading abilities; those children were 63 percent more likely to move up a reading level than their peers in the control group. The impact was especially pronounced for students in both the bottom and top quartiles.
However, while the differentiated caused parents to use the texts more, they may also have caused the parents to visit their children's schools less often, as the researchers found when they surveyed teachers on how much they engaged with their students' families.
The broader findings supported the hypothesis that the original READY4K program "was effective because it took the complex task of parenting and broke it down into small and easy tasks that were meant to fit into daily life and capitalize on everyday objects," the researchers concluded. "Overall, differentiating and personalizing text message interventions based on formative assessment has the promise to produce additional education gains with relatively little additional costs."
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.