Interview | The Smart Thing About Pocket Literacy Coach

It pays to have super smart sisters and a good idea. Chris Drew has both. Chris has taught English reading and writing skills at universities and colleges across the country. He has published and lectured about his research on pedagogy and literacy education at numerous conferences. With the innovative nature of Pocket Literacy Coach, Chris has demonstrated himself to be a groundbreaking scholar and teacher. He earned his Ph.D. from Temple University and currently lives and teaches in Chicago. In this interview, Chris answers some basic questions about Pocket Literacy Coach. He also speaks up on what he thinks are some important considerations when it comes to education reform, parental involvement and offering more than just lip service to improve conditions in our communities.

Victor: What’s the name mean?

Chris: We wanted to try to convey the convenience of the activities: “They’re right in your pocket!” And, since the three of us are experts on literacy, development and curriculum design providing folks with instruction and tips, we thought “coach” communicated that.

 Victor: What is it and who created it?

Chris: Pocket Literacy Coach is a parent support and parent empowerment service. We provide parents with fun, creative learning activities to do with their child. We do this by sending daily text messages to parents’ mobile phones (it is not an app). The concept was developed by me, Kelley Henry and Kassie Redmond. They are my sisters. And they both happen to be super smart. Kelley is a speech language pathologist and Kassie is a special education teacher and curriculum and instruction design expert.

Victor: What does it do, and what are the benefits?

Chris: Part of what Pocket Literacy Coach does is helps parents save time. With PLC parents don’t have to constantly be checking education blogs online or reading lengthy books to find out what they should be doing to help make their child smarter. Instead, they receive a daily activity that is based on research and is designed for the age-level of their child.

Another part of what PLC does is empowers parents and gives them confidence to know that the fun activities they are doing with their child are helping to build specific skills, such as alphabet knowledge, language building, phonics awareness, early math skills, socio-emotional skills and more! As I mentioned, the way it works is through text messaging. It’s elegant in it’s simplicity. Once families sign up they don’t have to do anything except have fun learning with their child!

Victor: How is it unique? Any competitors? 

Chris: Text4Baby is in a similar market as Pocket Literacy Coach. Text4Baby uses text messaging to send prenatal health tips to pregnant women. It’s a very successful program. What differentiates PLC from T4B is the content focus: they’re a health service; we’re an education service.

Victor: When was it developed? Anything interesting about its development?

Chris: We started working on PLC in 2010. I had the idea for it a year or so earlier. And it went through some iterations. But I’d say 2010 was the official year.

Victor: Where did it originate and where can you get it now?

Chris: You can get Pocket Literacy Coach online at www.PocketLiteracy.com. As well, we have partnered with some of the leading schools and organizations across the country, and if your school has PLC you can get it from them!

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Chris: A subscription costs $5.99 per month. Or you can get a yearly subscription for $36.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Chris: 2 year old activity: While reading a story together ask your child to point to the pic on the page & then the words on the page. Help them run their finger from left to right over the words.

3 year old activity: Find a nature trail, park or other interesting outdoor location your child has never been to. Identify & discuss in detail things you see, hear, touch or smell.

5 year old activity: Play I SPY with shapes in your house. Say “I spy a rectangle that’s on the wall”. Give more clues until your child can guess “outlet”. Repeat with other shapes.

7 year old activity: While waiting in line or on the bus find an object. Challenge your family to name as many rhyming words as possible in 30 sec. Examples: plate-wait-mate-rate-late-Kate-bait-gate.

9 year old activity: Tonight review fact & opinion while you watch tv. After watching commercials, help your child brainstorm 1 fact & 1 opinion about each commercial.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Chris: Pocket Literacy Coach is designed for families and parents with children between the ages of birth – 12. It’s tailored for families who are looking for unique, creative and fun activities to do with their kids to help keep the learning fresh and active at home.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Chris: As a result of the education reform movement and because of the impact of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, there is a lot of pressure on schools and teachers. One of the most neglected elements of the reform movement is the parent component. A lot of lip service is given to the concept of parent involvement and family engagement, but for the most part schools, organizations, and education departments have not figured out the best way to support parents to be involved. Most people assume that attending parent-teacher conferences or volunteering at school or helping with field trips is a great equivalent to parent involvement. And for those parents who are able to take time off work to participate in those ways that is amazing! But many parents cannot participate in this way. And, furthermore, research on effective parent involvement has demonstrated that the most impactful forms of parent and family engagement is within the home in the form of supportive parenting styles, proper disciplining, appropriate goal and expectation setting, asking about school and homework and the like. These are things that happen within the home. And most schools and organizations have not figured out how to support this type of parent involvement in cost-effective, scalable ways. To a certain degree, it is unfair to put all the pressure on schools and teachers for the success and failure of our students. For those students who are succeeding, it isn’t always because of the schools. Same for those who are failing. Education transformation is a messy initiative because to truly make an impact we have to be having conversations that address the learning that is happening—or not happening—at home and in the community. The community should be involved at a certain level, too. Why? Because it is in the community that our youngsters are seeing good and bad examples. Learning doesn’t happen only within school buildings. And most of the conversations about education reform focuses only on this limited amount of time children spend inside school walls. So, my thought on education these days is that there needs to be a more holistic approach to helping our children experience and learn. There needs to be more of an ecological transformation of our attitudes about who is responsible for challenging and stimulating students.

Victor: How does Pocket Literacy Coach address some of your concerns about education?

Chris: Parents are the first and most important teacher a child will ever have. Yet our education systems almost entirely neglect the parents’ role. There are very few systems of supporting or empowering parents. In fact, in many ways there what parents experience are mostly obstacles to being involved. By providing parents with easily accessible resources to help them help their child develop concrete literacy, math, critical thinking and other skills at home, the parents can become a powerful part of the reform movement. Pocket Literacy Coach plays this role of empowering parents.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Chris: In the US we have been using an antiquated approach to teaching our children how to learn. There are long-standing education traditions that have served previous generations of learning just fine. Breaking with those traditions is a hard, long and sometimes painful process. But there are amazing teachers in our classrooms and we have parents who are itching to play a more substantive role. As we move farther into the second decade of the 21st century I believe that we are going to see some amazing transformations in the way we do education. And I believe that the results of those transformations will propel us towards cultural, economic, health, technological and learning innovations that will blow our minds! My outlook on the future of education is super optimistic!

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Pocket Literacy Coach? 

Chris: Pocket Literacy Coach is the most cost-effective, scalable and efficient way of engaging families and supporting them to be more involved at home.

Victor: What makes you say that?

Chris: What makes me say this? The data that supports it. We have several case studies and more forthcoming. To fully appreciate the value of Pocket Literacy Coach you should talk to the parents who have been using it for over a year now. You should hear them talk about how each day around the time the text arrives their child is sitting at the table excitedly waiting for their PLC activity. You should hear parents talk about how much time it saves them or how they can’t believe that THEY were able to teach their child a new skill. The value is, in part, the skills the parents can help develop. And in part the value is in the confidence it gives parents.

Victor: Alright—thank you very much, Chris!

Chris: Thanks, Victor!

——-

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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