GUEST: CARLA SMALL, CEO, EARLYBIRD EDUCATION. Research shows that 70% of children who were not reading on grade level in first grade continue to not be reading on grade level in eighth grade. Catching reading difficulties early is the key to intervening with reading support to get learners back on track. EarlyBird is technology platform based on brain research that identifies whether a child is at risk for reading struggles like dyslexia, even before they learn to read. Amy talks with Carla Small about the development of this game-based tool and how it has been used effectively to help early readers.
Hey everybody, I'm Amy Baron and this is Upskilled: Solutions in the Learning Universe, where I talk with professionals in education and workforce development, about practices and perspectives that catalyze positive change. Today we are here with Carla Small. Carla is the CEO of EarlyBird Education, a company focused on addressing literacy challenges among early readers. EarlyBird was actually a product of Carla's work at the digital health accelerator at Boston's Children's Hospital, where she managed a team of 80 people to help scale the ideas of doctors, nurses and researchers into new ventures. Carla also serves on the board of Codman Academy, which is a public charter school in Boston. So we are really excited to welcome Carla Small to the podcast. Welcome, Carla.
Thank you, Amy. It's great to be here and an honor to join some of your other great guests that you've had. So it's been fun to watch this, this podcast grow. Thank you for asking me on
We're so happy to have you. And you have a really interesting background, having been in the health space and innovation labs, doing entrepreneurial work working with, you know, researchers and educators and a really diverse group of stakeholders. So what would be really interesting would be talking a little about early bird and how it's catalyzing positive change in the early literacy market.
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, very exciting. And as you say, I've worked with researchers and I've worked in healthcare and education, I love earlybird. Because it's really at the at the juncture of health care and education on some level, because the issues that we see children facing around literacy manifest themselves left unattended, often you see children move on to have social emotional issues and anxiety and depression. And, and so they really are highly related.
Tell us a little bit about early bird. How did the product come about? What is it and how did it come about?
So early bird is a technology platform that identifies whether a child is at risk for reading struggles like dyslexia, even before they learn to read even before they are formally taught to read. And that's important because if you can catch those children early and intervene early, it's much more effective than waiting until second or third or fourth grade, which is often what happens sadly.
So tell us a little about the research behind it.
Yes, really important. This is evidence based. Dr. Nadine Gaab at Boston Children's Hospital, and neurocognitive researcher was doing research on children, she does functional MRIs. And she can look at the the brain science of learning and see how children's brains are wired differently. And it was her recognition that children enter school with differently wired brains. And yet we asked them to demonstrate that they have a deficit, which really doesn't make sense. So what she did is she developed a paper pencil screener based on the cutting edge research of her work and many other researchers and in reading science, about which precursors are most predictive of what a child is his reading profile will be. And she took that and built that into a screener, a paper pencil screener, then use that in a study with 1500 children across New England, and showed that when she followed them longitudinally, that tool was in fact able to predict which children would develop dyslexia, what their reading profile was. She then came to the accelerator, which, as you mentioned, I was running at the time. And we converted that to a digital tool. And then she validated that with hundreds of children in 42 schools and nine states across the country, to show that, in fact, it is an effective research based evidence based tool that can predict which children will develop dyslexia or other reading struggles.
such an important thing to do is to catch this early. And, and the best part about it is that it's a game based tool. So when you're dealing with young learners, engagement is super important. So tell us about how this tool works.
Yeah, that's right. It's a tablet based game the children play and it to them it feels like a game. And we have children who love this game. They finished playing and asked to play again, the main characters Pip, they asked to play with PIP again later. And in that time, we're gathering important data about that child's profile, which we then present in a dashboard that the educator can look at. Importantly, because this has always been about not Just identifying children, but also figuring out what to do next with that information. So the platform also has on the platform, a series of tools and tips, lesson plans and resources, called the next steps of what to do.
Yeah, that's so important because educators have so many resources at their disposal and just having a tool that assesses and then provides the follow up. So speaking of educators, what are you hearing from educators about what's on their mind? With COVID? And all, particularly around literacy?
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's obviously it's a it's a bit of a crazy time, right? There's a lot, there's a lot going on in schools right now, administrators are worried about safety protocols, and staffing and schedules and spaces that accommodate social distancing. And as we've tried to figure out what that actually means, but there's at the same time, a real focus on needing to understand the profile of every child, and the profile of the classroom as a whole, what do we have. And so this is, this is the challenge of overlaying that on top of everything else, without asking too much of the teachers, because they have so much going on. And, you know, this is against the backdrop of challenges that existed before COVID, which two thirds of our fourth graders are not reading on grade level. And in fact, the data is pretty powerful 70% of children who were not reading on grade level in first grade, continue by eighth grade to still not be reading on grade level. So, so the data coming into COVID was pretty sobering. And now you layer all of these other things. So there's really and it sort of reminds me of the conversation you were having with Lynelle [Morgenthaler] from Edmentum, that there really is a need to pretty rapidly as these kids enter back into the system, you know, full time to diagnose and differentiate the the children and that's what's as we talk to schools, that's what's on everyone's mind. You know, how do we do this, but in a way that has a light footprint on our on our educators?
And what age group does does early bird target? Does it work only with kids who were pre literate before they've learned to read? Or does it also work with students who are beginning to read and evidencing difficulties in that process?
Absolutely. It works with it's meant to be a universal screener, if you know if here's to so so the vast majority of states now have passed legislation that requires dyslexia screening and kindergarten, and in some cases, older grades as well. And this is aligned with that. So it's a universal screener that can be used for dyslexia assessment, dyslexia screener. But it's also the nice thing about it is it's blended also with a much more comprehensive assessment. So it also gives you data on MTSS RTI data. And so it's meant to be used with all children.
So research to practice, we hear a lot about that. What does that mean for your team?
Yeah, you know, evidence based, scientifically validated, incredibly important to us. That's the origin story for early bird, it was not only in Boston Children's Hospital. But Dr. Yaacov Petcher from the Florida Center for Reading Research is a partner in developing this product. And he's been instrumental in developing developing the risk algorithm. So the product itself is based in science, but even the work that we're doing now, so we work very closely with our scientific advisors to make sure that as we're making changes to the product, as we're adding different assessments, we're making sure that it is evidence based and this is all based in science. But then in terms of the and even, it's interesting, I talked about our next steps, resources, that is also evidence based. So what we did is Dr. Gaab's lab, took all the evidence based resources that are being used out there and made sure they were evidence based, then we had a group of advisors review them to sort of curate that list further than we had practitioners review it to bring it down to what's really useful in the classroom. So we have a highly curated list of videos, resources, tips and tools for the teachers. That's sort of the philosophy that we have so much like we did with the tablet game for children, where we said, How can we make this quick, but evidence based and delightful for the user? We're doing the same thing on the dashboard and educator side, we're saying how do we make this quick but evidence based and give them the information they need in a way that is pleasant for them? And, you know, unfortunately, teachers, many of the tools they have to use aren't actually designed to be pleasant. Right. You know, we're really trying to change that.
Yeah. And and your tool is very pleasant to use. I have seen it and it looks great. So tell us about some of the results you've seen. Do you have any data on kind of numbers of kids that this has helped?
Yeah, it's, it's exciting that that we're seeing this in use with our. So this year, we were doing pilots with schools, and we've had many, many children use the tool already. And I would say the most impactful thing we're seeing right now are a couple things. One, it's easy to administer, we had one teacher train on a Tuesday afternoon, and by the end of the next day, she had assessed everyone in the classroom, which when you think about the comprehensiveness of what we're doing, we've got 12 different sub tests in there. And what people say to us is, they love the fact that they don't have to grab three different tools to get all that data, including rapid automatized naming, and your oral language skills, which are in there as well. It's all in one place, but it can be done quickly. And that's really powerful to them. The other thing is that it's we're really helping them bring data to action. So built into the offering, we're doing webinars where we actually look at their actual data after they've done the assessment. And we consult to them was that a student need or a curricular need? What do you need to be doing in the classroom or the school differently, and we're having some really powerful conversations, we're seeing schools, and districts really think about their whole philosophy of how they're teaching literacy. And that's what we're excited about. This is really about, you know, supporting the children, to give them what they need to become good readers.
So often, we find that that there is data up the wazoo, and you don't even know what to do with it all. But it sounds like a very targeted approach where the data you get is very easily applied to a solution. And that is so important.
Absolutely. And it's interesting, because, because we give great detail. So we don't just say, Oh, the child needs foundational skills, or they're weakened phonological awareness, we actually have five different sub tests in phonological awareness and show you the results within that. So the teachers and the reading specialists and the administrators are telling us, this is so efficient, because we now know, with each child and then across the classroom overall, not only you know where the weaknesses are, but what to do about it. So now we know Oh, okay, this group of children, we now need to work on blending. They don't understand blending, or they're not doing well on blending. And that's really powerful, but also cost effective.
So great. So what are some just final thoughts about early bird before you go?
Yeah, thanks, Amy. Well, you know, I think it's, it's interesting. Dr. Gaab's work is so well respected. And many people were sort of keeping an eye on this project. While it was in development, it was called bells at the time. And, you know, I just want to say it's available. So we have built this out, we've we're ready to scale this. And we're, we're talking to schools for use in the fall. And we we'd love to, you know, hear more from anyone who's interested. We have a website, Earlybirdeducation.com And we'd welcome your your inquiries.
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being here. Carla. This has been a really fascinating conversation. And I hope you have great success with the tool. I think you will, and we're happy to have had the conversation.
Great. Thank you, Amy. It was my pleasure.
And thank you all for listening to upskilled this episode has been brought to you by convergent learning, specializing in education technology, product consulting and market strategy. You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at Amy Baron one. That's AmyBaron1. And we'll see you next time on Upskilled.
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