May 19, 2017

Onward with AniBooks for Early Grade Reading!

Schoolchildren testing activities
Schoolchildren testing activities

Hello to our friends and all supporters of same-language subtitling for literacy!

Our ongoing AniBooks for Early Grade Reading project is making great strides. For this project, we're creating animated stories (AniBooks) with same-language subtitles that can help children in grades 1-4 get a jump-start on reading. Our ultimate goal is to reach the rural interior of India where there is a dearth of quality reading material for children.

We've produced a total of 30 stories now (including "Aaloo Maaloo Kaaloo" seen below), and we've created educational activities for the first 20 AniBooks. We've conducted pilot projects testing the stories and activities with schoolchildren. And, finally, we've visited outreach partners who are helping to make our content more widely available. It's exciting to see the project coming to fruition!

Producing an AniBook is a multi-step process that goes something like this:

First, we select a story that seems like a good choice for beginning readers. Then the art and animation work begins. For many stories, an artist is chosen to create content. After our in-house animation team storyboards the project, the artist submits scenes that our animators bring to life. A voiceover artist who speaks clear, standard Hindi then records the narration according to our guidelines. Same-language subtitles are added and timed to change color as each word is spoken. (The same-language subtitles turn a cartoon into a reading opportunity for children.) When the story is nearly finished, we ask reviewers for feedback, and we also bring in music composers to create a background score that children will enjoy. Among our composers are one with a background in therapeutic music for children—and another who works with noted composer A.R. Rahman!

When the art, narration, same-language subtitles, and music are all finalized, we make the AniBooks available on YouTube. (Watch "Aaloo Maaloo Kaaloo" as a sample.)

In order to make each AniBook as helpful as possible for children learning to read, we are adding activities that grow out of the research we've been doing on this project. Kids in grades 1-4 need most help with vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, problem solving, and letters and sounds, so those are the areas we've concentrated on for the activities.

To see how the stories and activities work, obviously, we needed audiences! So PlanetRead team members went to schools in Pondicherry and Ahmedabad to test the content with kids. At one school, children in grade 4 struggled to do the activities, so we created simpler ones. At other schools, kids had no trouble with the activities, and we may even want to create more challenging ones. (We'll pre-assess students in the future so we offer activities that are targeted to their needs.) But what a joy it was to see the children enjoying themselves while learning! Some asked for more stories and even for more worksheets. One teacher told us, "Children love reading from pictures! They understand well and learn fast. All their attention is focused."

In addition to working with kids, we've been doing outreach with partners who will help us distribute the AniBook content. Some, like Project DRUV, are already distributing AniBooks, and we hope to have analytics from them soon. Another partner, 4SL, creates solar-powered wi-fi enabled "digital classrooms" that can be used anywhere, even in places without electricity. We're excited about the potential to get AniBooks in front of more children thanks to partners like these.

More updates coming your way soon—and thank you for your support for same-language subtitles to expand literacy!  Our inexpensive, cost-effective literacy programs make the most of even the smallest contribution. We would be very grateful if you would consider making a donation today. 

Boys hard at work after watching AniBook story
Boys hard at work after watching AniBook story
Schoolchildren and teacher watching AniBook story
Schoolchildren and teacher watching AniBook story
Screenshot from "Aaloo Maaloo Kaaloo"
Screenshot from "Aaloo Maaloo Kaaloo"
Feb 21, 2017

Update: AniBooks for Early Grade Reading

"Turtle's Flute"
"Turtle's Flute"

We're delighted to announce that we've completed our third milestone in the "AniBooks for Early Grade Reading" project supported by USAID and READAlliance. Things are happening very quickly!

AniBooks are animated, digitally delivered stories that use PlanetRead founder Brij Kothari's innovation, Same-Language Subtitling (SLS), to help children make advances in reading and critical thinking. The reason AniBooks appeal to students is no surprise: children everywhere like to watch cartoons! And with the addition of SLS, these cartoons are educational, too. Children watch the subtitles and get inescapable, automatic reading practice that helps them become truly literate.

The main goal of the "AniBooks for Early Grade Reading" project is to integrate AniBooks into the schools and lives of children in Grades 1-4 (roughly ages 6-10) to support the development of reading skills. The project targets select schools in the priority Hindi states (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh), in partnership with organisations that have the experience and infrastructure to distribute and deploy digital content on existing screens in schools and homes. 

Where are we so far on this project?

  • We've created 20 Hindi-language AniBooks. Among the animated stories newly translated to Hindi are "The Elephant King" ("Haathi Raja"), "The Red Raincoat" ("Laal Barsaati"), and "Topsy Turvy" ("Ulat Palat").
  • We've met with reading specialists and educators to determine the types of activities that would be most helpful as accompaniments to the AniBooks, and we've created educational activities in Hindi for the first 10 of our 20 Hindi AniBooks. The activities focus on letters and sounds (for students in lower grades), vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, and problem-solving.
  • We've signed agreements with four distribution partners who have the experience and infrastructure to help us distribute AniBooks to children in the priority Hindi states.

We're very excited to get this project underway! We recently did field testing with grades 1-2 at a rural government school to get a sense of the level of understanding among children who have few reading resources available. Learning through association, connecting concepts and ideas, and inferring information are meaningful skills, and children in such schools sometimes have little experience with them. Our lessons were based on the AniBook "Turtle's Flute" in Tamil, and in the first session, we asked the children to draw pictures showing some things they expect from the story.

We've also been testing our newly developed Hindi activities with children who are students of Hindi as a second language and have basic knowledge of reading and writing in Hindi. They watched three stories—"The Greatest Treasure," "The Whispering Palms," and "Too Many Bananas"—and did activities on paper.

These field tests help us understand what children of various backgrounds and educational levels need from the stories and activities we're developing. Stay tuned for more about our findings in future updates from PlanetRead!

We are very excited at the strides we're making toward getting AniBooks in classrooms in India. And, as always, your support helps us immeasurably! Our inexpensive, cost-effective literacy programs make the most of your contributions, and we would be very grateful if you would consider making a donation today.

Field test with children at government school
Field test with children at government school
Activity field tester Joanna
Activity field tester Joanna
A completed activity from one of our field testers
A completed activity from one of our field testers
Nov 25, 2016

PlanetRead Founder Speaks at TEDxCERN

Brij Kothari in action at TEDxCERN
Brij Kothari in action at TEDxCERN

Dear friends and supporters of literacy for all,

In India, 740 million people can’t read well enough to get the information they need from a newspaper. They can’t read well enough to manage a bus schedule, fill out a form, or make sure that a prescription is accurately filled. For them, illiteracy is not a theoretical struggle—it’s a daily disadvantage.

That population is equal to 100 times the number of people living in Switzerland. Why the comparison to Switzerland? Because Switzerland has been the setting for some of Bollywood’s biggest hit songs—and because Switzerland is the home of CERN, which on November 5 hosted the “Ripples of Curiosity” TEDx event. One of the innovative thinkers speaking at TEDxCERN was PlanetRead’s founder, Brij Kothari, who came up with the idea of using same-language subtitles for hugely popular Bollywood songs on Indian television as a way to bring some of those 740 million weak-literate or illiterate people in India into the light of literacy.

In his TEDxCERN talk, now available online, Brij shows examples from eye-tracking studies that demonstrate how same-language subtitles bring weak readers into inescapable engagement with written words. He cites inspiring examples of people who have gone from being unable to read beyond a few letters to being able to read well enough to manage modern life.

Brij notes that world leaders have supported his simple, innovative idea, quoting Bill Clinton’s praise of same-language subtitling (SLS) as “a small change that has a staggering impact on people’s lives.”

In pointing out that wiping out illiteracy is “simply a matter of a million people singing” along with subtitled songs from their favorite films, Brij also explains how inexpensive his solution is. “One dollar gives a lifetime of reading to a person.... To scale up nationally would cost a million dollars a year, and in five years we would transition 500 million weak readers” to literacy sufficient to read a newspaper.

Watch Brij’s TEDx talk—it’s well worth ten minutes of your time. And we hope you’ll agree with the TEDxCERN audience that increasing the reach of same-language subtitling for literacy is an effort worthy of your support! 

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