Blog Post

Reading with Purpose: What Do Kids Really Want to Get Out of Their Reading?

November 12, 2018

Reading with Purpose: What Do Kids Really Want to Get Out of Their Reading?

Children read not just for information or fun, but also with social-emotional purposes

By Diana Black and Darren Cambridge

Our goal at Mia Learning is to help grow motivated and purposeful readers. To get better at it, over the last few months we have been trying to better understand the purposes for which children read. We’ve worked with our Literacy Experts Taskforce—generating a list of 20 key purposes—and immersed ourselves in the relevant research literature. Most recently, Diana interviewed 13 children, ages 7-13, about their purposes for reading.

20 Reasons Children Read

  1. Immersion: lose themselves in new worlds, etc.
  2. Get smarter
  3. Make parents proud
  4. Teachers/parents force them to
  5. Explore questions that intrigue them
  6. Find new interests
  7. To talk about the book with others
  8. Learn new things
  9. Develop new skills
  10. Understand themselves better
  11. For problem solving purposes
  12. Have fun
  13. Deepen expertise
  14. Expand on existing interests
  15. Understand others better
  16. For inspiration of some sort
  17. Get a good laugh
  18. Entertainment more generally
  19. Sense of belonging/to fit in
  20. Achieve a desired mood (scared, uplifted, etc.).

One of the most thorough scholarly examinations of the role of purpose in reading is Literacy Beyond Text Comprehension: A Theory of Purposeful Reading (2017), by Anne M. Britt, Jean-François Rouet, and Amanda Durik. Reading, they argue, is a form of problem solving. Readers decide what, when, how, and how much to read based on what they believe will be the most effective solution to their given problem and its context. The contexts that receive the most attention in this particular book are schools and workplaces, wherein readers are assigned tasks that reading can help them complete. It is therefore unsurprising that the problem readers set out to solve is most typically a lack of information.

And it’s true that several of children we interviewed said they read to gain information, although their focus was on information-seeking related to their individual interests rather than assigned tasks. Sara, age 8, had a deep desire to understand the lives of others, making her a voracious reader of biographies. Reading deeply enough to understand not just isolated facts, but full life stories, and widely enough to experience a variety of such narratives make it possible for Sara to say that “books teach me a lot,” in a way that “is actually very fun.”

Aspiring fiction writer August, age 11, on the other hand, often reads for the practical purpose of improving his craft. Solving his problem requires focusing not just on the content of the text, but also on how it is written. He not only enjoys well-written books for their own sake; he also observes their characteristics closely, trying to decipher how the authors accomplish what they do so that he can emulate them.

However, our interviews suggest a more multifaceted understanding of the problems children read to solve when they read on their own initiative. In many cases, young readers were more focused on solving problems of identity and relationships they were on seeking information. Their challenges are social and emotional.

In Every Kid A Super Reader (2015), Ernest Morrell and Pam Allyn propose seven social-emotional “strengths,” valuable both in reading and throughout life. (See box.) The strengths have a recursive relationship with reading: cultivating them helps make more powerful readers, and reading is a powerful means for cultivating them. Children we interviewed talked about several of these strengths.

Maggie, who recently turned 13, discussed reading for bravery and belonging. She favors realistic fiction with protagonists close to her age because she’s seeking inspiration. She wants to read about characters not terribly unlike herself who exhibit bravery and stand up for what’s right, battling tirelessly against all sorts of injustices. Much of her reading shares a theme of liberation, and the characters she gravitates to model the fiercely righteous behavior she’d like to echo, giving her scripts and schemas for what to do and say in similar situations. Books help her to navigate not only the murky social waters of her early teens, but also a national climate rife with hostility and frightening headlines.

Maggie also reads, like so many adults do, for a kind of emotional reassurance – “to feel like I’m not the only one feeling certain things,” as she eloquently put it. Reading fosters a feeling of belonging, reminding us that despite the loneliness of our private consciousness, we are not alone. We can feel more connected to other human beings reading with such a purpose in mind.

At times, children read to build and strengthen relationships not just to humanity writ large, but to particular individuals. They read for friendship. Sara, daughter of two music/theater professionals, reads about those fields and related topics not so much to expand her knowledge as to feel closer to her family. Sara has taken it upon herself to read about the performing arts and enjoys using poetry and Shakespeare books to improve her own acting chops as part of her trusting relationship with her parents. (Similarly, in her #secretcodebook video, Dr. Susan Brown talks about the role a book played in strengthening her childhood relationship with her cousin.)

The Seven Strengths
(from Morrell and Allyn)Belonging: Identifying as a valued, represented member of a larger community

Curiosity: Fostering a willingness to explore new territory and test new theories

Friendship: Having close, trusting relationships and personal connections to others—learning to interact in positive, productive ways

Kindness: Being compassionate toward others, expressing tenderness that has an impact, near and far

Confidence: Thinking independently and
expressing ideas with assurance

Courage: Having the strength to do something that you hope is right, even though it may be difficult

Hope: Thinking optimistically and believing that today’s efforts will produce good things in the future for yourself and the world

Children also read to build hope. Maggie describes re-reading books “to cheer up,” to give herself hope, when she feels defeated. Ella, 10, notes that a certain book can almost guarantee such a desired emotional outcome or mood. The richly developed narrative in such books provide the resources to consistently solve the problem of a lack of hope. August likes to re-read graphic novels because there are always “details to appreciate I might have missed the first time.” The high level of detail makes reading the book valuable even as the context creating emotional needs changes over time. Achieving the same results would be difficult through the strategic, shallow reading of collections of shorter texts—often well suited to meeting needs for information—is much more difficult.

As with any framework, the information-seeking model that Literacy Beyond Text Comprehension prioritizes is limited, and does not always match with children’s purposes for reading. However, we find their problem-solving prism valuable because it helps us get beyond surface explanations of intentions to examine the underlying value. It invites us to ask not just, “what is this child trying to do here?” but also, “What problem are they doing it to solve?”

For example, in interviews, several children mentioned selecting certain books with the express aim of obtaining “new, higher reading levels” in school. But what problem does reaching higher reading levels solve? We want Mia to offer quite different coaching when the underlying problem is, “My teacher doesn’t believe I’m a good reader” than when it is “I want to be able to read the harder books on a topic in which I’m deeply interested.”

We (including Mia) would need a deeper understanding of the context in which each child reads—such as about their intentions, interests, attitudes, and relationships—to distinguish between the two underlying problems. One of the key challenges for Mia Learning going forward is helping children reflect on their reading in context and helping Mia learn from those conversations to offer better recommendations and coaching.

References

Britt, M.A., Rouet, J., & Durik, A.M. (2017). Literacy beyond text comprehension: A theory of purposeful reading. New York: Routledge.

Morrell, E. & Allyn, P. (2015). Every child a super reader: 7 strengths to open a world of possible. New York: Scholastic.

Blog Post, Uncategorized

The Kindred Philosophies of Mia Learning and Public Libraries

October 5, 2018

The Kindred Philosophies of Mia Learning and Public Libraries

by Diana Black

Previously, we wrote about the many reasons why Mia is indebted and also complementary to librarians and libraries – for instance, how much of the metadata she uses is first created by them and how she points kids in their direction for guidance, mentorship, and to find their home away from home. Yet to discuss, however, are some subtler ways in which the philosophies of public libraries and Mia Learning align. Although unlike public libraries, our services are not free, we believe our work is consonant with theirs in several respects. Members of our staff have professional backgrounds in public libraries, so we feel confident that we know a thing or two about what libraries stand and strive for.

Last year, the American Library Association (ALA) revised its strategic initiatives to include a new direction prioritizing “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” Each of those three is also key to Mia Learning. As Reading Specialist Leigh Ellis Beauchamp attested in a guest blog post back in August, Mia has unique potential to meet the challenge of making reading more equitable, accessible, and inclusive for disadvantaged and marginalized children. Mia can provide the invaluable support that is so often difficult to access in underserved communities. Mia also recommends books that help broaden kids’ interests — including by exposing them to books written from different identity perspectives and by “own voice” authors (for a definition of this term, see our interview with Rowan Walker). With her guidance, they do not just stick slavishly to their stated preferences: she shows them how they can connect existing tastes, hobbies, and perspectives to new and exciting possibilities.

In a further effort to give kids who use our software the opportunity to empathize with others both similar to and different from themselves, we designed Mia’s appearance and cast the live action actors who portray her protégés to create a diverse group to which we hope all kids can connect. It’s more than just window dressing: We’ve worked hard to make sure the characters are authentic and their stories nuanced. We believe visibility and representation are a small but vital step toward a more equitable society, and want to give every child the chance to find joy in their reading in community with others. In addition, we look forward to expanding our partnership with Book Trust, a wonderful non-profit that gives kids in low-income schools the opportunity to choose books for their personal libraries each month. With their help, we want to offer Mia subscriptions free to students they serve.

Another key value that public libraries share with Mia is using technology alongside traditional print books to maximize the value. As long as we can remember, every couple of months yields another newspaper or magazine opinion piece announced the imminent “death of libraries,” saying that Americans don’t read anymore, claiming libraries are “irrelevant” or “obsolete.” Yet libraries have proven time and time again that they are not one trick ponies. In fact, they are only increasing in relevance and utility when it comes to technology – whether providing computers where job seekers can apply for work, showing patrons how to use devices, hosting maker spaces, or offering subscriptions to digital media services like OverDrive and Hoopla. Mia Learning, too, considers print books at the heart of its endeavors, but it is no accident that Mia helps kids find those titles through an Web application. Just as they can log on to their library accounts no matter the hour, kids can talk to Mia any time. Mia can help kids access ebooks and audiobooks, but she specializes in getting physical copies of books into kids’ hands and onto their bookshelves. Essentially, she is complementing the access to print offered by local libraries with motivating, efficient, and highly personalized opportunities for book ownership.

Finally, libraries exist in part to help us understand ourselves and others better, to broaden our minds and widen the scope of our knowledge and, hopefully, compassion. As author Libba Bray writes, “The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance.” Holdings of every type and genre, from innumerable authors and artists, help make libraries the treasure troves they are, but they are also hotbeds of democracy and discussions. They are social spaces inclusive of the entire local community they serve, a contact zone and place to meet, mingle, and learn.

Like many a great librarian before her, Mia is dedicated to her mission: helping kids to find their newest favorite book: a book that allows them to imagine new possibilities and make new connections, a book that keeps them coming back for more.

 

Blog Post

Guest Blog: Five Harmful Beliefs and Myths About Reading – and How Mia Can Help

August 23, 2018

by Leigh Ellis Beauchamp, M. Ed., Certified Reading Specialist 

You may have read my previous blog post about why I see Mia as a force for leveling the reading playing field. In this post, I’ll cover some of the more pernicious myths and beliefs about reading I’ve seen at play among parents, teachers, and students in my 14 years of teaching, as well as my vision for how Mia can help to counter them.

1. “Comic books [or any other type of text] aren’t books. They don’t count as real reading.”
Any reading is good reading! As I mentioned in my last post, kids are far more motivated to read when the book is one they choose and like! For example, maybe you believe that jogging is the best way to exercise, and you try to make your child jog a mile a day, with little success. You might get 30 seconds of a halfhearted run before dealing with 20 painful, foot-dragging minutes and a miserable kid. Meanwhile, your child loves swimming and spends two hours a day excitedly splashing and kicking around in the pool. Isn’t she still getting a workout? In fact, isn’t she getting much more of a workout than the unmotivated jogging drudgery that she only did because she was forced to? Would you ever want to jog again if that was your primary memory of jogging? So, why give your child unpleasant associations with reading by forcing her to read the way you think she should? READING IS READING IS READING. And so often, the “unliterary” comic strip or website your child begins with opens the way to print books (see #2). Mia’s recommendations are tailor-made to your child’s preferences, to ensure that their motivation is as high as it can be. Mia will never chastise your child’s tastes in reading material or hesitate to recommend a graphic novel. The science is unequivocal: Any reading is good for kids.

2. “My child should only read high quality literature.”
Taking issue with the appropriateness of a book’s content is one thing, but if you’re making value judgments on the merits of a text, try to put those aside. Recipes, emails, blogs, scripts, lists of ingredients … all of these require us to read. A young teacher I met in graduate school told me that it wasn’t until she was in high school and discovered fashion magazines that she started to enjoy reading. Those seemingly trivial, unworthy texts opened a world for her. I myself devoured a steady diet of fluffy series involving twins, babysitters, and the like. If your child likes “quality” literature, then more power to her! But, again, please don’t force the classics on your child in the hope that she’ll automatically develop a taste for them. Let kids read what they want to read, and forget the canon. It’s the simplest psychological equation: Human beings will repeatedly do what we enjoy; if your child enjoys his reading, he’s a lot more likely to repeat that pattern than if he doesn’t. And we want him to repeat that pattern, every day!

3. “I let my kid take the summer off from reading. They deserve a break.”
Studies show that kids’ reading proficiency nosedives when they don’t read over the summer in a troubling effect known as the “summer slide.” It is an absolute epidemic. Nearly all children advance in reading ability by about 9 months during a school year. Those who read over the summer move up an additional few months, while those who don’t, predictably, move back. The same holds true year after year, until, by 5th grade, the difference between the students who read over the summer and those that did not is 2.5 to 3 years.At the beginning of every school year, and again at the end, I show and then act out this video clip for my students. I go forward a number of steps to represent the knowledge gained by a student during the school year. Then I say, “But what happens when I don’t read over the summer?” They respond, “You go back.” I then take steps backwards. I then go forward again to represent the next school year, but again, tell them I’m choosing not to read over the summer. “What happens?” “You go back.” They start to notice that I don’t move terribly far forward. I just keep hovering, undoing steps I had taken to make progress and not really getting that far. Meanwhile, when I acted as the child who read all summer, it was just forward all the time in a straight path. I was almost out our classroom door in no time. So it goes with summer reading.The good news is that studies show that if a K-2nd grade student reads 10-12 books over the summer, they make the same academic gains as if they had attended summer school. The same is true for 3rd-8th graders if they read 5-6 books. I ask my 7th graders to guess how many books they would have to read this summer to equal a summer school education. Many are shocked that it’s only six, and once they realize it’s so few, I ask them to tell me how many books per week that means they’d have to read during the summer. They quickly figure out that it’s one book every two weeks. I then reiterate, “Ladies and gentlemen, just reading ONE book every TWO weeks over the summer, for a total of SIX books all summer, will do the same thing for you as if you went to summer school.” And I let that sink in. Summer reading is imperative.I stress this constantly with parents of my students, who frequently meet me with shocked and confused looks. I wish more parents knew about the dangers of the summer slide! If you feel guilty about your child’s summer reading habits, don’t despair. It’s not too late to change things: Why not read the same books as your child over the summer so you can talk about them? Without a teacher checking in over the summer months, Mia can be a valuable ally keeping your child on track and maintaining their reading momentum, and she’ll often suggest reading as a means to deepen their bond with you.

4. “Older kids don’t need to be read aloud to.”
I wholeheartedly agree with and reiterate what Mia Learning staff have already said on this topic. There’s something simultaneously comforting and exciting about having a text read aloud to you. The words flow off the page and right into your active imagination, which is freed up to simply soak in the beautiful language and create a sort of movie in your mind. Also, students’ listening comprehension is often quite a bit higher than their reading comprehension, usually by a few years. Kids who may not be able to grasp a text they attempt to read on their own can let their minds soar when they’re read to, creating a positive experience with language. It’s all about creating positive experiences.We return to activities that we feel good about. Mia coaches children who report struggling with a complex text to seek out an adult who can read the book with or to them, promoting resilience if they are indeed interested in the book. She also reminds kids of the social components of reading, encouraging them to connect with others via activities like reading aloud.

5. “Kids need to be tested after every book they read to see how well they really comprehended them.”
First, most of these tests involve low level, basic recall questions. They don’t require much deeper thinking, so they’re not terribly hard to pass. Second: Think about how relaxing and entertaining watching television can be. Let’s assume for the sake of argument it’s a favorite pastime of yours. Now, imagine you have to take a test immediately after every show you watch to see how well you comprehended it. How motivated will you be to watch TV now? While we do want to pay attention to kids’ comprehension, we don’t want to kill their motivation with constant testing. Mia will ask your child to actually reflect on how they’re making meaning from what they’ve read, not to assess their comprehension but to gauge how successfully her recommendation aligned with their purpose, ability level, and tastes.

One thing many of these myths have in common is that they tend to make us feel stressed out about our children’s reading. When we’re fretting over the quality of our child’s book selections, interrupting their momentum constantly to test them, or denying them the pleasures of being read to, we inadvertently take what should be a joyous experience and strip it of all its charms. Mia is dedicated to helping your child or student to associate reading with fulfillment and enjoyment. Why not join her in her mission? Don’t let these destructive myths get in the way of a lifelong love of reading.

Blog Post

Mia Learns From the Masters: An Update on the Mia Learning Literacy Experts Taskforce

August 3, 2018

Mia Learns From the Masters: An Update on the Mia Learning Literacy Experts Taskforce

We’re nearing completion of a more powerful model for making recommendations and offering coaching to develop motivated and purposeful readers.

by Darren Cambridge 

Over the last six months, I’ve had the honor of collaborating with a group of diverse literacy experts—researchers, teachers, community literacy leaders, and librarians—as part of Mia Learning research and development work funded by the National Science Foundation. Together, this Literacy Experts Taskforce has built a deeper and more nuanced model of Mia’s learning objectives and how best to achieve them in conversation with children, including how she chooses books to recommend and provides reflective coaching. The model reflects both what we know from the latest research in education and psychology and hard-won knowledge of practice from educators currently working with children in classrooms, libraries, and after school programs.

Establishing Objectives and Outcomes

Mia Learning’s overarching goal are to help children have more satisfying reading experiences and to motivate them to read more and more often. The Literacy Expert Taskforce members believe Mia can advance this aim by helping children:

  • Expand their agency and metacognition – Taking ownership and control of their own reading
  • Increase their self-efficacy– Becoming more confident in their capacities and more engaged
  • Improve their book choices– Choosing books that are best suited to their purposes and preferences
  • Widen their interests and experiences – Getting out of a rut and trying books in unfamiliar genres, on new topics, and with characters of diverse backgrounds and experiences

The Literacy Experts Taskforce has specified a set of twenty learning outcomes that align with these four objectives. The outcomes represent reading attitudes, beliefs, skills, and understandings commonly held by motivated and purposeful lifelong readers. For example, such readers believe that they can grow in their interests and abilities. They also understand the range of books available and how those books’ characteristics align with different purposes for reading. Mia helps children develop such understanding through personalized recommendations that model how experts choose books and guided reflection on how well the children’s choices about reading have yielded satisfying reading experiences.

Defining Coaching Patterns

Mia guides reflection by initiating coaching when she identifies certain patterns in a child’s statements and behaviors. The Experts Taskforce is developing an expanded set of patterns that Mia monitors, each linked to a learning outcome. When Mia detects the pattern, she provides the corresponding, research-informed coaching. The Expert Taskforce has mapped out a library of coaching videos and reflective dialogues that the Mia Learning staff are hard at work adding to Mia. Videos often feature Mia’s “Anti-Boredom Squad,” composed of four fictional middle-school-age kids (played by real ones) who are junior secret agents and themselves growing readers.

For example, if a child reports a low level of confidence as a reader and has told Mia they were unsatisfied with two of the last four books about which they’ve talked, Mia might lead the child through a reflective dialogue about resilience. Through showing the child a series of “choose your own adventure”-style videos of Squad members encountering reading difficulties, asking what they ought to do next, and then sharing conclusions to the stories that model resilience and adaptability, Mia helps students see the value of these dispositions to powerful readers.

Mapping Recommendation Factors and Relationships

In addition to how Mia coaches readers, the Experts Taskforce is shaping the next generation of the Mia’s book recommendation system. Members have defined 17 factors—things Mia knows about the reader, the activity, and the books available to choose from at a particular type for a particular purpose—that are grouped in four dimensions:

  • Similarity – Does the book have commonalities with the readers’ interests, preferences, and purpose?
  • Accessibility – Is the likely level of difficulty for this reader in this context appropriate to their purpose? How hard will it be for the child to obtain a copy of the book?
  • Social connectedness – Do similar readers’ experiences with this book suggest this child’s experience will be positive? Does the book have the potential to deepen a relationship with peers or adults?
  • Variety – Will reading this book help the child experience new types of books, on less familiar subjects, from a broadened range of cultures and perspectives?

The Expert group has defined a detailed model of the weight to give each factor and dimension and how they influence one another. Mia takes these complex interactions into account when making recommendations.

For example, one factor that influences accessibility is how well the text complexity of the book matches with a child’s test scores: A strong match suggests the child will be able to read the book without frustration or boredom. More succinctly, how well do the book and the child’s reading levels match? However, the importance of this factor to accessibility is decreased if the child has a high level of interest in the topic (because they are motivated to take on a challenge and likely to have relevant background knowledge) or if they are planning to read the book along with an adult (because the adult can help). The importance of congruence between text difficulty and ability also increases if the child’s purpose for reading is to develop expertise (because that requires a higher level of reading comprehension than does reading for entertainment).

Setting the Stage for Machine Learning

The coaching and recommendation domain models developed by the Literacy Experts Taskforce endow Mia with the latest expert knowledge about reading development. However, that knowledge is just a beginning. Mia will refine the model based on children’s actual experiences as captured through conversations. The recommendation system will refine factor weights and interactions based on observed results, and the coaching system will prioritize reflective dialogues and videos that are proving most effective. Mia will discover new patterns that emerge from children’s collective conversations with Mia and add them to the model.

I think of Mia as being on the verge of completing her college coursework in reading education. She could hardly hope for a better faculty than the members of the Literacy Experts Taskforce! The next step in her training is practicum: Over the coming months, she’ll be challenged to put her newfound expertise to work in classrooms and homes, deepening that knowledge through direct and indispensable experience.

 

Blog Post

No Substitute: Mia Works Alongside Librarians, Parents, and Teachers

July 18, 2018

No Substitute: Mia Works Alongside Librarians, Parents, and Teachers

As useful and knowledgeable as Mia is, she will never attempt to replace the real people in your child’s reading life.

By Diana Black

“Why would I want this app when I have a great librarian to select books?”
“I don’t need Mia – I’d rather just talk with my teacher.”
“There’s no reason to use a bot when mom and dad can help me choose fantastic books.”

There’s no doubt: librarians, teachers, and parents are the people at the center of a child’s reading life. Sometime children don’t have strong relationships with adults in these roles, but for those who do, where does Mia Learning fit? Is Mia competing to replace these human beings, to mechanize a service that really ought to have a warm, personal touch? 

The short answer is: not at all.

At Mia Learning, we use artificial intelligence to support the efforts of parents, teachers, and librarians, not as a substitute. First of all, Mia makes no bones about her own limitations: as our co-founder, Darren Cambridge, has noted, we never intend for her to represent herself as human. It is no secret to kids using our software that Mia is a robot, and Mia often encourages kids to consult with the real, live people surrounding them about their reading. Although her own experience of it is fiction, Mia embraces the social side of reading motivation: Books are conduits for human connection. She might suggest that kids recommend their favorite reads to friends, for example, or that they read a book aloud to, or with, a parent.

Rather than seek to replace, Mia picks up where adults leave off. Certified Reading Specialist and seventh grade English teacher Leigh Ellis Beauchamp wishes she could give each of her 125 students personalized reading recommendations and reflect with them on what they’re reading, but there simply isn’t enough time in the school day: “I would love, love to have a tool like Mia in my classroom,” she says. “It would be so helpful to have a better sense of my kids’ interests and what they really like to read.” Very few of the hundreds of teachers with whom Mia Learning has consulted over the last two years report having sufficient time during the school day in which to conduct organic, long-form conversations about book selection or independent reading experiences. “I would love to believe that I am somehow able to answer every question they have, provide frequent on-target book recommendations, consistently suss out their reading issues, and provide meaningful feedback on a daily basis, but, sadly, I’d be kidding myself,” Beauchamp says. It’s easy to see where Mia could fit in to classrooms like hers.

Mia guides each child as they learn to choose books well in ways teachers wish they could if they had more time to work with children individually. “I really want my students to know what’s out there, that there’s a book for every single one of them,” says fifth grade teacher Chris Mendoza, “but so many just get overwhelmed by the choices and never seem to find the right book. They don’t know how to make a good [book] choice; that’s a skill that doesn’t typically find space in a school curriculum.” Mia takes the information overload that confronts so many kids and narrows down a daunting slew of books to a manageable number while teaching the skill of making a great choice.

Youth Services Librarian Danica Thompson, who works with elementary and middle school-aged children, agrees: “Of course I do my best to recommend books I think these kids will love,” she says, “but I don’t have the superhuman memory Mia does to be able to call up the right book from thousands of titles at a moment’s notice.” Mia can retain and shift through certain types of knowledge about books that would be difficult or impossible for literacy professionals, even the most experienced and well-read. However, Mia could not exist without librarians’ professional judgments: The metadata she draws from was created by dozens of them, who carefully cataloged the characteristics of each book in her database.

Just as teachers and librarians see the usefulness of a service like Mia to supplement their efforts, many parents envision the ways Mia can help support their goal of their children becoming more passionate readers.

“My son would just prefer to talk through certain things with someone other than an adult,” explains Elaine Day-Burruss of Harrisonburg, Virginia, a mother of three elementary and middle schoolers. “With me and with his teachers asking him questions, he’s sort of afraid to be honest because he thinks they’re looking for some particular answer. … He’s very anxious to please, to be ‘right.’ So I think a robot he didn’t have to worry about getting approval from, who had no dog in the fight so to speak, would be really helpful to him.”

Parents of children from Mia’s earliest testing sessions would doubtless confirm that this is exactly what they found: Kids report feeling comfortable talking to Mia frankly about their book preferences and experiences, including their failures and frustrations. While your child develops a feeling of trust and rapport, rather than isolating them from the real world in a digital bubble, Mia steers them right back into it. She gives them the option to share their reading with the important adults in their lives – what they thought of each book, new interests they are developing, or ways they could use real person help to get what they want to get out of reading. Mia emphasizes ways to build relationships with others using books, always reminding kids that reading should fulfill their purpose, which might range from acquiring knowledge, to strengthening friendships, to imagining a better world.

Finally, unlike your run-of-the-mill app, Mia Learning is unique in our commitment to implementing the latest research in education, psychology, and computer science. We write and design our program in consultation with some of the nation’s top experts on literacy education and youth services.

In short: Librarians, parents, and teachers needn’t fear. Mia isn’t trying to put you out of a job. She respects that in so many ways, she could never hope to compete with you. Frankly, if she does her job right, she’s going to put herself out of a job by empowering kids to the point where they don’t need her anymore. In fact, that’s her dearest wish.