Review by Marianne Rogowski, Common Sense Education | Updated September 2017
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Amazon Rapids

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New way to engage reluctant readers can be a good short-term option

Subjects & skills
Skills
N/A

Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • English Language Learning
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
K-6
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5 images

Pros: Easy to use, engaging, colorful, and self-paced with support for beginning and struggling readers.

Cons: Lacking in depth and text complexity, with stories and narration that vary in quality.

Bottom Line: A fresh way to engage reluctant readers, but teachers will need to monitor comprehension and connect students to more complex texts.

Teachers can use Amazon Rapids to differentiate instruction without embarrassing struggling readers or boring readers who are on grade level. Help students build fluency by allowing them to listen to stories being read with proper tone and inflection, or build vocabulary proficiency with the built-in glossary feature. Need a way to get disconnected readers interested? Have them collaborate to write their own books in the same style, using classroom or personal technology. Build higher-order thinking skills by having older students compare and contrast stories or critique books for things like representation or stereotypes, plot structure, or connections to current events. Finally, the stories are short enough to use as part of a warm-up or exit ticket activity. Teachers are advised to preview content for age appropriateness, and since there is no assessment feature, have some ideas in mind for how to monitor students' reading comprehension and progress.

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Amazon Rapids is a reading app that engages young readers by using a familiar style: text messaging. During the 14-day free trial, users can access the full library, which grows weekly, and users can customize profiles by age, gender, and favorite genres. Once a student chooses a story, the navigation is fairly intuitive. Speech bubbles and images, similar to text messages, appear on-screen as if the book is being rolled-out in real time. Students can choose to read a story one speech bubble up at a time, or scroll for a continuous read. Students can also opt to listen to the story as read by a variety of voices: some are real actors and others computer generated. When using the audio feature, the app highlights each word as it's read. Students can tap their finger on any word to get a pronunciation and can hold their finger for a definition, which pops up in a separate window and automatically populates a glossary for reference. Separate avatars/profiles allow for tracking of multiple readers' progress.

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Amazon Rapids' text delivery differs from other reading apps. Aside from the kid-friendly comic book feel, research shows that reading comprehension can be improved, in part, through chunking, listening to a fluent reader, and monitoring progress. Rapids accomplishes the first two fairly well and provides a bit of help with the third. The small amount of text in each bubble allows users to read without being overwhelmed, while the listening option, though sometimes robotic, allows students to benefit from read-alouds without depending on adults to model fluency. The highlighted words, which can be a distraction as the stories grow in complexity and reading speed, do prove useful at lower levels. An option to speed up or slow down the audio and highlighting would be a useful addition as a reader's skill improves.

Where the app lacks is in monitoring, assessment, and text complexity. Teachers can see what books users have completed, but there is no way to tell if a student has engaged with or understood the content, so teachers would still have to assess those skills. Additionally, teachers should be aware that -- as with any library -- stories vary in quality and some contain content kids will need help parsing; for instance, one story alludes to the Black Lives Matter movement. Without an adult to provide proper context, young readers may miss out on the development of some critical reading and thinking skills. While Rapids can be a very useful short-term reading engagement tool, ultimately, students will need more personalized reading instruction, feedback, and interaction with longer and more complex texts to become competent, thoughtful readers.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Students will appreciate the comic- and text message-inspired spin on reading. The short, high-interest stories can engage proficient and reluctant readers equally.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Small chunks of text are less likely to overwhelm readers. The story variety and listening features promote differentiation. Some support for beginning and struggling readers, but falls short beyond that.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
3

The stories level based on user profiles and can be easily re-read or re-listened to for clarity. No built-in feedback or assessment, however.


Common Sense Reviewer
Marianne Rogowski Media specialist/librarian

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