Even though she is retired from teaching English at Mt. Lebanon High School, Jane Offutt continues to serve as an educator.
Her Accomplish Reading app, for which she has been awarded a patent, is available for downloads as a personalized system for improving reading comprehension among students in third through eighth grades. They answer questions about the meanings of sentences.
“Personalized software acts as a personal tutor, meaning students know right away whether they’ve gotten something right or wrong, and they know how to correct themselves so that they do better the next time,” Offutt said during an Aug. 1 launch party at the LeMont Restaurant in Mt. Washington.
The app, which is available for Apple iOS and Android platforms, represents the culmination of an idea she first had in 1980, when she was working as a Mt. Lebanon School District Title I Reading specialist.
“I observed that if I asked older elementary students to read two sentences and decide whether they had the same or different meaning, it made them aware that reading comprehension involved more than just sounding out a string of words,” she said.
That, in turn, helped them gain better understanding of what they were reading.
“When I saw what was happening with these elementary students, I developed a curriculum. I started with sentences and pairs of sentences, and then different kinds of configurations with paragraphs. And that became my dissertation,” Offutt said about earning her doctorate in learning and instruction at the University of Pittsburgh.
In conjunction, she conducted a study involving two groups of Mt. Lebanon elementary students using 1983 versions of computers: a control group answering multiple-choice questions, and the other employing the Accomplish Reading approach.
“The experimental group did better on comprehension monitoring exercises,” Offutt said, “and they also did better on an end-of-the-year standardized reading comprehension test.”
After her retirement, Offutt decided to revisit Accomplish Reading as a tool for the 21st century, and in the process, she became the holder of a patent, a process she discussed during the launch event.
“What we claimed was that the user interface, or display, that the kids saw was unique,” she said. “The user had to assess whether the initial text coordinated with subsequent text, which required summarization. Also, that wrong answers produced negative feedback in the form of wait time.”
An examiner initially rejected the application, giving the opinion summarization is an abstract idea and not eligible for a patent. But Offutt’s attorney, Michael Monyok of Meyer, found case law that supported her claims, and the patent was awarded Sept. 11.
“I guess in my heart of hearts, I felt it was really eligible for a patent, but you never know until you get that email,” she said.
As a feature of the launch party, donations toward auction items benefited South Hills Interfaith Movement, with executive director Jim Guffey attending the event.
“SHIM was founded in 1968, and the needs of the South Hills then have changed over the years. And SHIM has changed to meet those needs,” he said, describing the nonprofit as a human services agency that assists with basic needs such as food, clothing and housing.
“Beyond that, our long-term goal is very similar to Jane’s,” Guffey said. “It’s about getting people to self-sufficiency, and education plays a key role in that.”
A 1966 graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School who still lives in the municipality, Offutt said she plans to work on developing variations of Accomplish Reading, including adding a sound component for children who have difficulty hearing and coming up with a version for older students. She also wants to speak about specifics of the app to groups.
For more information, visit accomplishonline.com.