New computer game could boost reading skills of dyslexic pupils

A new computer game could help dyslexic pupils to improve their reading skills.

A new computer program developed to tackle dyslexia could help children from poor backgrounds – as well as those who are dyslexic – improve their reading skills, new research has claimed.

The implementation of assistive technologies for children with special educational needs has served as an effective method of learning for some time. It involves using digital software tools comprising a series of games and activities that centre around a range of topics – such as reading, spelling, comprehension and numeracy – to enhance a child’s skills in each area.

Boy with a notebook in park

This month, researchers at the University of Cambridge announced that the techniques designed for dyslexic children could also be a useful way of learning for children from poor homes, TES reports.

In order to explore this further, Usha Goswami – director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at the university – was granted £365,000 to conduct a trial using a computer game that considers the difficulties some children have in distinguishing individual sounds.

The programme, GraphoGame Rime, was created by a university in Finland and works to improve a child’s reading skills by testing their awareness of longer sounds within words.

Funding was awarded to Professor Goswami by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, and will be put to use in a randomised controlled trial with 400 children aged six and seven.

The participants will be required to match the sounds they hear through headphones to groups of letters they see on the screen for ten minutes each day. The level of sound between phonemes and syllables, called onset and rime, is the game’s main area of focus.

Once an activity is completed, the programme analyses the child’s answers, which will enable the researchers to assess whether playing significantly improves their reading skills.

According to Professor Goswami, focusing on onset and rime makes spelling more consistent when using longer sounds. For example, breaking up a word by the level of sound between phonemes and syllables would turn ‘cat’ into ‘c-at’.

She adds: “The computer game was developed for dyslexic children but [its use] suggests it should also be helpful for disadvantaged children generally, who typically have impaired language and reading skills.

“And indeed, the game should be helpful for all children in terms of teaching English phonics.”

The government and Ofsted have backed the use of synthetic phonics in primary schools: the former has introduced a phonics check for pupils aged six, as well as funding relevant resources and training; the latter has performed routine inspections to ensure phonics teaching is being implemented correctly.

Dr John Rack, director of education and research at Dyslexia Action, said: “From our point of view, we’ve always recognised that some kids don’t … hear all the small sound segments clearly, so for them it is better sometimes to use bigger chunks.

“We agree it may not be the best way to teach all children – using phonemes may be better. But for those who don’t get it we need to be more flexible, and units which are more consistent and easier to distinguish do play a part. We have an intervention programme, and onset and rime work is in that.”

More established computer games that target children with learning disabilities – and could also help those from poor homes – include the Nessy Learning Programme and Wordshark.

The former works to improve reading, spelling and writing and is a huge resource of strategies, worksheets and phonics, while the latter supports various aspects of reading and spelling that are designed to make literacy fun.

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