FRIDA Awards – Using Videogames to Improve Reading Comprehension

22/12/2014

Children learn through play. Based on this premise, a group of Chilean educators have developed a project for using videogames to improve the reading comprehension skills of children living in vulnerable contexts. This will allow school-aged children of Chile’s Araucanía region to improve their initial reading skills by playing games within a recreational environment.

In 2014, the project –an initiative by the AraucaníAprende Foundation for Education– received a FRIDA Award for promoting capabilities and content for Sustainable Human Development.

Carlos Dreves, leader of both the project and the Foundation, told LACNIC News that children’s attitude and motivation improve when using a learning process involving video games as compared to working on formal tasks.

How can a videogame help improve children’s reading comprehension skills and make it easier for them to learn how to read?

Videogames can help in two different ways. First, the use of video games provides a learning and recreational environment where children can work with absolute freedom. They don’t even realize they are “studying.” Children have a much more positive attitude, greater motivation and increased willingness when using software than when they are working on formal tasks. They are experts when it comes to detecting what is play and what is work and, when they do, their attitude immediately changes.

Second, learning how to read is a gradual process that involves many steps ranging from recognizing the different letters and their sounds to reading comprehension, a much more complex ability. Each step is associated with different predictors. For instance, the strongest predictor of reading comprehension achievement is oral language comprehension, while the strongest predictors of reading acquisition include the speed with which a child remembers or knows the sound of each letter. The videogame project is specifically aimed at the stage prior to learning how to read, as it addresses each letter’s sound and name, two key factors that will increase the speed with which children acquire their initial reading skills.

Why does the project apply to children living in vulnerable contexts?

Reading delays can be attributed to genetic causes (deriving in biological problems: dyslexia) or psychosocial causes (deriving in reading delays, specific dyslexia, etc.). Among the population’s most vulnerable sectors, the leading cause of reading delays is psychosocial: children don’t receive proper stimulation, they don’t have access to texts, the language used in their environment is limited, etc. When teachers start teaching first-year students how to read, in addition to teaching them the required skills, they must also tackle each child’s deficits. This makes for an extremely slow process that teacher’s find highly frustrating and time consuming, with unpredictable results.

These children need a process of over-stimulation as well as acquiring the strongest predictor of reading achievement, namely, learning the names and sounds of each letter. This will make it easier for them to learn how to read easier and strengthen the work of teachers.

What results have you achieved through your experience?

We have no results yet, but we do have strong evidence of the videogame’s possibilities which was acquired through prior research conducted around the world and the work conducted when adapting the initiative to the Chilean reality.

Can the project be applied on a massive scale?

The project has two general objectives. On the one hand, it seeks to assess the effectiveness of the game in shortening children’s reading learning curve; on the other, it aims at understanding the practical aspects relating to available technological infrastructure, teacher training, schools’ access to the Internet, etc. that will allow generating the inputs needed to submit a recommendation to national and regional education authorities regarding the value of investing in free access for all students, as provided in Finland.

Why did you decide to apply to FRIDA and what do you hope to achieve with the program’s support?

FRIDA is a great opportunity because it combines technology and education. At the time of applying, we thought that this experiment might be of interest to FRIDA.

Depending on the results we achieve, we might be able to have an impact on Chile’s most vulnerable children and generate valuable lessons for Latin America and the Caribbean, where LACNIC may disseminate the results and share them with other countries.

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