The development and evaluation of software for teaching reading at primary level
This research is an exploratory study and concerns the effectiveness of specific design features in talking book software. Children need to acquire a variety of skills and strategies to become competent readers and these are commonly taught together in the context of meaningful text. Talking book software, replicating real books with additional features such as sound, has the potential to complement this approach. Common features of such software include word pronunciations, hearing sentences read aloud and page turning facilities. These features could facilitate the scaffolding of reading development. The strengths and weaknesses of commercial software were identified through a pilot study. A survey of practitioners was also conducted to investigate how such software is being used in the classroom and whether talking hooks could be improved. The outcomes of these studies together with a review of the literature were used to inform an innovative design that was implemented. In addition to common features, the implementation also included sub-syllabic word pronunciations, hints to encourage independent word identification and activities to reinforce specific reading skills. Two versions of the software were compared using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies including word recognition measures, interviews, observations and case studies. One software version incorporated commonly available features only and the other was a full implementation of the innovative design. Each version of the software was used daily for a period of four weeks by 16 children, aged 6 to 7 years, in the naturalistic environment of their classrooms. The findings of the study were complex due to variations in learner preferences and reading abilities. Nevertheless, it seems that electronic books can complement teaching approaches in infant classrooms and can positively affect both cognitive and affective learning outcomes. It is evident that children of lower reading ability can benefit from common features alone, such as word pronunciations. Those children using the enhanced software who had already acquired a limited sight vocabulary may benefit from additional features such as reinforcement activities. However, these features were not perceived as being fun by the children in this study. Rather, they were seen as educational tasks. The children who had made the greatest progress in reading development prior to the study made more use of the complex features such as hints to assist them in the decoding of unknown words. This study provided evidence to support the theories of scaffolding and the benefits that can be achieved by aiding learners in the zone of proximal development.