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The GraphoGame Method: The Theoretical and Methodological Background of the Technology-Enhanced Learning Environment for Learning to Read


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This paper provides an overview of the GraphoGame method. Both theoretical and methodological aspects related to the method are presented. The method’s guiding principles are based on the prevailing theories and experimental research findings on learning and teaching basic reading skills in alphabetic languages, especially from the point of view of a struggling reader. Because the nature of the target language and its relation to its writing system play central roles in the GraphoGame method, this approach requires the method to be flexible in order to be valid for learners of different languages and orthographies. Thus, the aim of the developed technology is to provide an appropriate reading support tool for all learners—from struggling learners to typical learners—in any language environment. We present an overview of results gained from GraphoGame intervention studies as well as challenges for the usability of the method.
Content may be subject to copyright.
published: 10 June 2015
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00671
Edited by:
Nicola Pitchford,
University of Nottingham, UK
Reviewed by:
Robert Samuel Savage,
McGill University, Canada
Arjette Madeline Karemaker,
University of Oxford, UK
Emma Ojanen,
Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä,
P.O. Box 35, 40014 Jyväskylä, Finland
Specialty section:
This article was submitted to
Educational Psychology,
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 27 January 2015
Accepted: 07 May 2015
Published: 10 June 2015
Ojanen E, Ronimus M, Ahonen T,
Chansa-Kabali T, February P,
Jere-Folotiya J, Kauppinen K-P,
Ketonen R, Ngorosho D, Pitkänen M,
Puhakka S, Sampa F, Walubita G,
Yalukanda C, Pugh K, Richardson U,
Serpell R and Lyytinen H (2015)
GraphoGame – a catalyst
for multi-level promotion of literacy
in diverse contexts.
Front. Psychol. 6:671.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00671
GraphoGame – a catalyst for
multi-level promotion of literacy in
diverse contexts
Emma Ojanen1,2*, Miia Ronimus1, Timo Ahonen2,3 , Tamara Chansa-Kabali2,4 ,
Pamela February5, Jacqueline Jere-Folotiya2,4 , Karri-Pekka Kauppinen1,2,
Ritva Ketonen3,6, Damaris Ngorosho7, Mikko Pitkänen1, Suzanne Puhakka1,2,
Francis Sampa2,8, Gabriel Walubita9, Christopher Yalukanda2,10,KenPugh
Ulla Richardson1, Robert Serpell4and Heikki Lyytinen1,2,3
1Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland, 2Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä,
Finland, 3Niilo Mäki Institute, Jyväskylä, Finland, 4Department of Psychology, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zam bia,
5Department of Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia, 6Department
of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, 7Department of Education, Sebastian Kolowa Memorial
University, Lushoto, Tanzania, 8Read to Succeed, Lusaka, Zambia, 9Department of Educational Psychology, Sociology and
Special Education, University of Zambia, Lusaka, Zambia, 10 Zambia National Union of Teachers, Lusaka, Zambia, 11 Haskins
Laboratories, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA
GraphoGame (GG) is originally a technology-based intervention method for supporting
children with reading difficulties. It is now known that children who face problems in
reading acquisition have difficulties in learning to differentiate and manipulate speech
sounds and consequently, in connecting these sounds to corresponding letters. GG
was developed to provide intensive training in matching speech sounds and larger
units of speech to their written counterparts. GG has been shown to benefit children
with reading difficulties and the game is now available for all Finnish school children
for literacy support. Presently millions of children in Africa fail to learn to read despite
years of primary school education. As many African languages have transparent writing
systems similar in structure to Finnish, it was hypothesized that GG-based training of
letter-sound correspondences could also be effective in supporting children’s learning
in African countries. In this article we will describe how GG has been developed from
a Finnish dyslexia prevention game to an intervention method that can be used not
only to improve children’s reading performance but also to raise teachers’ and parents’
awareness of the development of reading skill and effective reading instruction methods.
We will also provide an overview of the GG activities in Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, and
Namibia, and the potential to promote education for all with a combination of scientific
research and mobile learning.
Keywords: GraphoGame, reading intervention, game-based learning, mobile technology, literacy, Africa
The widespread endurance of illiteracy across the world deprives millions of citizens of
economic and political opportunities to secure their basic human rights. It is estimated that
almost one in six people over the age of 15 cannot read and write, and most of them
live in low-income countries where only a minority of children have access to quality basic
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
schooling (Campaign for Education, 2015). In order to tackle this
challenge, it is useful to see what has been done in countries with
successful education systems, and how the experience from these
countries could be used for the benefit of others. In this article we
show one example of such a process.
The national education system in Finland has received
international recognition. Literacy has always been highly valued
in Finnish culture. Anecdotally, almost from the time of
establishment in the 16th century of the Finnish orthography,
a good incentive for learning to read was the fact that people
were not permitted to marry without first passing a public literacy
examination administered by the local priest. In present day
Finland, the majority of school children learn the basic reading
skill within the first months of school entry. Failure to learn to
read at the same time as classmates can be a personal tragedy that
affects self-esteem and leads to long-term negative consequences,
such as depression, behavior problems, and other mental health
issues (Mugnaini et al., 2009;Undheim et al., 2011). Since
identification of the children at risk for learning difficulties was
of high importance to Finnish society, the Academy of Finland
provided funding for the Jyväskylä Longitudinal study of Dyslexia
project (JLD), starting in 1992, which has followed children with
familial risk for dyslexia from birth to early adulthood. JLD
project increased our knowledge of the developmental patterns
that predict dyslexia and thus helped us to develop methods
to identify children who are likely to face difficulties in their
reading acquisition. However, identifying a problem has little
value without the means to support children to overcome the
problem, or better still, to prevent the problems from occurring
by preventive training offered at an early stage. For this purpose,
the JLD team was able to develop (with the support of, e.g.,
the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland) ways to
support at-risk children’s reading acquisition. From the outset,
the goal was to develop an individually adapted training regimen
which would motivate children to train until they reached
the skill level of their typically developing peers and which
would be accessible, without charge, to all children in need of
Jyväskylä Longitudinal study of Dyslexia project taught us
that the key to achieving basic literacy skill in the alphabetic
script of Finnish language is to learn how letters (graphemes)
and sounds correspond to each other in the writing system (e.g.,
Lyytinen et al., 2005, 2009). Children with problems in reading
acquisition appear to have problems in differentiating and
manipulating speech sounds and consequently, in connecting
these sounds to matching letters (Lyytinen et al., 2009). There
was a need to find a motivating, engaging way of training letter-
sound connections and reading skills. At the beginning of the
21st century, there was something that all the children were
motivated to spend their time with: computers. A computerized
learning game for Finnish learners was developed, and controlled
intervention studies showed from the beginning that playing
the game improved performance in literacy-related tasks (e.g.,
Hintikka et al., 2005;Lyytinen et al., 2007;Saine et al., 2010,
2011;Lovio et al., 2012;Heikkilä et al., 2013). For instance,
the intervention by Heikkilä et al. (2013) was acknowledged for
its high quality in a meta-analysis of intervention research of
reading difficulties (Galuschka et al., 2014). Shortly afterwards,
an international study with EU’s Marie Curie Excellence funding
of four European countries was started. International adaptations
of the game have also proved to be effective, for example, the
impact of German GraphoGame (GG) on decoding performance
and associated brain activity was demonstrated with brain
event-related potential (ERP) and functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) data (Brem et al., 2010). Long-term effects
of GG training have been observed by Saine et al. (2010,
2011), who found that poor readers who received remedial
education including regular GG sessions in the first grade,
still outperformed the children who had received remedial
education without GG in the beginning of third grade. Follow-
up effects were also seen 4 months after the intervention
period in the English game version experiment (Kyle et al.,
Earlier research has shown that technology has the potential to
prevent and remediate reading difficulties. A research synthesis
by Blok et al. (2002) suggests that computers have a positive
but small effect (d=0.19) in supporting the instruction of
beginning reading skills. A more recent review (Cheung and
Slavin, 2013) with more rigorous standards for included studies
also found educational technology to have a small but significant
effect (ES =0.14) in the support of struggling readers. In this
review, educational technology was defined to include not only
computer-based approaches, but a variety of electronic tools, such
as the use of video or multimedia as components of reading
instruction. Still today, the use of digital game -based approaches
in the remedial reading instruction is still rare. Results of a recent
meta-analysis (Wouters et al., 2013) suggest that generally, digital
games are more effective than conventional instruction methods
in terms of learning (d=0.29, p<0.05), but not necessarily
in terms of motivation (d=0.26, p>0.05). Because of lack
of systematic research concerning the use of serious games in
beginning/remedial reading instruction, conclusions as to the
overall effectiveness of games in this area of learning can be
Today, GG1is a web-based scientifically validated, non-profit
internet service for reading acquisition that is already used widely
in Finland on multiple platforms. GG teaches the learner basic
literacy skills and at the same time, collects data on the learning
process for research and education purposes (Richardson and
Lyytinen, 2014). Pedagogically, GG teaches children grapheme-
phoneme connections based on synthetic and analytic phonics
instruction by constantly adapting to the player’s skill level.
The adaptation technique aims to keep the training optimally
challenging for the child, so that the child receives mostly positive
feedback (around 80% of trials). Optimal level of challenge is
one of the crucial features of engaging learning environments
(Ryan et al., 2006), and the high amount of positive feedback
is expected to maintain the child’s positive self-concept as a
learner. Children’s self-reports suggest that they enjoy playing
GG, and also parents have observed that their children are highly
motivated and concentrate well while using GG (Ronimus et al.,
2014). A screenshot of a GG task can be seen in Figure 1.
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
FIGURE 1 | A screenshot of a GraphoGame (GG) task in which the
child is expected to choose the letter matching the letter sound. In
case of a correct response, the game character climbs the ladder and falls
down the ladder when the response is incorrect.
The Finnish versions of GG (Ekapeli) are provided via the
LukiMat service2which is maintained by the Niilo Mäki Institute
and sponsored by the Ministry of Education and Culture. The
game is targeted at children who evidence early signs of reading
difficulties (such as difficulty in learning letter names) at the end
of kindergarten (6years of age) and atchildren who are inGrades
1 or 2 at school and require support with basic decoding skills
or reading fluency. Since the launch of the LukiMat service in
2008, GG has acquired approximately 270,000 registered players
in Finland, and every day, around 6000 children log on to play.
As each age cohort has about 60,000 children in Finland, it seems
that the game is in great demand, even in the country with one of
the top literacy scores in the OECD countries (OECD, 2010).
Biological and Environmental Factors
behind Reading Problems
A major obstacle to increasing our understanding of learning
difficulties is that the vast majority of information on the
topic comes from Western societies and describes learning as it
happens within high-income societies. What is currently known
is that from the cognitive and neurobiological perspectives, the
most important predictive factors emanate from the development
of spoken language skills from very early on. The JLD results
show that such individual factors based on genetic starting points
reveal the first observable indications during the first days of
life (Guttorm et al., 2005, 2010;Leppänen et al., 2012). Such
innate factors affect the whole development before the time that
children start learning to read. Environmental factors also play a
role in the manner in which the genetic predisposition manifests
itself in children’s development. The models of reading presented
by the parent who has severe difficulties create an environment
that may, for example, affect the child’s motivation to read. Our
genetic variation, which makes us better in some abilities and and
less so in other domains, tends to impact in such a way that we
tend to avoid exposing ourselves to activities or hobbies where
our mastery is compromised. Thus, it is very likely that a child
who finds it difficult to manipulate spoken language in language
play and struggles with learning to read, will start to avoid such
activities (Onatsu-Arvilommi and Nurmi, 2000;Poskiparta et al.,
2003). In fact, such a tendency toward avoidance was observed
as the most important factor that needs to be prevented before
children can overcome their problems in reading acquisition
(Eklund et al., 2013).
Nonetheless, on a global level, the role of biological
factors is insufficiently studied. Many environmental factors
environmental factors, such as malnutrition and early childhood
illness may have an effect on learning abilities. The poor quality of
education itself is a major risk factor. Inadequate teacher training
and negative attitudes in the community play a role, and most
of all, the language of instruction may be an underestimated
cause of poor learning outcomes. While the use of indigenous
languages as media of instruction has been defended on the
basis of human rights and preservation of local cultures, the
impact of language goes much deeper. The relationship between
the spoken language and the writing system has a large effect
on the literacy learning rate. The amount of written symbols
in the writing system and the rules of connecting them to the
speech sounds vary across languages. The easiness of learning
to read is related to the amount of letter-sound pairs learner
needs to memorize. One cannot learn to connect spoken to
written language without that the learner having at least implicit
awareness of the speech sounds of the language. In certain
languages, such as English, sounding out some items (e.g.,
exception words such as YACHT) is difficult since these words
violate spelling to sound rules and thus pronouncing them
correctly requires access to the meaning and/or derivation of
the word. In contrast languages such as Finnish can be fully
transparent: letter to sound associations always produce the
correct pronunciation. These differences between languages have
profound effects on learning (e.g., Aro and Wimmer, 2003;
Seymour et al., 2003).
Understanding how different languages affect the rate of
reading acquisition has only recently come to the attention of
researchers. A cross-linguistic comparison study by 14 European
countries showed that it takes significantly longer to learn the
foundations of reading in English in comparison to languages
with more transparent orthographies (e.g., Seymour et al., 2003).
This study was the first to document that the writing system
(orthography) plays a major role in learning to read within the
alphabetic systems. Alphabetic orthographies can be placed along
a continuum with transparent and opaque being the opposites. In
a completely transparent orthography such as Finnish or Italian,
there is only one speech sound (phoneme) for each written
symbol (grapheme) and there are no exceptions in spelling or
pronunciation. At the other extreme, the English orthography
is devoid of consistency in letter-sound connections: spelling
and pronunciation for each word needs to be learned more or
less separately. In the study by Seymour et al. (2003), Finnish
children were the fastest learners due to the transparency of
the orthography. The Finnish child needs to learn only 23
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
connections between letters and sounds and how to combine
them into syllables and words. After learning the grapheme–
phoneme connections, inventing the assembly and automatizing
the retrieval of the connections from memory, Finnish children
are able to read without problems, any pronounceable sequence
of letters. Almost all Finnish learners acquire full accuracy
during the first school semester. In contrast, the reader of
English must master 100s of connections between spoken and
written items. A substantial number of English words cannot be
pronounced without seeing the whole word. Instead, the child
needs to memorize certain letter sequences by heart. Thus, using
English language as a universal model for reading instruction is
problematic. Scientific research in literacy cannot be anglocentric
or eurocentric, or founded on a single orthography (Share,
2008). Instead, the process of literacy acquisition needs to be
studied in all languages and writing systems, and the instruction
methods need to be developed for optimal approach for each
International organizations, such as USAID, have already
taken into account the information learned about the impact of
specific orthographies on reading acquisition and emphasized
in the guidelines of Early Grade Reading Assessment Toolkit
(2009: RTI International) that it is important to acknowledge
the differences in orthographies in the development of literacy
assessment tools. Consequently, the use of literacy materials that
are based on the English language might not be suitable in other
languages. However, most existing literature about learning to
read and teaching literacy is based on research conducted in
English speaking countries and may be misleading for literacy
instruction in other languages. The vast majority of the world’s
alphabetic languages are spelled consistently (Abadzi, 2013). In
such transparent reading environments, decoding skills can be
achieved in 3–4 months, in contrast to 2–3 years needed for
mastery of the non-transparent English writing system (Seymour
et al., 2003;Abadzi, 2013). After achieving basic decoding skills,
children are able to use their reading skill for learning and
must be further motivated to read in order to develop reading
fluency. Reading fluency in the mother tongue lays a cognitive
and linguistic foundation, not only for full literacy, but also for
learning additional languages and other scholastic subjects (Ball,
In addition to biological risk factors and compromised
learning environment, a third factor that affects reading
acquisition, social support, needs to be considered. One of
the most important ways in which parents and teachers can
support their children’s literacy acquisition, is to find ways
to motivate the child to become interested in reading-related
activities and to start using reading skills early on. Maintaining
the learner’s interest in reading is the most efficient protective
factor among children at risk for reading difficulties (Eklund
et al., 2013). Children must be motivated to learn to read and to
continue to improve their reading skills by reading. In Western
societies, an abundance of reading materials in the ordinary living
environment allows for independent reading practice outside
school. However, in more disadvantaged societies, there may be
little else to read except school books and complex religious texts,
and even those may not be plentiful.
Literacy Crisis in Africa
In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in five children were out of school in
2011 (Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA GMR],
2013/2014) and across Africa, less than half of children reach
the end of primary school (Heugh, 2011). School access and
high drop-out rates have been major concerns in international
development for a long time. It is only recently that the quality
of education and the actual learning outcomes of children have
received attention. From 650 million primary school age children,
at least 250 million were not learning the basics in reading and
mathematics (Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA
GMR], 2013/2014). The remaining 130 million children are the
true tragedy: as many as one third of children who complete
primary school are unable to read a sentence (Education for all
Global Monitoring Report [EFA GMR], 2013/2014). The latest
statistics show that, in 17 Sub-Saharan countries, less than half
of children are learning the basics and are poorly prepared
for transition to secondary education (Education for all Global
Monitoring Report [EFA GMR], 2013/2014). Such outcomes are
the rule in Africa, not the exception (Africa Progress Panel
Report, 2012).
These dramatic numbers tell us that the full scale and gravity
of the global illiteracy crisis has only recently gained public
attention. It is not just about how many children cannot go
to school in Africa, it is the fact that millions of children
are failing to learn despite years of school attendance (Africa
Progress Panel Report, 2012). To prevent the growth of new
generations of illiterate adults, primary classroom instruction
must focus on methods to teach fluent reading in early grades,
especially in countries where the dropout rate is high (Abadzi,
2004). Fortunately, improving the quality of learning is likely
to be central to the post-2015 global development framework
(Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA GMR],
It is worth considering whether the poor literacy results in
Africa are related to the fact that it is the only continent where
the majority of children still start school using a foreign language
(Ouane and Glanz, 2010). In sub-Saharan African countries, it
is common that the language of instruction (English, French,
Portuguese) is a second or third language to the teachers. In
addition, only one third of teachers have teaching qualifications
(Griffin, 2012). In most African countries, teachers are expected
to teach children to read and write in a language which is both
unfamiliar to the learners and in which teachers themselves
may have little competence (Ouane and Glanz, 2010). The most
common languages used inAfrican education systems are English
and French, amongst those alphabetic orthographies that have
been shown to be the most difficult to learn to read and write –
even for native speakers (Seymour et al., 2003). It would seem
obvious that, whenever possible, early literacy instruction should
be delivered within a transparent, consistent orthography with
a small number of letter-sound pairs to be learned. The quicker
children learn decoding, the earlier they can proceed toward
practicing fluency and using literacy as a medium for learning.
In Africa, a quick transition from decoding to fluency is
necessary since it is common that the language of instruction
is English or French after Grade 4, even if the early literacy
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
has been taught in an African local language. This is a cause
for concern because it has been recommended that children
should not be required to move on to second language instruction
before they are fully literate and academically fluent readers in
their first language, but typically, the latter does not happen
at all, or may be reached by Grade 6 (Ball, 2011). Therefore,
it is not an exaggeration to say that poor learning outcomes
in Africa are intimately linked to the language factor, which
seems relatively neglected in the discourse of international
development (Wolff, 2011). Research into literacy acquisition in
local African languages can provide significant new insights to
better education. There is a serious shortage of literacy specialists
in Africa (Alidou, 2011) and UNESCO has pleaded with the
research community to fill the gap in knowledge related to
mother tongue-based bi/multilingual early education practices
(Ball, 2011). Multilingualism is and will be an integral feature
of African reality, and therefore it should be taken account in
educational planning. However, the interconnectedness between
language, communication and effective teaching and learning is
currently misunderstood outside expert circles (Wolff, 2011).
It is reasonable to expect that societies that have successfully
achieved full literacy in their own education systems provide
assistance to those in desperate need for evidence-based
solutions. In present day Africa, mobile phones offer an
affordable and easy-to-use gateway to reading material and access
to the Internet gives a person more reading material than in
any physical library ever built (West and Chew, 2014). The
best thing about mobile phones is that most people have them:
from the 7 billion people on earth, only 4.5 billion have a
toilet but over 6 billion have a mobile phone (United Nations,
2013). A key strategy for the promotion of mobile reading is
simply to provide people with the opportunity to try it (West
and Chew, 2014). Providing literacy materials over the Internet
accessed using mobile phones is a transformational opportunity
for improvement of literacy levels in Africa. Nowadays, the use of
mobile technology is becoming more common in development
initiatives in Africa. It should be noted, however, that technology
alone is not sufficient for sustainable development. The contents
of the literacy programs need to be efficient to instruct accurate
and fluent reading skill and then offer well-designed material
which children are interested in approaching. Learning materials
should be science-based and studied in the local environment
by local people. Otherwise, the methodological flaws in current
ways of literacy teaching are simply transferred onto the new
In this article, we demonstrate how a scientific innovation
originally targeted toward supporting a small minority in a high
income Western country, has grown into a global endeavor
for better literacy teaching and improved learning outcomes.
With the help of internet and mobile technology, people around
the world can benefit from this knowledge and adapt it to
serve their own societies. This is the spirit of GG, to globally
provide scientifically validated learning environment services
that allow researchers to study the process of learning, teachers
to learn better instruction methodology, parents to support their
children’s education, and children to learn to read in a child-
friendly game-based learning environment. The principles of
proceeding in the provision of science-based eLearning services is
the theme of the GraphoWORLD3network of language, literacy,
and learning scientists across the world.
Field Testing GraphoGame in Africa
The story of GG in Africa began by providing a literacy game
intervention for poor readers with 12 second-hand laptops in
three public schools in Lusaka, late 2005 (for review, see Ojanen
et al., 2013). The fact that the writing systems of Zambian
languages (Kashoki, 1990) and of Finnish are both transparent,
inspired us to test the possibility that the same intervention
method for reading difficulties could work in both countries.
Intervention results indeed showed increased performance in
literacy tasks (Ojanen et al., 2013). Surprisingly, however,
the study also revealed that children encountered extensive
difficulties with vowels /a/, /e/, and /i/, the phonemes whose
English letter names include vowel sounds that do not correspond
with the vowel sounds of the these letters in the local Bantu
languages (Ojanen et al., 2013; Ojanen, unpublished masters
theses). It seemed that, while the language of initial literacy
instruction had recently changed from English to local language
with the New Breakthrough To Literacy program (Ministry of
Education, 1996, 2003), the teachers were inadequately informed
about the difference between the phonics of English and the
phonics of Zambian languages and therefore continued to use
English letter names in literacy instruction (Ojanen et al., 2013).
A pilot study in Zambia concluded that supporting children
through provision of literacy training was possible although
not sustainable unless teachers and parents were involved in
the process. This was the premise for the Academy of Finland
project Reading Support for Zambia (RESUZ), conducted by
five Zambian Ph.D. students. The Project started in 2010 and
by then, GG was already available for mobile phones and
the intervention was provided to both the teachers and the
learners. The medium of initial literacy instruction in the
government schools of Lusaka was the widely spoken, local
Bantu language, ciNyanja. Since the pilot study had suggested
that teachers were not consistently teaching the correct letter-
sounds in ciNyanja, a sub-study was conducted which assessed
teachers’ knowledge of the sounds of the letters of local
languages. The results revealed that teachers’ literacy skills varied
significantly and some teachers had difficulties in letter-sound
correspondences of ciNyanja, even though they were teaching
literacy to first graders (Yalukanda, unpublished). It was therefore
necessary to find a method that would support children’s literacy
acquisition and also provide literacy instruction training to
The RESUZ intervention study was conducted with a
representative sample of 573 Grade 1 learners in 42 Lusaka
schools, and comprised a control group and various intervention
combinations with the purpose of ascertaining the most efficient
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
intervention model (Jere-Folotiya et al., 2014). Results from
this field study conducted in low-resource government schools
revealed that both direct and indirect exposure to the game
improved reading acquisition, as documented by the literacy
assessment data comparing children who had participated in the
interventions to those in the control group. The best effect was
obtained when both teachers and children were exposed to the
game. Since GG was designed for early literacy skills practice
for children, it was initially unprecedented that teachers also
benefited from playing. After discovering that teachers had the
tendency to instruct learners to recite the English letter names
(Yalukanda, unpublished) rather than the ciNyanja letter sounds,
it was understood that this could be one of the factors to explain
why reading instruction was not more successful despite of use
of local languages on Grade 1. This suggests that playing of the
GG with even minimal pedagogical training and minimal or no
experience in the use of ICT (information and communication
technology), may enhance literacy teaching skills of first grade
teachers and therefore support children’s learning opportunities
in their classroom (Jere-Folotiya, 2014). This is most likely related
to the teachers’ improved understanding of the correct phoneme
pronunciation (Yalukanda, unpublished), and becoming aware of
the incorrect cues given by the English letter names. This is in
line with USAID finding that teachers have not received training
in how to teach sounds of the letters during their pre-service
training (Collins et al., 2012).Theissueofteachers’language
and literacy proficiency requires more research and development
of suitable assessment methods for teachers’ professional
Moreover, the RESUZ project revealed the importance of
parents’ attitude toward reading by studying a sub-sample
of 72 low-income families with children participating in GG
interventions (Chansa-Kabali, 2014;Chansa-Kabali et al., 2014).
The study revealed that parents who displayed favorable reading
attitudes engaged their children more in literacy practices at
home, and that parental behavior correlated with the child
literacy assessment results. Also, these parents provided more
materials that enhance reading, such as children’s books (Chansa-
Kabali, 2014). Thus, the results from RESUZ demonstrate how
improving the quality of literacy instruction requires work on
multiple levels: teachers, pupils, and parents. The use of ICT-
based learning environment such as GG can benefit all these
target groups in the future by guiding teachers to use more
appropriate phonics in literacy instruction, by providing practice
of decoding for children, and raising of awareness and literacy
instruction for the parents.
The most recent literacy assessments from Zambia indicate
that the literacy skills levels continue to be low. The empirical
validation of GG in the local context of Zambian Government
schools points to a viable opportunity to address this challenge.
The Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) baseline test
conducted in 2012 (Rhodwell, 2013) by Read to Succeed Project
reported that, under conditions of speeded testing, even minimal
letter-sound knowledge and word recognition were absent in the
vast majority of Grade 2 learners in rural areas. Out of 2000
Grade 2 learners that were assessed in oral passage reading,
only 11% were able to read some words. The majority scored
zero on letter-sound knowledge. Further analysis and comparison
between EGRA and other literacy tests for validation of these
results is currently in progress (Sampa et al., unpublished). In
the context of the EGRA literacy assessment, the good news
is that the University of Zambia is gaining momentum in
provision of practical, evidence-based resources for addressing
problems associated with instruction of reading skill. As soon as
possible after acquisition of basic reading skill, it is important
to encourage the children to acquire full literacy by providing
them with exciting reading materials in local Zambian languages
that motivate them to practice reading fluency and eventually
help them to learn to comprehend even more demanding texts.
The Centre for the Promotion of Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa
(CAPOLSA) was founded in 2011 with financial support from
the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (Serpell, 2014)for
this specific purpose. CAPOLSA promotes children’s literacy in
Zambian languages and offers advanced education for young
scholars to develop local expertise in learning related sciences.
The establishment of CAPOLSA and the fast progress of
ICT becoming widely available have prompted new research
questions. Now that we know that GG supports both teachers
and children, we now need to know how best to distribute it
to the learners in need. This was studied in Lusaka in February
to August 2014 with the goal of finding the most effective
method for providing GG exposure to the maximum number of
first grade pupils in urban areas (Walubita et al., 2015). With
six GG tablets per classroom, teachers were able to provide
successful intervention for at least 30 children within a 2-months
intervention period. This is a promising result since it was also
confirmed that first grade children in Lusaka had problems in
differentiating the vowels /a/, /e/, and /i/ during their intervention
in 2013 (Kauppinen, unpublished masters theses). This suggests
that those vowel confusions observed in 2005 (Ojanen et al.,
2013) are still found in children’s GG game log records but also
indicates that GG makes a significant impact on the acquisition
of decoding skills by learners. In the future, current limitations
of the GG experiments need to be addressed. Since the schools
do not yet own tablets or phones for eLearning purposes, the
only way to conduct the interventions is to provide the required
FIGURE 2 | Children playing with GG tablets in Lusaka 2013. Picture
credit Karri-Pekka Kauppinen/University of Jyväskylä.
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
equipment for the schools for limited time periods (see Figure 2
as an example). It has not yet been possible to see what kind of
learning benefits could be achieved if children had access to this
technology every week throughout a complete semester, or used
it regularly at home.
In 2013, the Ministry of Education revised the primary
curriculum in order to expand the use of Zambian local language
as the medium of instruction for Grades 2–4 and published a
New Literacy Framework that emphasizes the use of phonics
in early reading instruction (Sampa et al., unpublished). It
is important that information concerning the new policy and
available pedagogical guidelines is effectively disseminated to
1000s of teachers in Zambia, both in teacher training colleges
and as in-service training to those already working in schools.
With improved internet connections and high usage of mobile
phones, it is expected that CAPOLSA can provide the required
training by using the GG learning environment. In 2012, 76% of
Zambians used mobile phone and 13.5% used internet (UNICEF,
2013a). Since the role of family involvement in urban Lusaka is
already known, a new study (Ojanen et al., 2015)wasconducted
in October 2014 in rural Zambia where most parents have little
or no formal education or no child-friendly reading materials
at home. The aim of this study was to explore whether GG
made available by lending a smart phone to Grade 2 children
could also engage parents and other family members in literacy
activities and improve their literacy skills. Fifty families living
in the remote rural area of three Districts in Eastern Zambia
participated in GG intervention with both a child and an adult
member of the family using the game. The average playing time
in the experiment was more than 5 h (compared to recommended
minimum of 2 h) indicating that people were motivated to use
eLearning environment for literacy practice. The environmental
risk of poor literacy instruction can be helped with GG-based
teacher training. The environmental risk of lack of community
support can be helped by engaging parents in GG activities and
disseminating literacy in local languages via mobile phones. With
the new language policy for education, the hopes for improving
the quality of education in Zambia are high.
Kenya, Tanzania, and Namibia
Encouraged by the success of the Zambian GG team, the
same approach has been introduced in Kenya, Tanzania, and
Namibia. The first step of the GG adaptation process is the
analysis of the existing language environment and current
curriculum for literacy instruction. Local experts design the
contents for the game and ensure the game’s effectiveness through
controlled trials within an authentic environment. In Kenya, a
validation study conducted in 2011 assessed the early literacy
skills of Grade 1 children in Kikuyu and Kiswahili (Puhakka
et al., 2015). The challenge in Kenya is that, while Kiswahili,
which has a relatively transparent orthography is used as the
medium of instruction, it is actually not the principal medium
of communication in the majority of children’s homes. The
results showed that the children who received the intervention
of at least 4 h training time improved in their orthographic
awareness in Kikuyu and Kiswahili. Another study with 128
GG Kiswahili players showed improved letter-sound knowledge,
word recognition, pseudoword reading, and single word spelling
(Puhakka et al., 2015). These results indicate that GG can provide
effective support in Kenya, where currently, most teachers lack
the necessary training to teach early reading skills. Moreover,
since it may take a long time to create learning contents for all
African languages, it is positive that children who are learning
Kiswahili as their second language were also able to benefit from
GG. Use of GG may also help to promote the use of Kiswahili and
other Kenyan languages in education.
Even though Tanzania has been celebrated for its success
in promoting a national language and literate culture in an
African language and literacy among children and adults (Alidou,
2011), there is still room for improvement as 20% of the
adult population is illiterate (UNESCO/UNICEF, 2013; UNICEF,
2013b). An experimental study was conducted in Bagamoyo in
2014 by the GG research team at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial
University to establish the efficacy of GG in supporting the
acquisition of adequate basic skills for learning to read. The
preliminary data analyses of the pilot study suggest that,
while providing teachers with training in phonics-based literacy
instruction is important and has a significant effect on learning,
the outcomes improve more when GG is provided for the
learners. The overall goal for the future is to use the GG Kiswahili
as an intervention method to improve children’s acquisition of
basic skills for reading and thus minimize the risk of developing
persistent reading difficulties. Similar to Zambia, GG activities
in Tanzania, include training teachers in synthetic phonics-based
instruction methods, creating reading materials in Kiswahili
and providing expertise in curriculum development. The GG
research team at SEKOMU is conducting a large study in seven
intervention schools and three control schools in March 2015.
Adaptation of GG in Namibia has proceeded to expand the
use of the GG learning game in teacher education units as a
method to instruct effective use of phonics. Furthermore, the
GG content has also been extended to train basic mathematics
in Namibia. Similar to many other African countries, Namibia
is plagued by a large portion of its learner population being
unable to read according to standard. According to SACMEQ
reports I–III and EGRA pilots (Gains and Parkes, 2012), Namibia
has been consistently ranked near the bottom. Forty-percent
of Grade 5 learners only manage to read at the Pre-Reading,
Emergent Reading, or Basic Reading Levels (Hungi et al., 2010).
Therefore, solutions to improve early grade literacy are in
great demand in Namibia. GG was implemented to Afrikaans
and, at the same time, to follow the literacy curriculum in
Grades 1 and 2. In the first validation study in 2013 by Pamela
February at the University of Namibia, 83 first grade learners
played GG Afrikaans literacy game, 80 played GraphoMaths
and 40 learners acted as non-playing controls. This study
showed that learners who played GG Afrikaans for 300 min
(5 h) performed significantly better in post-assessment literacy
assessment tests compared to controls. Follow-up study in 2014
provided additional 10 h long GG Afrikaans training to a
selected 19 learners who participated in the earlier study but
who did not improve sufficiently. Preliminary results indicate
that longer exposure to the GG also improved letter-knowledge,
phonological awareness, and reading skills of these struggling
Frontiers in Psychology | 7June 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 671
Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
readers. In addition to the GG validation study, the team at the
University of Namibia is involved – as mentioned above – in
developing GG interventions and eLearning material for teacher
training purposes in collaboration with the Ministry of Education
E-Learning Environments for Teachers
Improving literacy in Africa is not only about the need to
build academic capacity and scientific expertise around learning-
related sciences. This knowledge needs to be disseminated to the
correct stakeholders. The central role that teacher educators play
in shaping teachers’ skills is often the most neglected aspect of
teacher preparation systems (Education for all Global Monitoring
Report [EFA GMR], 2013/2014). The University of Jyväskylä
and Niilo Mäki Institute have been involved in training the
teacher educators for over two decades in several projects in
Africa. The focus of these projects has been to provide the
latest information on neuropsychology and learning difficulties
to the key individuals who work as lecturers in learning-
related disciplines or who participate in policy making in the
Ministry of Education. It is indeed difficult to imagine how the
quality of teacher training could be improved unless there is a
sufficient number of local experts who are professionally capable
of training teachers to teach literacy and also to identify and
support children with learning difficulties, as recommended by
UNESCO (Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA
GMR], 2013/2014).
In 2012, the Niilo Mäki Institute started a literacy training
program in Zambia, Namibia, Kenya, and Tanzania for
teacher educators. The main goal of this program was to
train literacy specialists who have the latest evidence-based
knowledge of learning to read and reading difficulties. GG
technology was utilized in this project as the main tool to
support learning to read. The 3-years “GraphoLearn Diploma
Training Program” was funded by the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs of Finland. The 25 trainees and their four local
trainers participated in two annual workshops. Each workshop
focused on different aspects of emergent literacy, for example,
grapheme–phoneme correspondences in transparent languages,
phonological awareness, decoding skills, reading fluency and
reading comprehension. Assessment and literacy case-study
interventions using GG were also included in the program. In
every workshop, the trainees presented the results of the case
studies that they had carried out in their own countries between
the workshops. In these small intervention studies, they practiced
how to teach literacy and how to use GG as a part of the training.
The local trainers supervised these interventions and reported
them to the Finnish trainers. The trainees have learned to identify,
assess, and train reading difficulties and as teacher educators, they
can pass on these new skills to their students and to the curricula
of their universities and teacher training colleges.
As mentioned in Education for all Global Monitoring Report
[EFA GMR] (2013/2014), it is not only the quality of teacher
education that is insufficient. Another problem is the lack of
capacity to train the huge numbers of teachers. The use of mobile
technology, particularly in low-income countries has the greatest
potential for ICT-based learning and allows large numbers of
trainees (Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA
GMR], 2013/2014) to be reached. This is why we are directing
our efforts toward the creation of an eLearning environment
for teachers and teacher trainers to facilitate better literacy
instruction. The eLearning material will contain both theory
and practice, exercises and video clips on best practices to teach
reading using local languages in different African countries. The
material will also include sample texts and stories to support
and assist both teachers (to assess children’s reading progress)
and children (to practice their acquired reading skill). A special
module will be included on reading difficulties and how teachers
can identify and assess such difficulties. This will guide teachers
on how to teach children with additional support needs within
an inclusive environment. The theoretical materials will be in
English and the more practical examples and exercises in various
local languages used in literacy training in partner countries.
The outcome of the project will be similar to a compact
comprehensive eLearning book for teachers. The materials will
be freely accessible online and can be used in various electronic
other digital format (e.g., DVDs and memory sticks or similar).
Teachers can self-study materials about literacy instruction and
learning difficulties and their learning can be monitored over the
internet by CAPOLSA experts. Teachers can then have access to
science-based information on education, and most importantly,
information that is produced by local experts in education
Quality of education and ensuring literacy acquisition in early
grades are fundamental themes in the global post-2015 agenda.
One key area is the need for knowledge on inter-dynamics
between language and literacy. Conducting interdisciplinary
research, consensus building and awareness-raising campaigns to
update knowledge on language in education and development
is recommended (Ouane and Glanz, 2010). This work begins
with acknowledging general conclusions of the previous research
(Ball, 2011), such as the importance of their first language
to children’s cognitive development and academic achievement
and ensuring that children become highly proficient in one
language (which takes 6–8 years) before requiring academic work
in a second language. As our examples from GG activities in
Africa demonstrate, provision of efficient literacy instruction,
even for early grades in local African language, is still a massive
challenge. Lack of scientific knowledge on language development,
literacy acquisition, and learning in general is a rarely mentioned
challenge in the area of international development and yet, it
is difficult to see how teacher training programs or production
of learning materials could improve without a solid foundation
in science. The GG technology, based on intensive longitudinal
literacy research of children at risk for dyslexia in Finland (for
a recent review of the results, see Lyytinen and Richardson,
2014), allows fast data collection and use of comparable research
methods across the countries. Better still, the GraphoWORLD
network allows scientists to join forces with colleagues across
Frontiers in Psychology | 8June 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 671
Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
the world and probably most importantly for Africa, to develop
inter-regional collaboration between countries that are struggling
with similar challenges. In conclusion, GG is more than a mobile
application for practicing basic literacy skills. Adaptation of the
game to new countries and language environments has a much
larger impact on the education sector as a whole, prompting
the need for upgraded policy making, curriculum development,
and teacher training. Training African scholars and providing
them with cutting-edge research technology empowers them to
take their places as qualified experts and advisers that policy-
makers need for making informed choices for better education
Education for all Global Monitoring Report [EFA GMR]
(2015) states that language is of considerable importance for the
quality of teaching and learning but among the biggest obstacles
to using local languages in the classroom are a lack of textbooks
and a shortage of trained teachers using the languages. The
use of mobile technology, particularly in low-income countries
has the greatest potential for ICT-based learning and allows
large numbers of trainees (Education for all Global Monitoring
Report [EFA GMR], 2013/2014) to be reached. But striving for
better literacy knowledge among scholars, teacher educators,
and teachers is not yet enough for sustainable impact. Research
on GG has also revealed the need to engage parents and
larger community in literacy activities. This is in line with the
recommendation to position parents and other family members,
as well as the whole community in planning, implementation,
and evaluation of literacy programs (Ball, 2011). It has been
shown that parental attitude toward children’s reading practices
had a significant impact on the learning outcomes in both Zambia
and Tanzania (Ngorosho, 2011;Chansa-Kabali, 2014)andthat
a major challenge to increasing the use of local languages in
education is the negative attitude toward African language at
home (Chansa-Kabali, 2014;Kwena et al., 2014;Puhakka et al.,
2015). In Kenya, 41% of the teachers reported that parents
were against their children being taught early reading skills in
indigenous languages and 77% indicated that parents prefer
that their children are taught early reading skills in English
(Puhakka et al., 2015). In Kenya, misinformation about language
policy among parents and teachers is the major cause for
failing to implement the language policy for teaching literacy in
local language (Kwena et al., 2014). However, there is evidence
that supporting children’s reading in the mother tongue also
inspires their parents to learn to read and participate in adult
literacy courses (Ouane and Glanz, 2010). Thus, the process of
identifying weak learners at school and providing them with
literacy intervention using a mobile phone can have a wide
impact on the literacy levels of the whole community.
In September–October 2014, CAPOLSA included a teacher-
orientation component in the design of the latest GG field test in
rural areas (Ojanen et al., 2015) and conducted a pilot study on
a mobile phone-based teacher training program. This involved
training the teachers about the new phonics-based curriculum
and providing them with GG and related video materials for
5 weeks. Teachers gave selected pupils GG mobile phones to be
used either at school or at home. Mobile-based teacher in-service
training could be a cost-effective way for teachers to update their
literacy teaching skills and provide much required support for
struggling learners and, at the same time, educating the parents
about literacy issues. Parents and the local community could then
be encouraged to create their own literacy materials. This was
already tried in Zambia with the Kalulu writing competition for
local languages. Stories from the competition are now used in
eLearning materials on CAPOLSA4tablets and phones.
Even though we are currently able to provide mobile-based
literacy intervention to teachers, children, and parents, and thus
increase the knowledge on reading acquisition in Africa, there
are still many challenges. Some studies report that, although
ICT seems to be a promising tool in an educational context,
many teachers are reluctant to integrate it in their daily practice,
even in the developed countries (Kreijns et al., 2013;Va n
Acker et al., 2013). In developing countries, limited technical
resources (e.g., lack of devices, electricity, internet connections)
and support are still extra barriers for use of ICT, even though
3G and 4G networks are developing fast and the prices of
smartphones and tablets are also decreasing rapidly. When
we try to boost teachers to use ICT to facilitate learning, we
know that some degree of change is required in the following
dimensions: (a) beliefs, attitudes, or pedagogical ideologies (e.g.,
a commitment to empirical discovery of the best methods of
literacy learning), (b) content knowledge (e.g., theory of literacy
learning), (c) pedagogical knowledge of instructional practices,
strategies, methods, or approaches (how to teach reading and
how to learn to read via proper instruction and using GG
technology), and (d) novel or altered instructional resources (e.g.,
smartphones or tablets). Despite all the remaining challenges,
UNESCO hopes that mobile reading will be integrated into
broader educational systems that teach people how to use text
productively – from access to comprehension, and all the stages
in between (West and Chew, 2014).
Another major challenge is to ensure that learners practice
for sufficient time. By all means, this should mean long enough
to attain reading fluency, which is required before the learner
is ready to transition to the use of new languages (Abadzi,
2013). Fluency does not develop without a sufficient quantity
of engaging and motivating reading materials. Combining GG
with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning
materials is one option for providing more literature for learners.
The aim for the next GG studies should be to ensure reading
fluency in early grades and to lay the foundations for reading
Distribution of GG and related eLearning content is another
long-term process which will most likely involve collaboration
with governments of the local countries, as well as support
from non-governmental international organizations and private
companies. The preparation of GG commercialization has been
supported by Tekes, The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation,
in a research project called “Grapho Learning International
Development and Exports” which was conducted during 2012–
2015. While the adaptations of the new game versions can
be conducted as research projects, or within international
4 development- studies/
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Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
development projects, the provision of user support in the long
run requires other solutions. The next challenge is to expand
the GG technology-enhanced support globally. Currently, GG
utilizes a project-based delivery model consisting of public-
private partnership and donor funding to enable development
of the evidence based learning tool in different languages and
parts of the world. While approaching new countries and
languages, development of a new kind of business model is
necessary to ensure financial sustainability and scalability of the
initiative. These plans are under development but the aim is to
complement the long-term public procurement and donation
model by establishing a company and contracting with local
distributors. This could mean for example the development of
new language versions in collaboration with GraphoWORLD
member universities, licensing and distributing the GG service
and analytics by the company, and certifying local partners to
operate the related training and support services.
The aim of GG activities should be to provide services
free of charge to the end user in the developing countries.
From the business model perspective, the customer could be
the adult caretaker of the learner, school, or government,
GG related research has laid the foundation for the next step
for improvement of global literacy. This step, purporting to
support dissemination, includes all the processes necessary to
make the public procurement or other distribution mechanism
possible in each country that wants to make the GG service
available in one form or another. Such a step can be taken
as the IPR protection (patenting), branding (trademarking),
and stakeholder management (communication plan) have been
carefully prepared to include the GraphoWORLD network of
researchers in the world’s top-universities, ministries, funding
partners and sponsors, as well as the general public, in order to
raise awareness of the literacy levels and potentially to make a
difference by providing inclusive literacy learning for all.
This new information on learning needs then to be
disseminated to the right stakeholders. Policy makers and
teacher educators need to be informed about the new evidence-
based methodologies. GG teams in Africa have been active in
discussions with their Ministry representatives and have provided
expert consultation for curriculum development in teacher
training colleges and formulation of new literacy instruction
guidelines. If and when the teacher training curriculum or literacy
instruction materials change, there is a need to inform 1000s
of in-service teachers about these changes. Creating eLearning
environments for teachers is a way of disseminating this
information very quickly and GG technology allows monitoring
of teacher’s professional capacity. One way to do this is to monitor
teachers’ literacy and language skills from the GG game logs and
a certificate can be awarded when they have reached adequate
skill level. Certificate can be given if the teacher shows adequate
knowledge of local language literacy by playing GG and is able
to successfully organize a GG literacy intervention in her or his
classroom and increase the children’s literacy skills with sufficient
amount of practice. Performance in the game can be monitored
over the internet. This GG instruction certification design was
developed by t he University of Za mbia–CAPOLSA research team
in close consultation with the Zambian Ministry of Education,
Directorate of Teacher Education and Specialized Services (TESS;
Walubita et al., 2015) and it is being developed further in order
to create a mobile-based teacher training service for teachers’
professional development and in-service training. The focus of
the interventions are the children who are struggling with literacy
and falling behind their peers in the classroom. African children
with learning difficulties need support and it has already been
shown that playing GG benefits children, even in large classrooms
where the teacher is already strained with work (Jere-Folotiya,
2014). Providing GG at home can engage parents and other
caretakers in literacy activities.Thisisneededtoraiseawareness
about the importance of local languages and also to improve
adult literacy and help to dispel the negative attitude toward
African language at home (Chansa-Kabali, 2014;Kwena et al.,
2014;Puhakka et al., 2015).
In summary, GG can contribute toward addressing the global
literacy crisis on multiple levels. It is apparent that any changes
in teacher training, curriculum development, policy making,
and production of learning materials needs to be based on
solid science and local academic expertise. If the international
community wants Sub-Saharan countries to improve their quality
of education, it is necessary to provide African scholars and
academic institutions with adequate resources and support to
conduct research on language, literacy, and learning related
topics. For the scientific community, GG is a research laboratory
in a mobile phone, enabling much needed research on the
process of literacy acquisition. For the teachers, GG can
provide relief in their daily struggle with multiple problems.
For policymakers, GG provides an opportunity to articulate
concrete connections among language, orthography, curriculum,
teaching materials, and effective literacy instruction for the
next generation of children. While there are many long-term,
macrosocial, intertwined challenges for developing education
in Africa, there is something that we can do immediately and
with little cost: scientific information on learning needs to
be available and accessible to all teachers. Without scientific
knowledge, all other attempts to improve education are likely to
fail expectations. Brand new school buildings and higher salaries
have little effect if the teachers never receive the pedagogical
training for their work.
Sustainable improvement in the quality of education and
literacy learning outcomes is a process which needs to happen
on multiple levels at the same time: planning education policy,
developing learning materials for schools, providing teachers
with evidence-based pedagogical training, engaging parents
in literacy practices and supporting children with reading
difficulties. All this requires scientific research onliteracy learning
process in authentic environments in local languages by local
people. GG and GraphoWORLD network can facilitate this
process, not only in Africa, but elsewhere in the world. The
latest development of this process is the establishment of the
UNESCO Chair on Inclusive Literacy Learning for All, under
the leadership of Professor Heikki Lyytinen, the inventor of GG.
The purpose of the UNESCO Chair is to promote evidence-based
education policies, scientifically valid instruction methods, and
effective teacher training programs. Mobile phones can provide
Frontiers in Psychology | 10 June 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 671
Ojanen et al. GraphoGame – multi-level promotion of literacy
this information for teachers and other education professionals
around the world. GG can both support the children with
learning difficulties and collect data for further research on
language, literacy, and learning. Thus, a simple learning game
designed for a small minority of Finnish children can now
provide learning opportunities for struggling readers across the
Author Contributions
EO is a project researcher at the Agora Center, University of
Jyväskylä and is writing her Ph.D. in Psychology on learning
letter-sound correspondences in Zambian languages.
MR has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Agora
Center, University of Jyväskylä and has studied the motivational
and learning effects of GraphoGame since early 2000s.
TA is Professor at the Department of Psychology, University
of Jyväskylä and has been working in Niilo Mäki Foundation
international cooperation projects in Africa since 1990s.
TC-K is a lecturer at the Department of Psychology, University
of Zambia, was part of the Reading support to Zambia-project
and wrote her Ph.D. on the effect of home environment on
children’s literacy skills.
PF is a lecturer at the Department of Psychology, University of
Namibia and she is writing her Ph.D. on the use of GraphoGame
in practice of literacy skills in Afrikaans.
JJ-F is a lecturer at the Department of Psychology, University
of Zambia, was part of the Reading support to Zambia-project
and wrote her Ph.D. on teaching practices of literacy and use of
GraphoGame in Zambia.
K-PK worked at the Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä and
wrote his Master’s thesis in Psychology on the letter-sound error
patterns of the 1st grade GraphoGame players in Zambia.
RK is a lecturer at the Department of Teacher Education,
University of Helsinki, has been working in Niilo Mäki
Foundation international cooperation projects in Africa since
2001 and is part of the original Finnish Ekapeli development
DN is a lecturer at the Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University,
Tanzania and has been been involved with GraphoGame research
since 2010.
MP is the head of the project management atthe Agora Center
and has been working in Africa GraphoGame projects since 2008.
SP is a project researcher at the Agora Center, University of
Jyväskylä and wrote her Ph.D. on the use of GraphoGame in
Kiswahili and Kikuyu languages in Kenya.
FS is working at the USAID/Read to Succeed project in
Zambia, was part of the Reading support to Zambia-project and
writing his Ph.D. on children’s early literacy skills in Zambia.
GW is a lecturer at Department of Educational Psychology,
Sociology and Special Education, University of Zambia, and has
conducted research on the use of GraphoGame on tablets in
Zambian classrooms.
CY is working at the Zambian National Union of Teachers, he
was part of the Reading support to Zambia-project and writing
his Ph.D. on teachers’ literacy skills and knowledge of literacy
instruction methodology for Zambian languages.
KP is a Head of the Haskins Laboratories, Professor at Yale
University and a member of the GraphoWORLD network of
excellence board.
UR is a Professor at the Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä
and is the head of the GraphoGame unit.
RS is a Professor at the Department of Psychology, University
of Zambia and is the head of the CAPOLSA.
HL is the inventor of the GraphoGame and holds the
UNESCO Chair on Inclusive Literacy Learning for all,
coordinated by the Agora Center, University of Jyväskylä.
We are warmly grateful to our funding partners and supporters:
Tekes – The Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, Ministry
for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Academy of Finland, Centre
for International Mobility CIMO, University of Jyväskylä,
Agora Center, Niilo Mäki Institute, and sponsoring companies
as well as collaborating non-governmental organizations. We
thank Jari Westerholm, Ville Mönkkönen, Iivo Kapanen,
and Miika Pekkarinen for tireless help with statistics and
the programming work on which GG is based technical
problems. Thanks to Elina Lehtomäki, Lea Nieminen, Pia
Krimark for valuable comments and Jane Erskine for proof
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Conflict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
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Copyright © 2015 Ojanen, Ronimus, Ahonen, Chansa-Kabali, February, Jere-
Folotiya, Kauppinen, Ketonen, Ngorosho, Pitkänen, Puhakka, Sampa, Walubita,
Yalukanda, Pugh, Richardson, Serpell and Lyytinen. This is an open-access article
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Frontiers in Psychology | 13 June 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 671
... De acordo com Bradley e Bryant (1985), a CF trata-se de uma série de habilidades que inclui a percepção geral do tamanho da palavra e de semelhanças fonológicas com outras palavras além da capacidade de segmentação e manipulação das sílabas e dos fonemas. Com base em tais conhecimentos, estudos revelam que programas de reeducação fonológica, aplicados aos estudantes com dificuldade acentuada no desenvolvimento inicial de leitura e escrita -em especial os disléxicos 7 -são capazes de compensar esse déficit (DEHAENE, 2012;KUJALA et al., 2001;RICHARDSON;LYYTINEN, 2014). ...
... De acordo com Bradley e Bryant (1985), a CF trata-se de uma série de habilidades que inclui a percepção geral do tamanho da palavra e de semelhanças fonológicas com outras palavras além da capacidade de segmentação e manipulação das sílabas e dos fonemas. Com base em tais conhecimentos, estudos revelam que programas de reeducação fonológica, aplicados aos estudantes com dificuldade acentuada no desenvolvimento inicial de leitura e escrita -em especial os disléxicos 7 -são capazes de compensar esse déficit (DEHAENE, 2012;KUJALA et al., 2001;RICHARDSON;LYYTINEN, 2014). ...
... Foi considerando tais pressupostos e os mais recentes avanços das neurociências voltados aos processos de leitura e escrita, que o Grupo de Estudos de Aquisição e Aprendizado Típico e Atípico da Leitura e da Escrita, em parceria com profissionais do curso de Ciência da Computação da Universidade Estadual do Sudoeste da Bahia (UESB), campus de Vitória da Conquista, desenvolveu um programa de computador na forma de jogo educativo, nomeado Legere 8 , indicado às crianças que possuem dificuldades acentuadas no desenvolvimento inicial de LE (SILVA; GUARESI, 2017) e com o objetivo de favorecer o processamento visual e auditivo presentes na apropriação das correspondências alfabéticas, conforme os mais recentes estudos neurocientíficos afirmam que os programas de reeducação fonológica são capazes de fazer (KUJALA et al., 2001;RICHARDSON;LYYTINEN, 2014), demonstrando inclusive em exames de neuroimagem a capacidade das intervenções fonológicas de favorecer o robustecimento das áreas cerebrais de processamento visual e auditivo, especialmente do lobo temporal do hemisfério esquerdo, área subativada naqueles que apresentam dificuldades acentuadas nesse aprendizado (DEHAENE, 2012;GUARESI, 2017). ...
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Resumo: O presente artigo apresenta pesquisa, fundamentada no paradigma da complexidade, que buscou avaliar a eficácia de software educativo no desenvolvimento da consciência fonológica (CF) e no desempenho inicial em leitura e escrita (LE) em escolares com defasagem escolar em LE. Participaram trinta escolares de nove a doze anos, dezessete no grupo controle (GC) e treze no grupo experimental (GE), do 3° e 4º ano do ensino fundamental público. Os resultados sugerem estreita relação entre CF e desempenho em LE entre escolares com o perfil da pesquisa. Não houve, na comparação entre pré e pós-teste, diferença estatisticamente significativa entre os grupos, porém, matematicamente o GE apresentou maior ganho nos resultados, tanto em CF quanto em LE. Entre os participantes do GE, aqueles que mais fizeram uso do software em avaliação apresentaram melhor desempenho em leitura e escrita na comparação entre pré e pós-teste (r=0,672; p=0,012). Palavras-chave: Alfabetização. Consciência fonológica. Leitura e escrita. Software educativo. Abstract: This paper presents a research, based on the complexity paradigm, which aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of educational software in the development of phonological awareness (PA) and in the initial reading and writing (RW) performance in students with RW delay. Thirty students from nine to twelve years old participated, seventeen in the control group (CG) and thirteen in the experimental group (EG), from the 3rd and 4th year of public elementary school. The results suggest a close relationship between FC and LE performance among students with the research profile. In the comparison between pre and post-test, there was no statistically significant difference between the groups, but mathematically the EG showed greater gain in results, both in PA and in RW. Among the EG participants, those who made the most use of the software under evaluation presented better reading and writing performance in the comparison between pre and post-test (r = 0.672; p = 0.012).
... Dans le chapitre 2, nous décrivons ELAN, un jeu adaptatif qui favorise l'acquisition de l'alphabétisation par l'enseignement et la formation phonétique, similaire à celui de GraphoGame (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014), qui, à l'époque, n'avait pas été développé pour le français. Il fournit un enseignement explicite et systématique par correspondance graphème-phonème et renforce le décodage complet par la pratique de la lecture et de l'orthographe avec un texte 100% décodable, une pratique essentielle pour favoriser l'apprentissage de la lecture (Cheatham & Allor, 2012). ...
... Initial success spurred its development into a commercially distributed application for phonics training. The GraphoGame is a suite of mini-games requiring faster and faster responses to hearing and matching grapheme-phoneme correspondences, rhyming words and whole words (for a full explanation of the game theory and environment, see Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014). Since its origins, it has been tested and successful in helping students master phonics in many different languages (Ojanen, Ronimus, et al., 2015), including some of the poorest educational environments (Ojanen, Jere-Folotiya, et al., 2015;Serpell et al., 2017). ...
... Tablet-or computer-based games may provide an excellent medium for helping children to automatize their grapheme-phoneme decoding skills. A prime cross-language example and an important source of inspiration for the present project is the GraphoGame, a Finnish computer/tablet-based game in which the primary goal is to incite the child to automatize the associations between graphemes and phonemes (Richardson and Lyytinen 2014). Functional brain imaging shows that when preschoolers play the GraphoGame for a few hours, the neural circuits for reading begin to emerge . ...
This thesis focuses on the application, to French students, of advances in the understanding of how children learn to read, what methods best train literacy and how we can better assess reading deficits-so that these advances can fuel a virtuous circle between cognitive science and educational interventions.
... La troisième hypothèse causale du déficit de l'association graphème-phonème propose un déficit de traitement intermodalitaire de l'information audio-visuelle, dans le sens d'un défaut d'intégration simultanée des lettres et des sons en tant qu'objet audio-visuel unique (Blomert, 2011;Blomert & Willems, 2010). Le programme d'entraînement informatisé Graphogame© (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014) a été développé en Finlande, puis adapté en français (Lassault & Ziegler, 2018) et dans d'autres langues (Brem et al., 2010;Kyle et al., 2013;Ruiz et al., 2017;Saine et al., 2010Saine et al., , 2011. Ce programme permet une présentation audio-visuelle simultanée et répétée de lettres, syllabes, mots et phrases dans une interface ludique avec l'objectif de permettre l'automatisation des associations phonologiques et orthographiques (Lassault et al., 2020). ...
... L'entraînement est effectué pendant 5 minutes après les logiciels Maeva© et Switchipido©. (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014) est proposé à tous les LD pendant deux mois (10 min/jour) afin de réduire le déficit spécifique de liaison intermodale (i.e audio-visuel) entre les lettres et les sons, ceci afin de renforcer l'automatisation du couplage entre le code orthographique et le code phonologique. Les entraînements phonologiques et VA décrits précédemment reposent sur une présentation non simultanée, soit auditive, soit visuelle, d'unités linguistiques ou non linguistiques. ...
... One of the reading intervention games, which had not been tested in any of the above-mentioned meta-analyses, is GraphoGame (GG, Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014). GG was initially developed in Finland in the context of dyslexia prevention , but its use was rapidly extended to promoting reading acquisition in normally-developing readers and assessing children's response to intervention for diagnostic purposes (Lyytinen et al., 2009). ...
... GG is an audio-visual reading training software based on the simultaneous presentation of auditory stimuli and spelling choices embedded in a series of games (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014). The children typically hear an auditory input corresponding to a phoneme, syllable word or sentence and, at the same time, several orthographic choices are presented on the screen (for examples, see Figure 1). ...
... Lately we have been watching the emergence of several tools and pedagogical strategies based on information and communication technologies for reading promotion. Amongst those tools is GraphoGame, developed by the University of Jyväskylä in collaboration with the Niilo Mäki Institute [6]. Although this tool was created for children with dyslexia it can be used with any child that presents difficulties in learning to read. ...
... It is an educational game that makes learning to read easier and more fun, and according to some studies, it makes students "significantly better readers on most measures than the children […] receiving only traditional remedial teaching" (p. 52) [6]. Mystakidis, Lambropoulos, Fardoun and Alghazzawi [7] "used 3D VIEs as a digital medium to narrate a transmedia story, visit various virtual environments and immerse learners into different times and civilizations" (p. 1) with the objective to "motivate and promote the early literacy and extracurricular reading" (p. 1). ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The acquisition of reading skills is of high importance for a student's scholar success. However, we are facing a complex process and a significant number of 2 nd year students still have specific learning difficulties. To answer this problem, Instituto Politécnico de Tomar (Tomar, Portugal) in a partnership with Agrupamento de Escolas Artur Gonçalves (Torres Novas, Portugal) developed the information system Letrinhas. This system includes an App for mobile devices, a digital repository of educational contents and an information management system. The interactivity and the real-time feedback offered by the mobile app led to an unmatched learning environment that presents excellent learning results. Letrinhas' architecture allows its adaption to the individual profile of each user and its sociocultural context. This puts the student at the center of the teaching and learning process. Teachers tested Letrinhas and its learning results were assessed. The evaluation's success led to Letrinhas being used for teaching foreign languages and extended to other schools.
... The phonics progressions for the four languages analyzed and their ordered wordlists are freely available. These datafiles can be used as a 'paper' support to guide reading instruction, or as stimuli for game-based reading applications (e.g. the GraphoGame software [3,21]). We hope that the GPA4.0 submodule will be taken up as a tool for researchers and educators to generate their own phonics lessons with 100% decodable reading materials. ...
... GraphoLearn (GL, also known as Ekapeli or GraphoGame) is a digital game originally developed to provide individualized reading support to Finnish children at risk for dyslexia and has since been adapted to many languages (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014). The game trains the connection between spoken and written language. ...
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Self-efficacious children are expected to be more task-focused in challenging achievement situations and consequently have better chances of overcoming learning difficulties than children who have lower self-efficacy. The present study investigates this presumption with Finnish-speaking first graders struggling with reading acquisition (N = 285). The development of the children’s reading fluency, self-efficacy, and task avoidance was followed from the middle of Grade 1 to the end of Grade 2, and a six-week mobile game-based intervention was administered to those who exhibited the greatest risk for reading disabilities (≤ 5th percentile). Exploratory structural equation modeling was used to test the theoretical model. The results suggest that higher self-efficacy in the middle of Grade 1 predicted lower task avoidance and higher reading fluency at the end of Grade 1, but no support for the mediating role of task avoidance was found. The intervention benefited both self-efficacy and reading fluency.
... línguas, já que contribui para o desenvolvimento de algumas ou até de todas as competências 2010, p. 3). Neste âmbito têm surgido várias aplicações para a aprendizagem da leitura, como é o caso do GraphoGame (Richardson & Lyytinen, 2014). ...
Conference Paper
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O presente estudo pretende avaliar a utilização do sistema de informação Letrinhas na melhoria das competências leitoras de alunos do 2º ano de escolaridade. Este sistema de informação, que inclui uma aplicação para dispositivos móveis, foi criado com o intuito de promover a aprendizagem da leitura e de fornecer aos docentes ferramentas de acompanhamento e avaliação da competência leitora, de acordo com as metas curriculares estabelecidas pelo Ministério da Educação. Estiveram envolvidos doze alunos de duas turmas neste estudo, assim como as duas professoras titulares, uma professora tutora, que acompanhou os alunos em todas as sessões, e uma das investigadoras. O estudo inclui um pré-teste, para avaliação das competências dos alunos e, no final do ano letivo, após a utilização semanal do Letrinhas, será aplicado um pós-teste, para se verificar o impacto da sua utilização na melhoria da competência leitora dos alunos. O Letrinhas permite a realização de testes de leitura pelos alunos, mediante a audição de listas de palavras e textos. Os alunos podem proceder à gravação de várias provas, sendo apenas submetida para avaliação a prova que o aluno selecionar. Os resultados prévios apontam para uma melhoria significativa na competência leitora, associada a uma grande motivação, quer por parte dos alunos, quer dos próprios docentes.
Children who enter school not yet reading need some systematic phonics to get them started, but cannot be expected to cope with the whole alphabet or more than a subset of phoneme–grapheme correspondences and grapheme–phoneme correspondences at that stage. So phonics schemes necessarily adopt some sequence for the introduction of graphemes and phonemes. The Letters and Sounds scheme began with satpin, that is, those graphemes and their most frequent correspondences with phonemes, /s æ t p ɪ n/, and the two most widely used British phonics schemes incorporate variants of that initial sequence. Yet why those graphemes and phonemes? This article traces satpin back to its origins in the 1960s in the work of Sally B. Childs and Aylett Royall Cox, American exponents of Orton–Gillingham methods. The article focuses upon a 1967 publication by Cox featuring a version of satpin and explains and explores its scientific basis. We then show both where Cox's insight has been influential (or not) in British literacy schemes and where authors of phonics materials have taken a different tack, or suggested alternative phonetic starting points. The phonetic analysis underlying Cox's rationale needs updating. When that is done, both it and the rediscovered original logic may suggest useful changes in the initial teaching sequence of phonemes and graphemes.
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In recent years, researchers have shown great interest in studying children's skills in executive functions, as their deficiency has been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders, such as dyslexia. Executive functions are considered an important element of academic success, as they support cognitive processes that are fundamental to learning. And since it has been proven that the use of new technologies is a very supportive method of intervention for people with dyslexia and that the use of appropriate software programs and applications significantly improves the academic performance and self-confidence of dyslexic people, the purpose of this study is investigation and recording of computer applications for people with dyslexia related to executive functions. The findings of the research revealed a direct correlation between dyslexia and Executive Functions (EF), as well as connection of EF with the pyramid of consciousness-intelligence-knowledge and metacognitive skills, necessitating their inclusion in intervention of dyslexia and in intervention of each learning disorder. Finally, the findings recorded a variety of ICT applications for the subject, but not a thorough and extensive research on many of them. Therefore, there were a number of useful applications, which due to non-reporting of the results of their pilot application, were not included in the research.
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The convergence of two complementary agendas motivated collaboration between two universities (in Zambia and Finland) to establish the Centre for the Promotion of Literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa (CAPOLSA), focused on initial literacy learning in indigenous languages. The project’s mandate and activities are closely related to Zambia’s national context of literacy and educational provision, emerging trends in information and communication technology, and the University of Zambia’s institutional context of research and development on literacy, child development, and education. CAPOLSA has afforded opportunities for enhancing the working relations between the national university and government and for contributing to the development of institutional linkages and consultative forums. Collaboration between various disciplines, institutions, and economic sectors characterizes CAPOLSA’s activities. Important areas of progress envisaged include institutional development, growth of a sustainable community of researchers whose collective efforts will increase the scale of Africa’s contribution to international knowledge, and evidence-based planning at the interface between humans and technology.
Conference Paper
GraphoGame Teacher Training Service is a mobile-based solution for providing teachers with scientifically validated pedagogical training in literacy instruction. In many African countries teachers currently have insufficient knowledge to teach literacy in local languages and learning materials are scarce, especially for children with learning difficulties. As part of the GraphoWorld network, CAPOLSA/University of Zambia is developing new mobile-based method for providing in-service training for teachers in literacy instruction and assisting children with learning difficulties. GraphoGame Teacher Training Service was piloted in October 2014 in rural Zambia. An orientative workshop was given to 24 teachers who learned about literacy instruction methodology and then organized a GraphoGame intervention to randomly selected 2 nd grade children either at home or in a school environment. Parents of the children in the home intervention group were also encouraged to play GraphoGame. GraphoGame learning analytics shows that both the children and their parents improved their word reading skills. Children who played GraphoGame performed better than their non-playing classmates in the EGRA letter-sound knowledge test at the end of the intervention. Teachers, parents and children were all motivated to use ICT-based literacy learning tools and their literacy skills levels show high demand for support services for literacy instruction.
How do we come to believe what we do? This question has for millenia engaged the interest of philosophers inclined to reflect on human nature and has in this century been the primary impetus for much research in psychology. More recently, the attention of philosophers and psychologists alike has focussed not only on belief formation and fixation per se, but also on the acquisition of competences which have been argued to be founded on systems of beliefs apparently inaccessible to conscious survey and control. Formal learning theory attempts to provide a framework within which various precise models of belief formation and fixation can be elaborated. The investigation and comparison of such models can provide insight into some of the questions which philosophers and psychologists have raised about the fixation of belief.
This chapter discusses the relationship between reading and writing. Writing differs from natural and conventional signs in that it represents linguistic units, not meanings directly. All forms of writing permit the reader to recover the individual words of a linguistic message. Given that representation of words is the essence of writing, it is important to appreciate that words are phonological structures. To apprehend a word, whether in speech or print, is to apprehend (among other things) its phonology. The chapter discusses how spelling and reading are interleaved in a child newly introduced to the orthography of English. Most of the published information on the correlations between reading and spelling scores is based simply on right/wrong scoring. This approach has the disadvantage of throwing away much of the potential information in the incorrect responses. It fails to distinguish reading errors that are near misses from errors that are wild guesses, and it does not distinguish misspellings that capture much of a word's phonological structure from those that capture little of it. The chapter examines the ways in which analysis of children's spellings may illuminate aspects of orthographic learning that are not readily accessible in the study of reading.