Using Computers to Develop Phonemic Awareness in the Early Primary Classroom

Snape, Linda C (2011) Using Computers to Develop Phonemic Awareness in the Early Primary Classroom. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The aim of this project is to determine whether a computer application can be used to develop phonemic awareness in the early primary classroom, which is a key component of phonics. This thesis explores the evolution of the strategy for teaching literacy in the UK which shows phonics to be a key component of that strategy. However, government reports which inform the direction of the literacy strategy call for more empirical study in all areas of literacy teaching; this thesis documents such an empirical study.
This research project creates a phonics based computer application designed specifically for young children aged 5 to 6 years (year 1 in UK primary schools). The timing and level of content presented by the computer application activities are grounded in appropriate academic theory. A significant component of the work is the development of interface design guidelines for children’s applications. These guidelines are then used to inform the development of the phonics-based computer application. A Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) is designed to determine the application’s effectiveness in developing the phonemic awareness skills of young children in a classroom setting. In order to control experimental bias resulting from problems with the usability of the computer interface, the usability of the application’s interface is evaluated in the classroom by year 1 children before the application is used in a pragmatic RCT. The results of the final usability evaluation found no usability issues and the application was wholly intuitive to the children in the evaluation groups.
The results from the RCT (N=266) show no statistically significant improvement in the learning rate of phonemic awareness by the intervention group using the computer program compared to the traditional teacher-delivered paper-based method used with the control group, even though the computer program was designed carefully for this age range. The results did suggest however, that the intervention group developed at the same rate as the control group which implies that the computer program could be used to support teachers by reducing the amount of resource-intensive phonics tuition required by children in this age range.

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