Sunday, 30 January 2011

Teaching Reading - Struggling reader

Project background

I was invited to assist in the Teaching Reading project, which had increased beyond the scope of one learning designer to manage amid a busy schedule, and to add some interactivity to a rather text-filled content map.

I printed out my allocated parts of the content map PowerPoint at 6-slides per page; cut them out, sequenced them, stuck them in a 'scrap book', and then made my design notes around them: re-sequencing and grouping where necessary. This paper prototyping gave a clear view of the content and how it all related and a great advantage in speed, time, and effort in the overall learning and interaction design.

Teaching Reading - Struggling reader

The course content map (a long PowerPoint submitted by the SME) attempted to describe the recognisable range of difficulties demonstrated by a struggling reader.  The strategy included reviewing a separate document asset.  It all seemed rather clumsy and too much effort was required from the learner.

As phonemes are represented visually by graphemes it seemed fair to use graphemes to represent a struggling reader’s speech.  I needed a speech.

Audio tracks were logical, but how to capture learning for accessibility or learners without sound enabled on their IT?

The product’s visual style was being developed by Damien (the interaction designer) to convey popular children’s literature: characters, illustrations, and places.  I had recently bought a Ladybird book Gulliver’s Travels for my Son to read and I knew the original novel was far more adult in language and context so I found some ‘shocking’ extracts on line to use as a reading extract.  The bits about breasts seemed inappropriate but one passage from Lilliput read in as complex an English as required.

My Son then read the passage to me and I segmented the words to match his own struggles with the text (the audio he recorded actually made it to the final product, too).  So, now I had two texts: one as written and one as read by my own struggling reader.  Now, how to present them?

Having used Flash and XHTML/CSS I knew I could employ layers that could switch over one another but I really wanted the transition to be smooth and progressive so the difference could be explored instantaneously with the learner’s listening to the audio.  An automated animation was too controlled – I wanted the learner to have freedom in their activity. Some form of control was necessary that gave a feeling of space / time: a slide-bar was ideal.

Damien’s own developing Flash skills were far superior to my own and so we sat down for a heuristic exploration of how to present the interaction.  In no time at all - admittedly with some graft and input from Damien (notably to slide up and down rather than across), we had a working prototype combining a sweeping slide control, media player, and visual transition between the two texts.  Spot on.

There were compromises – as there always seem to be. We had to separate the audio player from the slide bar control, which would have been nifty but difficult to plan the audio for requiring each reading to run at the same speed – impossible between a skilled and struggling reader. Besides, the vendors didn't seem able to develop it without significant hike in price. But overall, I'm pleased with the outcome although the audio is far more compressed than submitted.

Later, after the product’s release, Damien played with this again and really polished it up a treat.  It will remain a favourite in my arsenal of novel interactions for a long time.

Course details

Course materials Crown Copyright 2010, produced by The National Strategies for the Department for Education.

Objective: For teachers to develop their understanding of the struggling reader and that their role includes teaching literacy and reading skills regardless of the prime subject matter.

Production team

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