Participants consisted of 573 students of whom 52.4 % were females with age range 5–9 years old, and their teachers, N = 68. Due to attrition the total number of participants available for the post test was 312 of whom 52.5 % were females. Table 1 shows the cross tabulations of the age and gender of the students. Information on age was missing for 4 female participants.
The participants were randomly selected from 42 Government schools in Lusaka District. The schools were selected randomly from the total number of 102 Government schools in the District, after excluding the few schools serving outlying, quasi-rural neighborhoods. Within each school two grade one classes were randomly selected and randomly assigned to either a control or intervention class. Six students, 3 males and 3 females were then randomly sampled from each classroom using class registers. The cognitive and achievement tests were administered to all the students at baseline.
Each student was assessed using a battery of tests of emergent literacy skills, competence in spelling, vocabulary and arithmetic. All tests were administered in ciNyanja, which is the lingua franca of Lusaka and the official medium of initial literacy instruction in all Government schools. During baseline testing, each student was asked a set of 7 questions relating to his/her home language background. Responses to each of these items was scored +1 if the language cited was one of the varieties of ciNyanja and 0 if another language was cited. The total of these scores, ranging from 0 to 7, was treated as an index of familiarity with ciNyanja.
This test assesses orthographic awareness using the ideas developed, implemented and illustrated by Ojanen et al. (2013). It comprises 108 items arranged in order of increasing difficulty. It has three sections; the first one presents visual symbols half of which are letters and the other half non-letters; the second section comprises comparably chosen larger units: legitimate and illegitimate ciNyanja syllables or their combinations. The third section tests discrimination between orthographically impermissible or permissible sequences of 3–4 letters, simple words versus non-words, and more complex six-letter words versus non-words. Students were required to underline the items that corresponded with the conventional alphabet letters, syllables and words. The test had several practice items for each section. After the practice items, students were given 3 min to complete the actual test. One mark was given for every correct response and subtracted for every incorrect response. The test consisted of 18 rows. Each row contained 6 items, 3 correct and 3 incorrect. Therefore the range of possible scores on this test was between −108 and 108. This test was piloted before the actual study commenced. The test had a test–retest reliability of r = .50 (N = 44).
This test was developed by Ojanen et al. (2013). It is a measure of early grade students’ competence in spelling ciNyanja. It consists of 20 dictated items. Phonemes, syllables and words are presented in this order and are arranged in order of increasing difficulty. The student was required to choose from four possible answers and underline the correct response. A score of 1 was given for every correct response and 0 for every incorrect response. The range of possible scores on this test was 0–20. This test had a test–retest reliability of r = .82 (N = 43).
In order to provide a contextual profile of the skills of Zambian first graders, two additional tests were introduced to assess developmental characteristics that are relevant to student’s educational progress, but were not expected to be directly affected by the intervention. Math assessment was included for evaluating the possible Hawthorne effect resulting from getting more attention when participating in the interventions.
The Picture Vocabulary test (PVT) was originally developed in the USA by Dunn and Dunn (1997) as a measure of receptive language competence or verbal intelligence. It has since been adapted and used widely around the world to assess children ranging in age from 5 to 15. In this test, the child is presented with a series of spoken words in order of increasing difficulty with a visual display of four pictures on each trial. The task for the child is to choose the picture which corresponds with the spoken word. Each correct response receives a score of 1. The range of possible scores for this test is 0–30. In Zambia, adaptation and translation of the instrument into the four most widely spoken indigenous languages (ciNyanja, iciBemba, siLozi and ciTonga) was conducted by the Zambian Early Childhood Development Project, which was a collaboration between the University of Zambia and Harvard University (Fink et al. 2012).
After pre-testing, adaptation and translation, the project administered the Zambian versions to a diverse sample of 1,686 rural and urban 5-year-olds not yet enrolled in school and found a wide range of raw scores, with a value of α = .83 on the Cronbach index of internal consistency.
The Zambia Achievement Test—Mathematics (ZAT-M)—was developed by researchers from the University of Zambia and Yale University (Stemler et al. 2009). It is used to measure competence in mathematics in academic domains across a wide range of primary school grades, ages and number of years spent at school. This test has been standardized on a large population of primary school students in Zambia. It reported a satisfactory internal consistency among items of α = .77. Test–retest reliability using Spearman rank coefficient revealed a significant correlation of ρ = .56 (Stemler et al. 2009). Items are arranged in order of increasing difficulty. The test administrator asked the participant to choose the correct response from four possible responses. For each correct response, a score of 1 was given. Therefore the range of possible scores on this test was 0–30. The test–retest reliability for a small subsample in this study was found to be r = .80 (N = 12).
This is a computer-mediated online environment for learning letter-sound correspondences developed in Finland. It was designed with efficient feedback properties and can be installed on PC, cell-phone or tablet platforms. It was initially developed for students with specific learning difficulties learning to read (individuals with dyslexia or at risk of dyslexia). The game provides an index of initial letter knowledge based on assessment of the child’s letter knowledge before they play the game. It also provides an index of final letter knowledge after the child has played the game. The focus of the training was initially letter-sound knowledge and the steps needed thereafter for learning to read, if the training continues over a prolonged period of time. It is worth mentioning in this context that the intervention time provided in this research was too short (<100 min) to go beyond letter sounds.
In this study GraphoGame™ was administered to students and some of their teachers. A version of GraphoGame™ in the medium of first-grade instruction, ciNyanja, was mounted on cell phone handsets with headphones. It was presented to Grade 1 students at their schools in small supervised groups. The groups played the game concomitantly.
GraphoGame™ is based on repeated trials in which the player must choose from 2 to 8 alternatives, the letter that corresponds to the phoneme s/he hears from headphones. It is highly adapted to the progress of the students, keeping the success rate high (^80 %). It starts from easy to differentiate phonemes and proceeds to more difficult ones, before moving to larger units such as letter combinations of two, three or more. The computer programme of GraphoGame™ records the duration of each play session and the player’s choices on each trial. Each players’ selections are analyzed as a time series, showing the development of the player’s performance as a function of time.
The daisy graphs of which an example is shown below in Figs. 1 and 2 provide a detailed individual performance profile generated by GraphoGame™. The letter in the center of the circle represents the target letter that corresponds to the stimulus sound presented. The player had to learn to pick the target letter instead of the alternative letters shown at the same time. The letters inside the leaves in the illustrations below are letters that the child sometimes selected incorrectly when presented with the target letter. The closer to the center the widest proportion of the leaves is, the greater the indication that this letter was frequently chosen by the player, instead of the target letter.
The daisy graph (a) shows the players’ initial pattern of responses when the sound for the target letter was presented in the game.
This graph illustrates that this particular player had difficulties differentiating K, H, C, G and A from the correct letter D when the /d/ sound was presented. These letters may have been frequently chosen because the English letter name of D is /dii/ containing a strong common feature with those of C /sii/ and G /djii/. This association with the target sound illustrates how the problem of inappropriate introduction of the English letter names in teaching reading of local languages affects the students. Teachers and parents tend to contribute this irrelevant learning experience to students because the Zambian environment is heavily affected by the official language English and yet the local language used for literacy instruction has a transparent writing system with clearly different letter sounds from English.
The data in graph (b) shows the same players’ response to the same letter after several sessions of playing GraphoGame™.
The graph indicates that the child had progressed substantially in mastering the different sounds of letters that were initially difficult to differentiate. The numbers on the outer ring indicate the number of trials on which each letter had occurred during the playing sessions. All other incorrectly selected letters were still chosen only 1–2 times over many trials but the letters A, B, E and I were still chosen repeatedly instead of the correct letter D. It is worth noting that some of these incorrectly chosen letters are still confounds possibly affected by the English letter names containing the same/i/or/ii/sound.
A total of 68 teachers from the classes that were randomly sampled (two teachers from each school) were included in the study. They were invited to a 2 day workshop at the University of Zambia. The workshop had four objectives
To orient all the teachers on the importance of letter-sound knowledge in teaching of initial literacy in transparent writing system like ciNyanja.
To introduce some of the first grade teachers to the desktop and phone installed GraphoGame™. This was done only for the teachers who were in the TIG group (N = 19).
To share with the teachers how they could incorporate the GraphoGame™ in the existing school curriculum.
To test the letter sound knowledge of some of the teachers in ciNyanja, the language of initial literacy instruction in Lusaka. This was done only for the teachers in the TIG (N = 19).
On the first day, participants in all five conditions were introduced to the overall objectives of the RESUZ project. They were also given an overview on the administration of the four assessments to be carried out in the schools. On the second day, a sub group of 19 first grade teachers was introduced more intensively to GraphoGameTM, for example, how it can be used to help students with difficulties in acquiring basic reading skills in languages with transparent orthographies. This activity was conducted after the phonological test had been administered to them. They were then introduced to the Nokia phones, which had the GraphoGame™ installed. After a demonstration by one of the Project Leaders each of these teachers was given a phone and headphones, with instructions to play the game at least twice per day for at least one hour. The teachers understood the instructions quite well and responded to the game positively. This was observed in the way they enthusiastically played the game.
These 19 teachers were then introduced to the desktop installed GraphoGame™ connected to the internet. Each participant was given a username and password in order to access the game. A demonstration of how to play the game on the desktops was conducted. Each participant was then given an opportunity to play for about 30 min.
Training of research assistants
Twelve University of Zambia undergraduate students from the Psychology Department and School of Education were selected to become research assistants (RAs). They received training from the project leaders on the use of the four tests and GraphoGame™. The project leaders in this study were five PhD students who were responsible for supervising the RAs and managing the data collection process. Important aspects of research were first presented to the RAs. These aspects included ethics in research, establishing rapport with the students and the importance of uniformity of the testing procedures. The various instruments were then explained to them in detail; their use, administration and scoring. The RAs then conducted role plays with each other. They were given an opportunity to ask any questions regarding the use of the tests.
The RAs also received one day training in the use of GraphoGame™. Presentations were given on the origins of the game, how and why the game has been used and its effectiveness in helping students learn to read. The administration of the game was explained in detail and RAs were given an opportunity to ask questions. They were given time to play the game individually. Role plays on the administration of the game were conducted thereafter. After the training, each RA was given a phone and headphones. They were then encouraged to play several sessions per day. This was done to ensure that the RAs became well acquainted with the game before administering it to the students. In addition, the RAs went on field visits in order to orient them to logistical challenges, for example, preparation of space where the administration of the tests and GraphoGame™ intervention would take place.
Through schools, consent was obtained from the parents for their students to participate in the research. At each phase of testing, students were made to feel at ease. They were invited to give their assent to participate. Both teachers and students were informed that they were welcome to ask questions about the research. During the process of conducting the research some students dropped out for various reasons which included transfers and absenteeism. The data from five schools had to be excluded due to procedural errors during baseline testing. All other students willingly completed all the tests and the play sessions. Data collection was conducted in three phases. Baseline data was collected in the first phase, which was followed by an immediate retest within two weeks. The GraphoGame™ intervention was conducted in the second phase. This was immediately followed by a posttest in the third phase. Table 4 in Appendix provides descriptive statistics at each of these phases for the pencil and paper tests.
The study is an experimental design, at the core of which is an intervention with a representative sample of grade one students and their teachers. Participants–students and teachers-received exposure to the game in two phases, one in term 2 and the other in term 3. Each of these phases comprised multiple short sessions spread over several consecutive days amounting to a total planned exposure time of about 4–5 h. On each day of exposure, a student was given six short play sessions with the game, lasting, between 7 and 9 min and separated by rest intervals of 1–10 min.
In phase one each student received 18 play sessions spread over 3 days. As absenteeism reduced the playing time of many students, the lowest playing times were below 50 min. In the second phase, the play sessions increased to 30 over a period of 5 days. The total exposure time for these phases was initially planned to be at least 3 h. This was reached by only few students. The longest exposure time was about 190 min Due to practical difficulties, the mean time was only 94 min. This was also the approximate median time. Data on actual exposure time were retrieved from the GraphoGame™ records. For each of the phases, post tests were conducted for all the four pencil and paper tests at the end of the term 2 and term 3 respectively.
The intervention groups were formed to investigate the potential effects of GraphoGame™, on individual groups and various combinations of the groups.
C—control group comprised of students and teachers that did not receive any intervention. Arrangements were made to ensure that these students did not receive exposure to the game. The teachers were informed about the study.
TG—teacher exposed to Graphogame—teachers were given GraphoGame™ to play. They received minimal instructions about the principles of the game. Students did not play GraphoGame™.
TIG—consisted of the 19 teachers who received intensive instruction and exposure to Graphogame. They received instructions about the principles and the benefits of knowing letter sounds. They played the game but their students did not.
LG—students played GraphoGame™. Their teachers were merely informed about the study as was the case for group C.
LG + TG—students and teachers played GraphoGame™. Teachers received minimal instructions about the game.
LG + TIG—students and teachers played GraphoGame™. Teachers received intensive instructions about the principles and the benefits of knowing letter sounds.
Table 1 shows the cross tabulations for age and sex distribution for the intervention groups, N = 259 of which 52.90 % are females and the control group, N = 314, of which 51.26 % are females.
Basic descriptive information about the intervention group is presented in Table 2. Data analyses were conducted using SPSS 19. Reliability analyses were conducted using test–(immediate) retest correlations with raw scores for the four tests. One-way ANCOVA with pretest scores as a covariate was used to find out the effect of GraphoGame™ training on the performance of the students on the Spelling and Orthography tests. These analyses were conducted for several united intervention groups (LG, LG + TG &LG + TIG, TIG &TG vs C). The main motivation for combining the groups for purposes of analyses was to overcome the limited statistical power associated with small Ns of the individual groups and to determine which combination would be most effective to use with the GraphoGame™. Our hypotheses were as follows: we expected that students exposed (directly or indirectly through their teachers) to GraphoGame™ would show greater improvement in their mastery of spelling than control group students. No impact of the intervention was expected on the tests of vocabulary or arithmetic. With respect to orthographic awareness we expected an influence of GraphoGame™, less prominent than on the decoding test.
For the different intervention groups, we expected that the greatest effect would be observed according to the extent of GraphoGame™ related training firstly in the LG + TIG group, secondly by LG + TG, followed by the LG group, then the TIG group, then TG and lastly C. The united intervention groups would be ordered as follows: LG + TIG & LG + TG (teachers and students both played the game) followed by LG (students only played the game) then TIG&TG (teachers only played the game) and lastly C (control group). This expected ordering of the groups is based on the intensity of students’ exposure to the GraphoGame™.