Computer Games Can Help Identify Dyslexia In Minority Students


While students from minority groups are over-represented in Norwegian special needs education, practically no children from these groups are diagnosed with dyslexia. As a consequence many miss out on important help. Researchers at the Norwegian Reading Centre are studying whether a computer game can pick up dyslexia in pupils from minority groups.

The reading game GraphoGame is adapted for individual pupils so that they experience mastery of a task and an adequate number of challenges. GraphoGame is a motivational and engaging game that gets the player to learn letters and words. The researchers involved in the Norwegian On Track project, which looks at the prevention of reading and writing difficulties, are now investigating whether this game can help pick up dyslexia in children from minority groups.

“If you are a minority language pupil and have dyslexia, there is a strong possibility that this will not be picked up. Despite the fact that pupils from minority groups are over-represented in special needs education, dyslexic pupils from these groups rarely have their problems thoroughly addressed and can therefore miss out on appropriate help,” said Professor Per Henning Uppstad of the Reading Centre at the University of Stavanger and one of the On Track researchers.

It appears that traditional methods of diagnosing dyslexia have not been adequate in picking up dyslexia in pupils from Norwegian minority groups, compared to those who experience reading and writing difficulties for other reasons. According to Uppstad, GraphoGame may make it possible to approach the issue of dyslexia in pupils from minority groups in a new way and at an earlier stage than what is currently the case.

“This can also be done while the pupil is busy with meaningful learning activities, but not in a test situation,” he said.

“When playing GraphoGame, the player’s choices are recorded. When we analyse how students work with the computer game, we believe we can identify whether a pupil has dyslexia, or whether there are other reasons why they are struggling with reading or writing Norwegian. Simply put, dyslexic pupils will have a different type of player profile and progression than those who are not dyslexic.”

GraphoGame was developed in Finland and is available in a number of languages. The game has also been carefully tested, and the learning outcomes have been well-documented, according to the researchers.

”It is important that the game is motivating, as pupils who struggle with reading generally pull back from reading activities. The challenge is to get these pupils to do more—a lot more—of what they struggle with,” said Uppstad.

The Norwegian version of the game is currently being tested. About 200 six-year-olds involved in the On Track project tested the game during the 2014–2015 school year.

“What we have seen to date is both promising and exciting in terms of further work. In the last ten years, we have seen few new approaches to identifying dyslexia. Traditionally, ideas about phonology and awareness of sounds were central features in making a diagnosis, and it is here that problems with pupils from minority groups arise, as they have more than one language. Our approach looks at the pupil’s learning progress over time. This approach is generally referred to as “learning analytics”. This means that ideas about phonology continue to be important, but we are approaching it from a different angle. If we succeed, we may gain a new understanding of dyslexia, which could also enable us to discover new things,” said Uppstad.

He added that, as the game is adapted to the individual, it can be positive for all pupils. “The game’s learning algorithm quickly takes the pupil to a level with an adequate number of challenges: not too many, not too few and not the same for everyone”.

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