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Improving Dyslexic Children's Reading Abilities: the Role of Action Video Games and Hypermedia Texts

Final Report Summary - LCLD (Improving Dyslexic Children's Reading Abilities: the Role of Action Video Games and Hypermedia Texts)

The main aim of this project has been to identify practices for improving dyslexic children’s reading abilities, starting from some recent discoveries which connect dyslexia to visual attention (and not only to phonological deficits). In particular, the main objective was to investigate the role of visual attention and how its improvement through video games may or may not be related to an improvement in reading speed and accuracy. The project has also been concerned with the role of body movements in comprehension of 'Action' Language.
During the first 18 months of the project – outgoing phase - the researcher has been working at the University of Sydney, Faculty of Education and Social Work.
Considering the highly interdisciplinary nature of the project, collaborations have been established with the Department of Linguistics, the School of Psychology, the CoCo Lab (Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition) of the same University.
The objectives of this first period have been accomplished through the supervision of Dr. Jen Scott Curwood, an expert in Literacy and digital media, Professor Susan Colmar, an expert in reading, dyslexia and testing, Dr Damian Birney, an expert in cognitive training.
The weekly seminars at the CoCo Lab and the regular conversations with its members have also been important for his training.
From the 4th month onwards, once Ethical approval was obtained, Dr. Trevisan started to pursue the objectives indicated in Milestone 2, which included the selection of the students involved in the project, preparation of the stimula to be used with the children, children’s pre-evaluation through the tests, Fieldwork, children’s post- evaluation through the tests, data analysis, dissemination. Experiments have been carried out in three different moments (June 2015, September 2015, January 2016): children, aged 8-14, have been recruited through Australia Dyslexia Association, SPELD, and Public Schools. During the meetings with the children’s parents, the researcher has had the opportunity to illustrate the European Commission Grants in general and the ‘Marie Curie’ in particular. Also this ‘dissemination’ phase has been regular throughout the 18 months. Preparation of the stimula and tests have also benefited from many conversations with a group of psychologists at the University of Padua (Italy), whose Italian experiments he was replicating in Sydney.
During this period, the researcher has also started a crucial collaboration with Professor Adolfo Garcia, the Director of ‘Laboratorio de Psicología Experimental y Neurociencias (LPEN)’, in Buenos Aires. As a neurolinguist, Professor Garcia is currently working on different projects in Argentina and abroad, and is particularly interested in the relationship between ‘action language’ (verbs of doing) and motor system. The collaboration with Professor Garcia has included some training on crucial neurolinguistics aspects and the creation of new tests that have been used with dyslexic children. These tests investigate comprehension of Action versus Non action language after a body training through Wii consoles (that involve movements of the body).

During the second year collaborations have been strengthened with the University of Padua ( Lab in particular), in addition to the existing ones at the University of Udine, where the researcher has been collaborating with Professor Andrea Marini (and his supervisor, Professor Nicoletta Vasta, who has regularly supervised the work of the researcher in all the project phases).
Neurolinguistic transfer of knowledge in this phase has been possible thanks to collaboration with Professor Adolfo Garcia.
Experiments in this second phase have been carried out in collaboration with local dyslexia associations and in schools. Ethics have been obtained for each experiment. Progress towards the objectives has therefore been positive and regular.
Cross-linguistic analysis, one of the objectives of this second period, has been made possible thanks to the collaboration with Lab (paper under review at the moment).

The main results emerged from this project include:

- Confirmation that, even in a language with deep orthography, AVG training improves reading skills without a direct targeting of phonological, orthographic or grapheme-to-phoneme decoding;

- Discovery that an ecological body training through Wii games, has a positive impact on the comprehension of action-verbs narrative, but not of other types of narratives.

As regards the socio-economic impact of these findings, these results pave the way for low-resource-demanding early prevention programs that could drastically reduce the incidence of reading disorders. In particular, the confirmation that attention training improves reading abilities also in English speaking children, makes it possible to think of creating an Adaptive learning environments for dyslexic children where new technologies go hand in hand with more traditional approaches.
From this point of view, this type of research may be useful for educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, school policy makers.