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  • Computers & Education 65 (2013) 3444

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    Interactive stories and exercises with dynamic feedback for improvingreading comprehension skills in deaf children

    Ornella Mich*, Emanuele Pianta, Nadia ManaFondazione Bruno Kessler, via Sommarive 18, 38123 Povo, TN, Italy

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 15 September 2012Received in revised form7 January 2013Accepted 21 January 2013

    Keywords:Elementary educationIntelligent tutoring systemsInteractive learning environments

    * Corresponding author. Tel.: 39 0461 314 582; faE-mail addresses:, ornella.mich@gma

    0360-1315/$ see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. A

    a b s t r a c t

    Deaf children have significant difficulties in comprehending written text. This is mainly due to thehearing loss that prevents them from being exposed to oral language when they were an infant. How-ever, it is also due to the type of educational intervention they are faced with, which accustoms them todecoding single words and isolated sentences, rather than entire texts. This paper presents an evolvedversion of a literacy web tool for deaf children based on stories and comprehension exercises. Twosubstantial improvements were made with the respect to the first version of our application. First, thetext of the stories is now presented to children in the context of animated web pages. Second, intelligentdynamic feedback is given to the users when resolving the exercises. A preliminary evaluation study withdeaf children, as the treatment group, and hearing children, as the control group, assessed the usabilityand effectiveness of the new system and its graphical interface.

    2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    1. Introduction

    A recent study on 2-days-old hearing infants (Perani et al., 2011) has demonstrated that at such an early stage of brain life the language-related neural substrate is fully active in both hemispheres, thereby providing a strong biological basis for language acquisition. However,functional and structural connectivities are still immature, so that progressive maturation of functional connectivity needs to be establishedthrough exposure to language as the brain develops.

    Pre-lingual deaf children lack this important phase in language development, thus failing to acquire adequate literacy skills (Fabretti,2000; UNESCO, 1987). As several studies demonstrate, there is a delay in learning to read and write in deaf children compared to hear-ing children (Musselman, 2000; Tomasuolo, 2006; Traxler, 2000). Mean reading ages of deaf students are several years below chronologicalage (Allen, 1983; Dyer, Szczerbinski, MacSweeney, Green, & Campbell, 2003; Furth, 1966; Harris & Terlektsi, 2011; Paul, 1998).

    For these reasons, deaf students need explicit instruction in academically relevant skills (reading strategies) that are acquired inci-dentally by hearing students (Borgna, Convertino, Marschark, Morrison, & Rizzolo, 2011).

    New technologies may effectively support literacy learning (CedricWachholz, 2006; Lachs, 2000). This is especially true for childrenwhohave special educational needs, as deaf children do (Loeterman, Paul, & Donahue, 2002; Shamir & Shlafer, 2011). Research has demonstratedthat multimedia tools based on various combinations of print, pictures, sign language-enhanced video, graphics, and animation is effectivein teaching reading to deaf children (Gentry, Chinn, & Moulton, 2005). Cornerstones (Loeterman et al., 2002), a complete system forclassroom literacy instruction dedicated to deaf and hard-of-hearing children attending primary school, is one of such tools. Cornerstonesgoal is to work on vocabulary development and decoding skills through the study of written stories enhanced with engaging mediacomponents. Another interesting literacy tool is See and See (Nikolaraizi & Vekiri, 2011), developed by the Department of Special Education,University of Thessaly, Greece. It proposes to deaf students narrative texts selected from national school text books, completed with visualaids, such as Greek Sign Language (GSL) videos, pictures and concept maps, and with reading comprehension questions. Highlighter(Cornoldi and Garofalo, 2009), a commercial literacy tool developed by Anastasis (2009) with the collaboration of professor Cornoldi, anexpert in psycholinguistics at the Italian University of Padua, is also an effective tool for kids with learning disabilities in reading com-prehension. Highlighter, designed for children attending primary or middle schools, aims to improve those abilities that allow the reader to

    x: 39 0461 314 (O. Mich).

    ll rights reserved.

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  • O. Mich et al. / Computers & Education 65 (2013) 3444 35

    detect the most relevant information in a text for understanding the entire text, to memorize it in the working memory and to update itduring the entire reading process.

    The goal of this paper is to introduce our literacy application, LODE (LOgic-basedweb tool for DEaf children), which aim is to facilitate thecomprehension of temporal relations in narratives. It proposes:

    (a) interactive illustrated stories: we based our tool on stories, because several research studies demonstrated that it is very effective usingstories to teach reading and writing to young students (Calliari & Degasperi, 2007; Smallwood, 2002). We enriched our stories withillustrations, as they help readers improving comprehension of the read text (Brookshire, Scharff, & Moses, 2002; Gambrell & BrooksJawitz, 1993; Waddill, McDaniel, & Einstein, 1988);

    (b) a visual dictionary: a good dictionary is essential to help the reader in improving her/his vocabulary (Nagy, Anderson, & Herman, 1987;Pressley, 2000). In our dictionary, we decided to primarily use pictures to illustrate the meaning of words because deaf children arevisual learners (Roccaforte, DeMonte, Groves, Tomasuolo, & Capuano, 2011), i.e. learn most from photos, digital images, flash cards orclassroom posters;

    (c) comprehension exercises with intelligent feedback: comprehension exercises allow the reader to monitor his/her reading comprehensionlevel. LODE improves traditional comprehension exercises with an intelligent and appropriate feedback (Murphy, 2007). Feedbackinteracts with students motivation and beliefs (El, Tillema, & van Kopper, 2012) and helps students take control of their own learning,favouring the adoption of a self-regulated learning model (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

    In the rest of this paper, Section 2 elaborates, first, on the assumption that using stories to teach reading and writing is effective above allfor young students and then, on the role of illustrations in children books. Section 3 introduces LODE in detail, describing how it wasdesigned and implemented. More specifically, Section 3.2.1 describes LODEs dictionary and Section 3.3.2 describes LODEs exercises. Then,Section 4 presents the LODE evaluation, performed involving deaf and hearing children. Finally, the paper concludes discussing the eval-uation results and reporting on directions for future research.

    2. Illustrated stories for language learning

    This section explains why we chose to base our application on narratives. Our decision is due to the fact that childrens literature offersa complete medium for learning. Indeed, carefully chosen stories allow children to develop their receptive language in an entertaining,meaningful context. Moreover, they provide background knowledge and cultural information, just as emotional, social, and intellectualstimuli for building their own cognition (Calliari & Degasperi, 2007; Mar, Oatley, Djikic, & Mullin, 2011; Smallwood, 2002).

    Tales and stories provide a whole imaginary world, created by language and images, that children can enter and enjoy. Stories stimulatestrong emotions of sympathy, anger, fear, anxiety and so forth, opening the door to language learning.

    Rich and colourful illustrations are used in most childrens narrative books. They are mainly introduced to transform books intoenchanting and engaging objects, with the aim of attracting young readers to read them.

    Engagement is essential in the learning process (Mosenthal, 1999). However, illustrations do not only play a role of embellishment. Theyalso have a critical cognitive function. When appropriately designed, they help children better catch and memorize what they are reading(Brookshire et al., 2002; OKeefe & Solman, 1987; Waddill et al., 1988).

    When may illustrations be considered well designed for childrens literature?First of all, illustrations must be text-relevant, i.e. (a) the information conveyed must be central to the text, (b) they must be congruent

    with the text content and (c) they must provide a spatial or schematic representation of the interrelations of the text content (Schallert,1980). When illustrations are created in this way, they favour the building of an efficient mental image (Gambrell & Brooks Jawitz, 1993),which is an important cognitive strategy involved in the reading comprehension process (Pressley, 2001). If illustrations are unrelated to thetext, they may produce interferences with the comprehension of the text content (Willows, 1978).

    Secondly, illustrations must be physically close