Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) have been suggested to have the potential to support learning for children. While several tangible reading systems have been developed for children, no systems have been designed that explicitly target early reading acquisition of English at the level of phonological awareness (i.e., the ability to manipulate sounds in speech) and the alphabetic principle (i.e., a set of rules that explain how graphemes are associated with phonemes) that are important for children with or at-risk for dyslexia (i.e., a specific difficulty in language acquisition skills) and children who learn English as a foreign language (EFL). By grounding on the theories of reading and reading instructions for dyslexia and EFL, best multisensory training practices, and existing research on TUIs that support learning to read for children, I worked as a design lead to present a tangible reading system called PhonoBlocks that uses embedded dynamic colour cues and 3D tangible letters to support children learning the alphabetic principle in English.In my dissertation, I explore the use of PhonoBlocks through two mixed-methods case studies—one with eight at-risk monolingual English-speaking children in Canada and the other with 10 Mandarin-speaking children who learn English as a foreign language in China. My findings show that both groups of children achieved significant learning gains after PhonoBlocks instruction and the at-risk children also maintained their progress one month later after post-test. The results also point to design features of our system that enabled behaviours that are correlated with learning. I also compare similarities and differences between the results of the two studies, identifying the common and unique behaviours for the two groups of children. I conclude by suggesting a set of recommendations and guidelines for designing the tangible reading systems for both at-risk and EFL children.
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Thesis advisor: Antle, Alissa
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