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About the SenseDom Project

by Kwaku Boaten

About Myself
My name is Kwaku Boaten. I’m male, born in Ghana where I received my basic education; although I’m now a British citizen, having lived in England for over forty years. Since qualifying in England as a teacher, I went on for further studies in Language in Education and Reading Behaviour. I’ve had over thirty years experience in teaching, most of which has been in teaching English as a second language in multi-cultural schools in and around London. I’m now semi-retired from teaching, spending the rest of my time researching and developing my project. (For more information about me, please consult my website or write to request it).

The origin of the sensedom project: How I got started
As presented, the project is only a part of a whole as I have envisaged it. It arose from my teaching experience. As it evolves, it is going through several transformations, having started first in paper form and now in ICT. It was devised to meet several challenges in the schools I happened to be teaching in. One challenge is that there is a large group of ESL students who reach a plateau by the middle or late elementary stage in their language development. Able and comfortable to use colloquial English with ease, including the reading of basic texts, some were not convinced that there was the need for them to make any further progress.

This fact is further complicated by research which suggests that, by the age of this particular target group, some learners, particularly boys, are put off developing their reading skills by several important and interrelated factors. One is that the material available to support reading development for this group is not appropriate enough. It is often difficult to find a text that matches both the interest and language level of the learner. Sometimes where the content may be interesting, the language level may be either too easy or too complex for the learner, or vice versa. So, often students did not feel inspired to read independently. (Hence all the base texts in sensedom are organized around centres of interest that can be described as multi-cultural, including teen and pop culture).

Along with this reluctance is the fact that time and again they are afraid for their self-image because of the situation model and other methods applied in supporting their reading practice. They find it particularly humiliating to be seen in a situation where s/he is supported in public by an “expert” (hearing them read) in their reading practice, which is one traditional model still frequently used in many schools. This model is less appropriate for this age group precisely because it has a tendency to draw public attention to their plight: the fact that a learner, at this age, has a problem reading. Further, acquiescing to its use means an acknowledgement on the part of the learner that he is a failure – now, how cool is that?

Another factor is that they may be deficient in the experience (primary or secondary) and linguistic resources necessary to enable them to engage meaningfully with a text. For a start, there may be gaps in their conceptual resources in terms of background information, including the environment-specific and text structure, which is one vital source for reading comprehension. Coupled with this is limited linguistic knowledge and skills to engage effectively with a text. Clearly, as they are still in the process of developing their English, it is only to be expected that their knowledge of grammar will not be sound enough. Thus they may be less sensitive to the signals that features of language give for meaning. To an extent, then, these factors combine and often succeed in discouraging the reluctant learner to practise reading in English.

This want for practice in turn means that they find any act of reading tedious for lack of experience and subsequent mastery of the decoding skills. So their ability to blend and recognise words is not automatic enough, something that can only come with the practice they shun. Consequently they often tend to be text bound, spending longer than necessary to figure out how to decode the text. Sometimes fluency achieved is merely deceptive as little meaning is derived without the top down skills (the ability to make predictions, test and modify them).

Sensedom goes still further in that, while integrating most of the guidelines for computer-assisted reading (and writing) instruction, it also seeks to exploit the potential of the computer and ICT to stimulate the user to learn through entertainment. For example, one website I consulted recognizes that: “Using a combination of different things like text, sound, graphics and animation, edutainment through the use of computer games can enhance the process of education and make it more enjoyable than most traditional teaching methods”. Also recent advances in ICT have generated a lot of interest in the use of the Internet for entertainment and pastimes that involve the use of multimedia; particularly graphics, sound and images, including stills and movies.

At the same time, online communities have evolved to make use of such advances, as evident from You-tube, MySpace, I-Report and so on. So with the potential anonymity, privacy and the recreational facility that ICT allows, the user does not need to rely heavily on ‘expert’ support so that he is more likely to take risks in his/her learning through trial and error, without compromising their self-image. Further, as he grows in confidence with practice, perhaps in private, the recreational facility is also likely to inspire him to interact more actively and confidently with the community, both to share experiences and insights, and for mutual support. Thus through these experiences, they are also much more likely to transcend the plateau effect and take their language development further without realizing it.

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