H. Mfeka1, T. Butchart2

2Reflective Learning (SOUTH AFRICA)
The D G Murray Trust funded SchoolNet South Africa (SNSA) to track the development of two cohorts of learners and to record learning gains. SNSA provided professional development to teachers on the effective use of the Xbox Kinect and a bank of Intel tablets in Grades R and 1 over a three year period. The professional development programme included a Change Leadership for Technology Integration course, focused on preparing school senior management. Twelve schools in two provinces of South Africa participated in the project, including two control schools. The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that foundational literacies of primary school learners could improve through the effective use of game-based learning using innovative technologies.

English as the language of learning and teaching (LoLT) is problematic in South Africa, a country with eleven official languages. Low levels of English language competence characterise many rural primary schools. In only one of the LGP projects schools, is English the LoLT. Seven of the ten project schools use mother tongue for instruction through the Foundation Phase and then switch to English in Grade 4.

An oral English scripted interview test was conducted over the three years with each learner. All verbal responses and nonverbal actions were recorded on task scripts and scored according to rubrics. We adopted an additional measure to provide identification of the Oral Language Stage.

These stages are:
1. The Silent stage;
2. The Early Production Stage;
3. The Speech Emergence Stage;
4. The Intermediate Language Proficiency Stage and
5. The Advanced Language Proficiency Stage – Advanced Language Fluency .

Teachers used carefully selected apps and games to identify teachable moments and stealth learning opportunities that targeted specific literacies. These included visual recognition, discrimination and interpretation such as sequencing, and visual memory, fine-motor skills including ‘new’ skills such as pinching, dragging, stretching and pinpointing, to improve traditional skills such as drawing and handwriting and early number sense and numeracy skills.

Xbox Kinect consoles with data-projectors and TV screens were used to engage learning through play and provide further opportunities to develop, practice and consolidate these important 21st Century skills along with gross-motor skills of locomotor movement and object-control. As the apps and games use the medium of English, there was the added benefit that learners acquired oral English skills, almost subliminally. At the heart of the project was the encouragement of attitudes towards motivation to learn, enjoyment of learning and confidence in learning through the focus on play. Teachers were excited to discover that the technology and games were able to assist them to achieve the outcomes listed in the prescribed national curriculum.

In conclusion, the Learning Gains through Play study supports the theory that successful language acquisition occurs through understanding messages and that oral English skills can be improved simply by engaging with the tablet apps and video games, which use English as the medium of communication.