Knowledge of English is the gateway to educational and economic opportunity worldwide. GLEN (GLobal ENglish) World (www.glenworld.org) is a non-profit organization producing digital content for worldwide scaling of English-language learning, especially targeting disadvantaged children. The GLEN World team includes educators, authors, animators, established graphic artists, and engineers. It draws on the research expertise of faculty in engineering, education and second language acquisition at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Carnegie Mellon University.
Our goal is to bring children from "zero to reading," without requiring prior exposure to English and without relying on knowledge of any other language. Our digital content focuses on building vocabulary knowledge (meaning of words), phonological awareness (recognition of sounds), and orthographic awareness (recognition of spelling) through gamified activities and stories that make heavy use of audiovisual cues. We focus on self-renewing content (activities drawing from a database) rather than a fixed, finite lesson plan, which allows for self-paced learning.
The content is aimed at providing a first exposure similar to what a child would have in an English-speaking environment, by stimulating the kind of engagement that a talented teacher elicits through classroom activities.
GLEN ABC: Matching games to teach the English alphabet
GLEN Write: trace letters to complete a word (rewarded by an illustration and voicing of the word)
GLEN Sounds: collection of activities reinforcing phonics
GLEN Rhymes: illustrated rhymes read out with the text highlighted. Game to match words that rhyme.
GLEN Match: memory game for vocabulary exposure, along with reinforcing exercises
Describe It: Put together nouns, verbs and adjectives to describe images
GLEN Books: illustrated audiobooks with text highlighted as the book is read
Entertainment Center: A set of animated vignettes showing children interacting
GLEN Count: Activities to teach the numbers 1-9 in sequence
Deployment does not require the involvement of skilled adults, but facilitators who encourage children and mediate the use and care of digital devices would be helpful. We are inspired by Dr. Sugata Mitra's "hole in the wall" experiments, where children working in groups, using computers with English language programs and content, acquired a significant degree of competence in basic computer literacy without any prior knowledge of English. GLEN World content is designed for applying this approach to the specific context of English literacy.
Our content design is grounded in research on second language acquisition. One of the advantages of using audio-visual scaffolding in games and stories rather than relying only on language input is that it can help the learner to take advantage of working memory capacities. A multi-componential perspective on working memory posits two main dimensions of working memory that need to interact in order to enhance learning: a phonological loop (remembering what is heard) and a visuo-spatial sketchpad (remembering what is seen). Auditory language input (e.g., sounds) is predicted to be stored in working memory more efficiently when visual input is made available simultaneously, and vice versa. Since reading involves matching sounds to letters and written words (i.e., phonological and orthographic awareness), and learning vocabulary can be facilitated by matching images to sounds and written words, we believe our approach will help children store word-sound-spelling matches in working memory during the games, which over time and through repetition can support acquisition (i.e., storage of word-sound-spelling matches in long term memory).
The GLEN Match game, for example, aims to build vocabulary knowledge by combining auditory and visual input. By clicking on a card, an image of the item appears along with (a) the written word and (b) its pronunciation. The idea is to activate learners' phonological loop (auditory input) and visuo-spatial sketchpad (image and written word) in working memory in order to strengthen word-sound-spelling linkages. Through repetition and multiple exposures to the words, we would expect word-sound-spelling linkages to be stored in long-term memory.