Engage is an education platform for self-directed literacy learning that uses advanced pedagogical research, the latest music videos and cutting edge technology. We built it in collaboration with Head Teachers, literacy specialists and children in UK schools and it is mapped onto The New Curriculum. Engage is an intelligent supplementary tool for SPAG literacy teaching and is personalised for each child, allowing them to progress at their own pace while automatically assessing their progress. It uses advanced pedagogical research, cutting edge technology, games and the latest music videos, making learning fun and engaging.
Engage turns literacy learning of the SPAG part of the New Curriculum into interactive games, allowing students to learn faster while watching content that they already love. Subtitled song videos are uniquely placed to help reading - students see and hear familiar words at the same time; song-based games are naturally divided into short, manageable chunks of three to four minutes; students are encouraged to repeat exercises, increasing exposure to written and spoken language.
We believe that
We learn fastest when there is a realreason to do so
Language learning can thrive outside the classroom and support teachers
Engaging students’ interests andimagination is key
To our knowledge, there is no other learning tool that supports all these activities as an integrated process. Engage adapts the material that students choose to engage with out of interest - thus, the content that people are motivated to engage with anyway is exploited for language learning. In the future, Engage will be able to use any video content for language learning, meaning that films, interviews and even football commentary could become tools for teaching children about spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Engage is mapped onto the New Curriculum, covering every SPAG topic that teachers are required to cover. It uses appropriate music videos, overlaid with automatically generated, graded and updated exercises that address the required topics in grammar and spelling. Our educational platform is web-based, so children will only need access to a computer to use it, although it can also be accessed using tablets or smartphones. All videos are pre-screened for bad language and slang, as well as for visual suitability to ensure that all material is appropriate for schools.
We began by winning funding support to design Engage from the government-backed SBRI as part of their Learning: Design For Impact initiative, which seeks to bring together innovation in UK research and technology with schools to impact on key social issues. When we first decided to create Engage, we knew that the process had to start with the people who matter - teachers and students - and that they needed to be the ones telling us what they needed. We also wanted to gain a thorough understanding of how schools decide which apps they want to use and how they feel best supported by companies when they have particular customer service needs.
We therefore began by interviewing Head Teachers, literacy coordinators and teaching staff in 6 schools around the UK with different populations, and we asked them to partner with us in creating something meaningful and useful. Some schools had populations of predominantly EAL children and others had predominantly white British pupils. Schools also varied greatly in the levels of social deprivation that their pupils experienced, and we made sure that we worked with some schools in areas of extreme social deprivation because we wanted to create something meaningful to help these schools and their pupils.
We asked the Head Teachers and staff in detail about the problems they encountered, their frustrations and what they really needed to make their lives easier and to help their pupils learn. We asked them to tell us what their ideal app would do for them and how it would help them in their day to day work.
Our lead researcher then looked at all the transcripts and elicited common themes, to come up with a list of problems and wishes for ideal teaching aids, as specified by teaching staff. From this list, we began to design and build Engage.
When we had designed an initial version Engage, we went back to the schools to check that we had understood what they needed and designed something to meet those needs.
We then built the first working version of Engage and tested it with our partner schools in a pilot trial to see if Year 5 and Year 6 children enjoyed using it and whether the teachers experienced Engage as a useful teaching aid. We interviewed the staff again, gaining qualitative feedback from them about the positives and negatives, and we asked them to report back what the children had said about it.
Engage is designed to help teachers in several ways:
We have understood from our schools partners, that different groups of children have different needs. We’ve put together a couple of profiles of pupils who can really benefit from Engage.
Ali hasn’t been in the UK for long, and English isn’t his first language; it isn’t spoken at home. His parents think that education is important but their own command of English isn’t very good and they can’t help him with homework. There are no English language books at home. Ali struggles with vocabulary and also with the grammatical structure of English, as it is very different to his mother tongue.
Charlie is white British and was born in England. However, his parents’ level of literacy is not high and they therefore cannot help him with his homework. Charlie’s parents do not see literacy or school education as being particularly important. There are no books in the house and they do not spend much time together as a family. Charlie finds school boring and doesn’t want to read books, but he loves music and football.
Engage is based on robust and comprehensive pedagogical research. From the literature, it is clear that language learners enjoy listening to songs and find it useful but that it can be difficult to identify specific benefits. Engage is based on sound pedagogical research that proves the significant and enduring impact of music and same language subtitling on literacy outcomes.
We based Engage on the research carried out in India by Planet Read and sponsored by the Clinton Foundation. They conducted several studies over a 5 year period, using a sample size of 13,000 illiterate children and adults. They found that the number of children who could read to a good standard more than doubled after just 6 months’ exposure to same language subtitling of music videos. This exposure was simply watching a popular music programme on television for just 1 hour a week.
We’ve had incredible feedback from teachers and pupils about Engage. Here are some of the things they’ve told us:
“Since testing, they constantly ask if they are going on it each day as they are always eager to use it again.”
“I think intervention in small groups would really work because you can really specifically take a small group who are struggling with, say apostrophes, and use it with them together.”
“They loved the avatars, and they all clicked ‘excited’. When they watched each other play, I could see them thinking: ‘He got 3 stars, I have to get 4 stars’. They loved the music because they were songs that they knew. The boys liked the music but I could see that they loved the competition element; girls really loved the music. Some Year 3 and other Year 5 teachers are really keen to try it with their classes. It could be used for guided reading, as part of the carousel, or for homework; in lots of ways, really.”
“So many children were distracted by what we were doing on Engage during an ICT lesson that in the end I displayed it on the interactive white board for everyone to see. This prompted others to ask if they would be having a go too. They all responded that it was fun and that they liked the use of pop songs that they are familiar with. They said it is better than just learning through sentences and they recognised that they had been learning about pronouns, spellings, vocab etc.”
“They were excited to play the games and found them engaging”
“The children kept asking: can we use this at home? Can we?”