Learning and assessing phonological awareness in a Yolgnu Matha dialect

Presenters: Yalmay Yunupingu, Jill Wigglesworth, Melanie Wilkinson, Robyn Beecham

Phonological awareness is a skill crucial in learning to read which is increasingly assessed in school contexts in Australia. In the Northern Territory (NT) assessment of phonological awareness in English is mandated for all children in their first year of schooling through a test specifically developed for this purpose. Some Indigenous children grow up learning an Indigenous language and in these contexts, a few schools offer bilingual programs in the children’s language. One of the challenges in delivering a bilingual program in an Indigenous language is that there tend to be limited educational resources, and particularly digital resources for developing the children’s phonological awareness in their first language. To address this, we developed an iPad app in one of the Yolgnu Matha varieties, Dhuwaya. It was designed to teach the children how to segment and blend syllables and phonemes, identify common words and learn the suffixes of the language. In this paper we report on some of the challenges and issues we encountered while developing the App which consists of 20 levels, each with four different activities, and up to 10 exercises per activity. The App can be worked through by the children and maintains a record of each individual child’s performance. The children are introduced to the App in the first year of school and have access to it until they are confident in their phonological awareness. We also report on how well the App works based on 20-item pre and post Test App designed to assess phonological awareness. This was administered at the beginning and middle of the school year.