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Free literacy programme brings blogging to schools

Blogging at least twice a week has completely eliminated the summer literacy slump for the children who took part in a University of Auckland digital literacy programme.

Original Summer Learning Journey programme leader Dr Rachel Williamson-Dean with two summer students from St Pius X Catholic School in Glen Innes.Image via University of Auckland

Now in its seventh cycle, the Summer Learning Journey (SLJ), devised by a team of educational researchers in the University’s Woolf Fisher Research Centre, addresses the widespread and dramatic drop in reading and writing achievement many schoolchildren struggle with after the six-week summer holidays.

And thanks to the support of the Hugo Charitable Trust, the programme team can now continue working with teachers, parents and the local community in key areas of the South Island by offering the free digital literacy programme in low-decile school settings.

The Trust is funding the programme in two clusters of schools in the South Island, the Toki Pounamu cluster in Greymouth and the Uru Mānuka cluster in Hornby, Christchurch. Philanthropic support is through the University’s Campaign For All Our Futures, which has a strong focus on improving the educational achievement of all young New Zealanders.

Original programme leader Dr Rachel Williamson-Dean and her colleagues designed the Summer Learning Journey to improve reading and writing for Year 4-8 students across New Zealand.

She says it’s a great way to ensure students return to school ‘match fit’.

“Without it, some children return to school having lost up to a year of literacy learning.”

The programme gives students opportunities to read, write and share their knowledge on a digital platform with their classmates, families and teachers. Their work is then assessed by a group of qualified teachers, educators and teacher trainees from the University of Auckland who work over the summer to read the students’ blogs and provide feedback.

The programme is designed to be flexible and the activities can be completed in any order, and from any location, over the six-week break. Each year there are different themes like ‘A Journey through time’ or ‘People who have changed the world.’

The SLJ offers students 60 different activities which vary from creative writing to expressing opinions. Students are also encouraged to think laterally, take pictures and create videos, making it both fun and educational.

The clusters of participating schools all belong to the Manaiakalani Community of Learning, a group that has adopted a strong digital focus for both teaching and learning. All students and teachers use digital devices (iPads and Chromebooks) as their primary teaching and learning tools.

Teachers say they can identify students who have blogged, compared to those who haven’t, when they come back to school in Term 1 of the following year.

The Summer Learning Journey currently operates in 50 schools across New Zealand, with participants generating 31,000 blogs and comments over the past three years.

Maryanne Green, the eldest daughter of the late Hugh Green (1931 – 2012), an Irish philanthropist and businessman, founded the Hugo Charitable Trust in 2017 to continue Hugh’s philanthropic legacy. Not having the opportunity of a good education himself, he saw its value and went on to receive an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the National University of Ireland in 2006, among other accolades.

“Hugh loved both Ireland and New Zealand equally and he believed passionately that education was the key to a better New Zealand,” says Ms Green.

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