Every child, regardless of their ethnicity or family circumstances, can achieve success in reading and writing at a very young age if they are taught in the appropriate way.
Speaking at Plimmerton Rotary on 10th May, Joy Allcock described her “Shine” Literacy Project which has achieved remarkable results among 5 and 6 year olds in 17 Porirua primary schools including Postgate and Paremata. The central idea behind the programme was to encourage children to think about words which all contained the same sound. For example, the teacher might ask the children how many words they could think of which contained the “sh” sound. While some children were reluctant at first to engage in the discussion, experience showed that they all soon gained enough confidence to become involved.
The next step in the process was for the teacher to talk about different ways in which a particular sound could be spelt depending on the word that contained the sound. Again, a lively interactive session would ensue.
To help in the process, Ms Allcock had developed several resources including work books, reading books, and a special “magic pen”, so named because it had the amazing capacity to read words for the children.
Ms Allcock was passionate about disrupting the “long tail” of under-achievement in literacy. “Children from wealthy families are four times more likely to achieve at a high level than other children. At the same time, we have far too many under-achieving children in this country. We just have to do something about this chronic under-achievement which is among the worst in the western world.”
Accompanying Ms Allcock at the meeting were two local primary school teachers who spoke of their experience with the Shine programme. Rachel Woodley of Postgate School explained that 41% of their 5 and 6 year olds identified as Maori, and 38% as Pasifika. “In 2012 our school was not in a good state, with two thirds of our 6 year olds under-achieving. But our latest ERO (Education Review Office) report shows that after 3 years of exposure to the Shine programme our Maori students are achieving at the expected level, while our Pasifika children are achieving at above the expected level. ERO described us as a ‘high performing school’. We have our Principal Adam Campbell to thank for this, for having the courage to go with the programme.”
Sarah Pupuke of Paremata School explained that their 5 and 6 year old chidren regarded the Shine programme as a fun activity which made it more effective. “We call the programme ‘It sounds like fun’, and that’s exactly what it is. In just 20 minutes a day we can make a huge difference to these children. They get hooked into the process. They begin to understand the connection between different words through the sounds within the words. After these sessions the children will often tell us about other words they’ve thought of which contain the sound. And sometimes children will arrive at school the next day with a whole list of words containing the sound.”
Looking to the future, Ms Allcock explained that she had four main goals: to engage a full time or part time district co-ordinator, to create more resources to reach more children, to encourage more professional learning development for teachers, and to share data from the project across the Porirua region. “At the moment the teachers who take part do so in their own time after school or in the evenings. We have approached the Ministry of Education about funding for the Shine programme but have yet to receive any kind of reply from them.”