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International educators gather to tackle literacy crisis head-on

The inaugural Australasian Literacy Summit hosted by award-winning New Zealand edtech company Writer’s Toolbox has aimed to discuss research findings and approaches to learning, and to equip teachers with practical tools and strategies to increase written literacy.

Organisers of the two-day summit, titled ‘Writing: what’s our game plan?’, said it couldn’t have come at a better time for educators, who face failing literacy standards, with the ABC recently reporting NAPLAN results show one in three school students are not meeting numeracy and literacy expectations.

Speaking at the summit, held in New Zealand in September, Principal Researcher Christine Jackson from the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) shared data gathered from NAPLAN.

“The AERO research shows a lack of progression along literacy standards as students move through their schooling,” Jackson said.

“This is precisely why events like the Australasian Literacy Summit, where ideas can be shared among school leaders, are important to our educational future.”

For Writer’s Toolbox founder Dr Ian Hunter, a four-year longitudinal study on NAPLAN writing performance gave him the opportunity to provide 71 schools in Queensland with data –not only in overall writing growth but exactly where over 78,000 students’ strengths and weaknesses lay.

Currently providing a diagnostic testing tool, Writer’s Toolbox will soon launch a testing hub, aligned with the NAPLAN writing and conventions of language tests, to show teachers exactly where student gaps are and what to do to prepare them for success.

The company said the Australasian Literacy Summit was not a place to rehash the concerning trends in writing data, but to create tangible solutions teachers can implement the very next day.

“One of the hopes of doing a summit like this was to take the opportunity to pause as educators and say we recognise there’s a problem, we recognise the challenge of writing in our schools,” Dr Hunter said.

“As educators, what might we be able to forge that are practical solutions for our schools, our classrooms, and our students?”

Grant Lander interviews panellists Northcross Intermediate Principal Jonathon Tredray, St James College Principal Ann Rebgetz, and St Paul’s Collegiate Deputy Headmaster Jeremy Coley at the Summit.

Reflecting on the summit, keynote speaker, University of Edinburgh Emeritus Professor Richard Andrews said the Australasian Literacy Summit gave principals and teachers the space to wrestle with the literacy challenge and came away better informed, armed with best-practice solutions – ready to take action.

“This has been a focussed, interesting, engaging opportunity to think outside the box. To hear other people’s views and positions. Having the space and chance to discuss burning issues – classroom pedagogic issues, literacy issues,” Professor Andrews said.

Dr Hunter has observed first-hand the deterioration of written literacy in New Zealand in his role as an academic at Auckland University.  The urgency to address the problems that students face in becoming great writers led him on a 20-year research mission. From his findings, Dr Hunter developed Writer’s Toolbox, the simple writing tool proven to increase the writing outcomes for tens of thousands of students.

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