Rachel Williamson is responsible for the Summer Learning Journey (SLJ) project, which is now in its sixth cycle. Originally designed for students attending the English medium Manaiakalani Cluster schools in east Auckland, the Summer Learning Journey is now undertaken by students in other regions of Aotearoa.
SLJ is designed to address the ‘summer slump’ in literacy skills for students in years 4-8. It also aims to promote positive socialisation practices online, such as positive, thoughtful and supportive engagement between students and counter ‘cyberbullying’ behaviour that is increasingly apparent among students in this digital age.
We talked to Rachel about her work.
How does the Summer Learning Journey programme work, and what is involved for a child?
My colleagues at the Woolf Fisher Centre and I have partnered with the Manaiakalani organisation to reduce the ‘summer slide or summer slump’, which is a dramatic drop in reading and writing achievement commonly observed in school students attending low-decile schools in New Zealand and overseas. The summer slump has been observed and documented in numerous countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany, and the UK.
SLJ is a free, accessible, digital programme that combats this loss by engaging students in an educational blogging programme that provides opportunities to read and write; learn, create and share this learning on a digital platform with their peers, classmates, families, teachers and, most notably, with a team of dedicated staff (qualified teachers, educators and teacher trainees from the University of Auckland) who work all day, every day over summer to read the student’s work and provide thoughtful, helpful and meaningful commentary.
We feel that the SLJ is a good way to ensure that students return to school ‘match fit’ - with the skills, motivation and attitudes necessary to ensure that their literacy learning continues to grow and accelerate over the year. In the absence of literacy learning opportunities over summer, some students lose as much as 12 months of literacy learning over the six-week holiday period.
The programme is designed to be flexible – the activities can be completed in any order that they students wish, at any time, and from anywhere that they wish over the six week break.
I design the content in collaboration with teaching staff from participating schools and with colleagues from the Faculty of Education & Social Work. Last year the theme of the programme was a ‘Journey Through Time.’
It covered the past 200 years of New Zealand history and offered students 60 different activities from which to choose. The activities varied from creative story writing, to expressing opinions, explaining, describing, researching, critiquing, questioning, etc. Students were also encouraged to think laterally and take pictures, create videos, etc. that demonstrated their learning. The activities were devised to be both fun and educational.
What role can parents play in the programme? Is there a role for public libraries too?
Parents are warmly invited to support their children throughout the summer by working with them on the activities, engaging in discussion about the information that the children have discovered, the blogs that they have created and the comments that they have received from others.
Local community members, including libraries and community centres, are approached personally and asked to work with the SLJ team to support student learning over the holiday.
In Auckland, many of the libraries open their doors to children and encourage them to make use of the computer facilities on-site for their blogging. In turn, our team actively promotes the library’s summer reading programme, Dare to Explore. In some clusters the librarians and SLJ team members travel together to schools to promote the two literacy programmes as complimentary options for students over the summer holiday period.
One of the busiest days for this programme is Christmas Day! Many students are looking for opportunities to share their excitement about Christmas or their experiences with others; some are lonely and looking for companionship and support, while others do not celebrate Christmas for a myriad of reasons and are therefore blogging as they would any other day of the year.
What have been your observations when it comes to reluctant readers, and what results have you seen from the programme so far?
We find that reluctant readers appear to enjoy the flexibility that is offered by the programme. They are able to pick and choose from a variety of options and to select activities that suit their interest and abilities. We have had children as young as seven years of age join the programme and engage actively in it.
Results of successive impact evaluations of the SLJ programme show that regular engagement in digital literacy programming has a dramatic and significant effect on student’s literacy learning over summer. In fact, we are seeing statistically significant differences in the literacy achievement of students who blog over summer versus those who do not. Students who blog lose very little of their reading/writing achievement compared to students who don’t blog.
SLJ also promotes positive social behaviour online with students regularly posting supportive, encouraging, thoughtful and helpful commentary on each other’s blogs. Further, teachers have noted that 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 bloggers are engaged, excited and ready to learn – they’ve maintained their ‘literacy fitness’ while those who have not engaged in literacy learning, have atrophied and must spend weeks, and sometimes months, re-training their bodies/brains to be fit, in a literary sense.
How did the Summer Learning Journey get started?
The original version of the SLJ programme was trialled in a cluster of schools in the Tamaki/Glen Innes region of Auckland (n = 10 schools). The schools all belong to the Manaiakalani Community of Learning – a group of schools that have adopted a strong digital focus for both teaching and learning. All students and teachers use digital devices (iPads and Chromebooks) as their primary teaching/learning tools.
In late 2017, the programme was expanded and offered to students attending schools in all of the Manaiakalani outreach clusters around New Zealand. The additional five clusters to join the programme were the Kakikohekohe cluster in Northland, the Kootuitui cluster in Papakura, the Ako Hiko cluster in Mt Roskill (Auckland), the Toki Pounamu cluster in Greymouth/Hokitika and the Uru Manuka cluster in Hornby/Christchurch.
The expansion from 10 to 50 schools was possible because of incredible philanthropic support offered by both NEXT Foundation, MSA Charitable Trust and the Wright Family Foundation.
The programme will run again this year (2018-2019) across all six clusters of schools. The theme for the programme this year is the environment and the programme name is: ‘The World Around Us’.