Creating possibilities with Stonefields School
Stonefields School is a relatively new school, and has been growing steadily over the past 11 years. The school is built in the bottom of an old quarry near the base of Mt Wellington, in Auckland, New Zealand. The school has grown from 48 learners to over 700 and is predicted to clear 1000 learners in the future.
Stonefields School is a full primary school with learners aged from 5 years old, all the way up to 13 years old. About 26% of the school population have English as a second language. Around 33% of the learners are on the Learning Support Register, with additional learning needs. The school is rich in diverse cultures with over 36 different languages spoken at school. We had a chat with Katherine Jackson, Associate Principal and Kate de Groot, SENCO to find out more about the school.
First let’s find out about what devices the school uses. Katherine told us that in the early years classes the children use iPads in class pods, dipping in and out of using devices as they need to. The older learners have 1:2:1 devices, using Chromebook that have been provided by the families. The pupils use their computers throughout the school day and during periods of home learning. Katherine said “The children tend to use devices across the school day, both in and out of lockdowns, and for home learning too. When we’ve had to switch to remote learning, it's just been a simple transition because the children are so technically savvy, in terms of their ability to use devices and flick from being in person to online”.
We asked Katherine if the learners use their Chromebooks for every lesson, and Katherine explained the usage across the school. “The learners will use devices when it is appropriate. It's about being a purposeful tool and a tool that best suits the needs of the learner, or group of learners, at that moment in time” Pupils take responsibility for for their own devices, taking them home at the end of the day and returning with them charged and ready to go for the next day of learning. Learners use their computers for research and for collaboration as Katherine explained..
“There is the right tool for the right job. There’s not a one size fits all approach. It’s about adults and teachers enabling children to be discerning and choose the right tool for the job in hand. There are times when technology is the best tool, there are times when brainstorming around a table is the best tool, and there are times when talking to someone can get the best results. We encourage learners to reflect on the research methods they have chosen, to see if something else might have worked even better”.
Stonefields School had looked at various applications that could help learners, but the team felt that they needed something that everybody could use. The tools should be available if learners were gifted or struggling, so they wanted to find a suite of tools that could suit everyone. It also had to be easy to use and easy to roll out. The solution that Stonefields School decided to proceed with was Read&Write for Google. Kate told us why they went with Read&Write.
“Myself and Katherine are a learning support team and we were looking for tools that were inclusive. Some learners, especially in the more senior part of the school, did not want separate devices. They felt that made them stand out, and look completely different. That's the worst thing for the learner's sense of wellbeing.
So, we were looking for a solution that eradicated that really big hurdle of being different and standing out and creating a norm. So probably just over a year ago, we started having conversations and we were talking to a high school and primary school within Auckland, who had been on this journey using Read&Write.
They talked about how empowering it was for their learners, and how they tried it and rolled it out in their school too, so we could see a New Zealand context where it was working successfully and hear those stories. And, that was really powerful”
Read&Write was rolled out across Year 7 and 8 learners initially, and with teachers modelling usage every day - it very quickly became the norm. Now that the school has been using Read&Write for over a year it has started to get some traction in Year 6 and even in Year 5 when the staff feel that it is appropriate.
We asked Associate Principal Katherine to tell us a little more about how they got started with Read&Write. “We started off with children who are dyslexic, but actually, because of the way it's being taught and rolled out, it's actually having an impact beyond that. We wanted to enable all our learners those with dyspraxia, ASD or a whole plethora of other things. We also had children who find reading overwhelming, who might prefer to listen to a passage and then get it summarised”
Not having the right technology in place can have a real impact on the wellbeing of learners as Katherine explained. “We've had children go through the system before and they've tried different sorts of technology, but because it hasn't been inclusive, it has been so detrimental to their wellbeing. Learners’ have ended up in counselling, and all sorts of things and not wanting to come to school. So the importance of inclusivity and equity of access can't be understated”.
We asked Katherine and Kate what impact Read&Write has had on school attainment. Kate told us “I think it's been immensely important, in terms of opening up a whole world of access and equity. I think that shouldn't be underestimated. When you don't have access to online content, then that is a real equity issue.
And I think if we can get that equity piece right, in terms of everybody having access to the technology that enables learning, then that is a really good sign for society moving forward.
But for some individual learners that really struggle with poor working memory, or have really profound dyslexia or dyspraxia, that ability to be able to synthesise is vital. They've got the knowledge in their heads but they could previously only show it though pen and paper, or through another person. It’s been pretty euphoric when you see them being able to be such independent learners and have that agency."
Kate added an example of a pupil she had been talking to the morning we arranged to have this chat. “I met a boy this morning who is severely dyspraxic, even using a keyboard is very difficult for him. I asked him, ‘How is Read&Write working for you? And he said, ’It's really good.’ I asked him, ‘where do you use it most?’ And he said, ‘Well, reading is really hard work, so I highlight the text and it reads it to me and I can read along as it highlights the word’. So it becomes that third mediator person, they are getting the mediation of the aural information at the same time they’re seeing it - we believe this is helping to build neural pathways as Read&Write becomes an invisible third teacher in the classroom”.
Through using Read&Write learners who are struggling can show their true knowledge, which provides a great boost to their self esteem. Kate added “when parents get to see their children achieving it is fantastic, they can celebrate with the child and that really helps with self esteem too. That confidence grows and we just open up more and more possibilities”
We asked the team at Stonefields if they had any advice for other schools who are thinking of trying Read&Write. Their first tip is to provide professional learning opportunities for teachers and teaching assistants. They started slowly and as word spread more and more people wanted to get involved, as Katherine explained “It was strategically organic. And I think it was okay to be organic, because actually, we have more buy-in and more success that way. The learning sessions were recorded for anyone who wasn’t present on the day, or who needed a few reminders later”.
The Texthelp team can provide training for school staff just as we did at Stonefields School, just get in touch with our sales team to find out more. There’s a link to email us at the bottom of the page.
Kate and Katherine reflected on 1 year of using Read&Write and said “Despite a six month lockdown of not being at school, our results in our overall teacher judgements for literacy went up compared to previous years. In fact, they accelerated beyond our targets. And as we were going in and out of lockdowns, parents were having to do a lot of mediating, and that wasn’t sustainable. Whereas the seniors who had Read&Write could keep their learning going more easily. They didn’t need to rely on adults for help and they developed agency and independence. It was so empowering, and we saw such richness in the writing coming back. They had the ability to drive their own learning because they had all the tools they needed, right in front of them”.
Katherine told us she can think of several examples of learners who now rely on Read&Write for their learning. "I can think of one particular student with dyslexic tendencies - because they are now using the technology and a device their learning performance has improved. They’ve shown their true potential and that nurtures a child's self esteem.“
SENCo Kate added “the software tool has enabled learners to access the curriculum without relying on an adult to support them.”
And it’s not just learners who have taken to the software. “It has also freed up time for teachers because they no longer have to decode everything for their learners. Everybody loves it.”
We asked them what’s next for Stonefields School? “We now are currently seeing ourselves in a situation, where we have the win stories for so many of our children. We're trying to advocate for the local college to have Read&Write so learners are supported when they head there. We just want our learners to be able to continue with it, because we see it almost as part of a life skill for them”.
We’re sure there will be plenty more “win stories” for the team at Stonefields School in the future. We want to thank Katherine and Kate for sharing their Read&Write experience with us.