Are words holding you back?

In this episode we hear from Texthelpers Donna Thomson and Greg O'Connor. Donna introduces the discussion before passing over to Greg who is our host for the day. Greg was joined by Aussie educators Jacinta Keenan and Brett Salakas and also by El'ise Bothe, a reality TV star and dyslexia ambassador.  Finally, Donna closes out the session and gives us 1 thing to know, 1 thing to think about and 1 thing to do. 


Donna Thomson (00:15):

Hello, everyone, I'm Donna Thomson and welcome to the latest episode of Texthelp Talks podcast. This is where we chat to experts and friends from education and the workplace who share our passion for making our schools, colleges, and workplaces much more accessible and inclusive. If you haven't done so already, subscribe to Texthelp Talks through your preferred podcast player or streaming service. So you never miss an episode.


Today, my lovely colleague from across the pond in Australia, Greg O'Connor, is joined by fellow Aussies, that's El'ise Bothe, a former contestant on the Block Home Renovation Show and educators Brett Salakas and Jacinta Keenan. So the discussion addresses the question are Words Holding You back? And this is in response to the national survey of Australian adults that we commissioned to see how they rated their literacy skills. So we know from talking to people in education and workplaces that adult literacy is an area where improvements need to happen. So we decided to find out the scale of the issue. So as you'll hear soon, our panel delved into this topic from a couple of different perspectives, from educators to parents to individuals, all sharing their professional and personal experiences with us. It's an emotive conversation and one that I particularly enjoyed tuning into. So let's get started. I'll pass you over to Greg for today's discussion and I'll pop back at the end to leave you with one thing to know, one thing to do and one thing to think about. Greg, over to you.

Greg O'Connor (01:46):

Hi everybody, I'm Greg O'Connor, Head of Education here for Texthelp across the Asia Pacific region and welcome to this very special round table discussion, Our Words Holding You Back. Most importantly, we want to start a conversation on how literacy problems have a lifelong impact on those who experience them. And we also want to dive into providing solutions so that Australians can overcome these barriers now and actually into the future. Now a big part of this campaign is the research behind it and we had a study done by Census Wide that we commissioned that surveyed 2000 Australians, well actually over 2000 Australians across the country.


This study has revealed a whole bunch of insights into just how common literacy challenges are and how they affect people's everyday lives. It actually makes for really interesting reading. And actually what we'll do is we'll provide a link so you can download it later for this round table recording. And I'll also let you know at the end of this, how you can get a hold of that report as well. So what we've done, we've brought together a great panel to help us pick apart that report a bit and talk around this idea, Our Words Holding us Back. And so I want to introduce that panel and I guess on my screen going around next to me is Jacinta. Jacinta, say hi to everybody please?

Jacinta Keenan (03:21):

Hi everyone. So my name's Jacinta Keenan. I'm a year one, two teacher at St. John's Catholic School in Richmond, Tasmania. And I am also a Education System Specialist. So one day a week I work for our Catholic Education Office supporting teachers to use technology in the classroom more efficiently.

Greg O'Connor (03:41):

Fantastic. Great for joining us. And you've raced from the classroom actually to join us today. So thank you very much.

Jacinta Keenan (03:47):

I have busy day teaching.

Greg O'Connor (03:49):

Yeah. And going clockwise. I think we've got you Brett, on the screen.

Brett Salakas (03:54):

Good day everybody. Yep. Brett Salakas. So a lot of people know me via social media. I began a little group called AussieED about 10 years ago that accidentally grew to become the largest online network of teachers in Australia. So I have made a hell of a lot of friends across the Australian landscape and I'm very passionate about education technology and I'm looking forward to our discussion today.

Greg O'Connor (04:21):

Yeah, and what do you do? And that network all revolves around being able to use words too, which we'll get back to. And coming around, not around, last but not least, El'ise.

El'ise Bothe (04:33):

Hi, I'm El'ise Bothe. I'm a former contestant on a reality TV show called The Block, which I took part in 2019 and 20. I'm a mother of three children, two that are dyslexic. And I also have a dyslexic mother, I myself am dyslexic as well. And so I feel like, yeah, in terms of literacy, I've been a person that's struggled my whole life. So I'm very excited to get into this topic with you and yeah, just have a good chat.

Greg O'Connor (05:04):

Yeah, yeah, we'll see where it goes. And actually there, when everyone listening and watching there, this it's actually, it's not, it's only a short document. The report that we are sharing with you is an executive summary of the bigger research project obviously. But there are so many interesting bits of information there that kind of for lots of us reaffirm what we felt, but now we actually can say, well this is a number. And one of the things that when you read it, the number that stands out most to me from the get go is that 56% of Australians have said that they've experienced some type of literacy difficulty during their education. So over half of the Australians in a survey said they found school difficult because of their literacy.


El'ise, I'm going to ask you from the get go here, I mean this tells me that the prevalence, there's a lot of people struggling every day with literacy, not only at school but beyond school at work in the community, just being social. Has that been your experience?

El'ise Bothe (06:13):

Yes, most definitely. In terms of literacy difficulties I've had my whole life, the more that I seem to open up to people about my difficulties and what I've experienced, it's amazing how many people have actually come out and said, "Wow, me too. I struggled, I haven't understood documents. I've been in certain areas and I've read a document three times and I haven't been able to absorb it." And the biggest thing for me was that I realised I wasn't alone, I wasn't unique. So the more that I've been speaking about it's amazing how many of my colleagues, peers have actually had problems with literacy as well.

Greg O'Connor (06:52):

And I think we've all probably all experienced that in that with the three educators on the panel. I mean, Jacinta at school, there's a lot of kids who... More kids at school experience difficult literacy than we actually probably even realised. Would you agree?

Jacinta Keenan (07:09):

Definitely. And just thinking to what El'ise said as well, I think it's really positive that we're talking about it now and we're opening it up. I remember going through school many years ago, it wasn't, you were sort of taken away from the classroom and put in those little remedial groups and given that extra help that was maybe effective, maybe not, but so you didn't talk about it and those strategies weren't explicit. So I think now that it's becoming in the forefront. I think it's a really positive thing that we're acknowledging it. And I think in the classroom we're having more and more children diagnosed with specific learning disorders or dyslexia. And that's because we're so aware of it and we're making those adjustments in the classroom. So it is a really positive that it is more at the front of our minds.


But don't you think 56% tells me that that's more than any diagnosis would actually tell you that. It tells me a lot of people struggle with, maybe do you think literacy is just, there's so much more to read now than there was ever to do before and so much more, or there's so much more literacy involved in our lives. I mean, Brett, you have a major platform where you do through AussieED using Twitter, for instance, social media. That all requires what to do, requires you to be able to read and write. Are you on mute? I think.

Brett Salakas (08:35):

I did mute myself a moment ago so I could sneeze and then I forgot to unmute myself, my apologies. But no, you're spot on, Greg. We need to be able to communicate not only just at work, but in everyday social interactions. There's social media is such a cornerstone of how our youth, how our parents, how our families or connect. And if you are for whatever reason at some sort of disadvantage, because you cannot communicate as effectively at the same level as the other people within your circle, then you suffer unfairly as a result of that. So ensuring people have the appropriate literacy skills, ensuring that we are doing things that are more inclusive is vital to be able to have a better, more highly functioning society.

Greg O'Connor (09:27):

Yeah. And so it's kind of this idea, isn't it, around that lots of us are, well everybody is I think is defined by their ability to read and write confidently enough. For a lot of people who struggle for whatever reason around their literacy is it impacts upon how they feel about themselves. In the research study, in the survey that happened with those over 2000 Australians that were surveyed, 30% of them said they felt embarrassed about their reading and writing skills. So they actually felt embarrassed about what they were, what they could and couldn't do. So Brett, just following on, that must have an impact upon your own self esteem.

Brett Salakas (10:10):

Yeah. Do you know why I'm, been debating. I knew you were going to ask me that question and I've been debating on how much of my heart do I actually share and I want to share a real personal story if I can. I remember both of my parents never completed full education, neither of them. And it was so insistent, it's probably why I ended up becoming a teacher. It was so insistent in my household that you had to study, you had to learn, you had, no choice. You were going to university, it doesn't matter. You had no choice in the matter. You had to have a good education because neither of them had, that completed study. But I remember my mum was a big Cold Chisel fan. She loved Jimmy Barnes. And when I was about 14 or so, I had saved up and I bought mom this nice big thick book that was a Jimmy Barne's biography and watched over the weeks of her not touching this book that I had saved up to buy her.


And I remember one day as a really, I'm about to cry, I remember one day as a really, I was a teenage boy who doesn't really understand all of the subtle bits of human nature that's going on. I remember getting really crossed with mum and why didn't she my birthday present, why wasn't she reading it? And all that sort of stuff.


And I remember her just sitting down on the bed and just bawling and crying. And she didn't have the literacy skills to be able to read the book properly. She couldn't enjoy it. She had tried, she had opened up she had read a couple of pages. She had some functional literacy to be able to operate in everyday life. She could read the recipe cards and cook and do some basic things.


But that moment still haunts me to this day. And I think look at that research that it's been done. And as you say there, it's quite evident that 20% out of Australians have trouble with their functional literacy to be able to fill out forms and rental contracts and employment contracts and things like that. And I know my mum was in there and she was probably right there. I know that the emotional impact that had on her personal story and I'm still, like I said, haunted by that today. It is a lived reality. This is not some abstract concept of wouldn't it be nice for us to help people who need to be helped. There is a huge chunk of Australians, our mothers, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends who deal with things that we aren't always aware of the challenges that they're dealing with because they're probably had to mask it very effectively over their life as much as possible.

Greg O'Connor (13:18):

Yeah. Oh yeah well thanks for sharing.

Brett Salakas (13:20):

And certainly-

Jacinta Keenan (13:21):

And it popped out.

Brett Salakas (13:27):

Or whether I share that or not, I'm not sure. I think I'm going to get in trouble for sharing something I probably shouldn't share.

Greg O'Connor (13:33):

No, no, well that's the real, that's reality. And I know Jacinta a few at school, so many kids exhibit behaviors that we take at face value. But when you look behind that behavior, it's probably the fact that they are struggling with reading and writing and they're actually can't do what they're going to do.

Jacinta Keenan (13:52):

And it affects everything they do. So there's so many tasks in the classroom that are not part of the literacy lesson, but they might be the Science lesson or the History lesson or Geography. And there's so many tasks that are still so text heavy for students. And it can be really daunting because you can have a student who is amazing at science and their knowledge and they want to share the knowledge they know. But sometimes if they're only given texts to be able to absorb and not given different mediums, it can be really daunting. It can just stop them engaging with a lot of areas of the curriculum, which can be really sad. And it can make them start to think that it's all areas that they're not doing well in.

Greg O'Connor (14:37):

Yeah. And I mean I hear kids at secondary age, kids talk to me about being dumb because they can't read and write. And so I'm really interested in readability the way how readable stuff is. And you can do readability analysis. You can analyse texts and find out what the grade level is for, what you have to read at to actually understand that text. And as research indicates to us that in the STEM subjects like science and maths for instance, if you actually look analyse the readability of that text that we're giving kids, like say a year nine science textbook, if I analyse that text, it probably comes out to be at least one grade level above what it's intended. So probably you need to be a grade 10 level to actually read that text. So a lot of kids are struggling. They're going to science not to do science, but to try to decode this text that they're getting.


And we need to, and we'll get to this, we need to think about, well, how can we remove those barriers for all that? But there's so much at work how comfortable you are to go from promotions. I know some of the research of the OCED, there's a research that goes across all OCED countries. I mean Australia currently, I think it's 47% of Australians struggle to actually be totally engaged in our digital economy because they don't have enough literacy skills. So it impacts everywhere. The other thing that came out of the report that the research that we commissioned from about Our Words Hold Us Back, was that 35% of the adults who were surveyed said they don't feel confident helping their kids do their homework, which is amazing. And when you think about that and something like 20% said weren't confident to read to their preschoolers or their early beginning school kids. Jacinta that's a bit of a worry. Well it's not, it's a concern that one, that adults are worried about that, but it also impacts upon their relationship with their kids in terms of homework and reading, right?

Jacinta Keenan (17:00):

Yeah, it's a big challenge and I think in the classroom as teachers, we often are pushed away from homework because the angst it can create in that home environment. I mean for both the parents not feeling confident, the child not having difficulties and not knowing how to do something. And it can create that real barrier and just makes that negative experience of learning. And I know even particularly with math subjects and there's particular strategies we use in the classroom and we teach children explicitly how to use those strategies. But that's changed since a lot of our parents have been in school. And so they do, like they really out of their depth and I guess it's important to provide parents with those opportunities.


We do a lot of video modeling where we will share a little video on how to support your child with just reading a book. Something as simple as an early years reader. They don't know how to show their child how to sound out words because they weren't, and it's not necessarily their fault, but it wasn't explicitly taught going back in that whole language phase in the 80s that most of us grow up with.

Greg O'Connor (18:12):

Yeah. And I think not their fault is a really important statement you just said. It's actually not saying that. The issue is we need to give, there are tools available out there, we'll get to technology that actually allow us to actually for stuff to be read that doesn't always rely on someone actually having to be read to you. If you read one hour a day over the course of a year, you'll be exposed to 1 million words. That's 4 million words if I've got my maths, 4 million words and every year you don't get read to or you don't read. That's 4 million words you don't get in. So it's exponential. And so just being read to is really important. And sometimes if someone in your home can't read to you, if you can get that which what's being read to you on a digital screen, it can be read back to you and you can read it as many times as you need. I know at least you've been playing with, we got a little program called Read&Write that has text to speech that reads it back to you.

El'ise Bothe (19:25):

Yeah, no, and I think that's been my little saving grace at the moment because I'm just listening to everything you're both saying, all saying. And it's been difficult because I have had literacy issues my whole life and I get so anxious when my kids come home that I don't know what their homework is going to be about and I'm already preempting that I'm going to be to fail and I'm going to get upset talking about it.


Because it's scary. And when it comes to reading a book, I can tell you firsthand, I haven't read a book since I was in high school because I opened the book and I'm exhausted by how much it takes for me to absorb the words. So when it comes to obviously the Texthelp toolbar, the fact that I can sit down now and actually listen to a book with my children makes the world of difference because before I would get tired, I would get frustrated. They'd get frustrated. Where now it gives me the opportunity to, we enjoy it together and it's not such a stress on me. So it's definitely been an amazing tool in my kit, which I never thought I'd have.

Greg O'Connor (20:32):

Yeah. And the cool thing about it is you like a talking book just reads to you and you've got this, and you can pause it and you can't go back, you can. I mean with a text to speech tool you've just described, you can pause it, you can go back and reread another, a word again. You've got that. It's what we kind of term agency. You've got control over your environment and that's really, really important to actually have that ability.

El'ise Bothe (21:02):

And I think that's the biggest thing. You're obviously bringing out some big numbers, like 4 million words that I've missed and you are so right because some of these words I'm still even reading in their books and things, I wouldn't have a clue what they are. But when I get to pause, go to the dictionary option and actually hear it and how it's sounded out has been a really, really, it's a blessing. It really is a blessing. So yeah, you are very right when saying, I've missed a lot of words but I'm catching up now.

Greg O'Connor (21:31):

Yeah, yeah no, no. And it's never too late to catch up. And that's the actually I was talking to a teacher, and this is an old strategy lot people have used in the past, but he was telling me about getting kids to read out loud in the classroom and the stress they can have on some kids. And there are some kids who can read out but they can't just be put on the spot. So what he would do, he was getting some kids to take a turn to read out a passage and one particular kid that he would was working with got really stressed, could do it, but really stressed if he was just called on a dime to do it.


And the teacher had a strategy with him and he said, What I will do is just before it's your turn, and one student to go, I will tug my right ear when I tug my right ear you know I'm going to ask you but no one else knows. And that gave the kid time to go, "Okay, Mr. Connor's going to ask me this. Oh here he comes, I'm ready." And that just little things like that to put in place.

Brett Salakas (22:34):

I was going to say, I remember learning very early on, someone pulled me aside and said that preemptive questioning where you actually are talking about something and you say, "Greg, I'm going to ask you a question in a minute, but what I'm going to talk about." And you just let the child know that they're up in about 60 seconds and then you add a little bit of extra text and then come back to them just to give them the time to actually structure their sentence, structure their response, go through what they've got to say rather than throw to them. I'm sure that those little subtle, this is the art of teaching. This is the thing that sometimes in the grand scheme of media, people don't realise all those little intricacies, all those little skills that you build up in your teaching repertoire that we do subconsciously. But that little preemptive question to tell a child that in about 60 seconds they're going to have a question. So you start thinking now, then you go then you throw and they've actually had the ability to form their response and can fully participate in the conversation.

Greg O'Connor (23:41):

Hey, I like that. Then you go and then you throw. That's just kind of, that's another-

Brett Salakas (23:47):

Before you go on, I've been starting to do something in the past few years and I know it's not as instructive as what you were just describing there with the tool and being able to give the students the agency and everything. But in the broad scheme of building up vocabulary and sentence structure and even enunciation of vocabulary and things like that, how much of a technologically, how much of a game changer have audio books been? To be able to jump in the car, I had one of my sons doing his HSC last year.


He was reading the book, one of the old Tim Winton ones I downloaded on Audible, every time we jumped in the car and we drove to footy training or whatever it was, not only was he getting it at school, then it was playing and he was hearing it and then I could prompt the question because you not even deliberately as a teacher, just like, oh what's happening there and all that sort of stuff and all those sorts of things. But being able, we went on a road trip last summer and I downloaded "Ready Player One" and it was like this 11 hour book and we listened to a "Ready Player One" over the summer drive.


But that's a game changer in you are still getting exposed to language hearing, correct sentence structure, phrasing, vocab, pronunciation, all of those special things that we get when you do read and you maybe aren't reading those 4 million words a year, but you can still expose and cocoon students and children in a chrysalis of language.

Greg O'Connor (25:27):

And spot on. And at least on that toolbar you now have, there's a little feature that lets you turn text into an MP3 file. And so yes, I'll actually have done work with post grad students who will get some quite detailed texts they'll use Read&Write to turn it into an MP3. And on the way to uni in the car, they'll just play it back so they can actually, and they can repeat it a few times because often you understand much quicker sometimes through your ears than through your eyes.

El'ise Bothe (25:56):

Most definitely, the amount of times that I've sat in a classroom and read something and never absorbed it. But then as soon as someone speaks to me and talks to me about it, I've got it. It's amazing. And it's funny, we talking about the audio books and stuff like that. I look at the old newspaper that used to scare the daylights out of me. The words are so tiny, there is so much text on there that I run away. It gives me sweaty palms thinking about it. But now I've been able to use podcasting in different ways to actually absorb the information and take world news in has been phenomenal for me because I can actually feel like I can be a part of the conversation. And my husband loves to talk about everyday news so I actually feel like I've got something to bring now since I can actually listen to it. And yeah, it's been a really important time in my life that I can actually feel like I'm not part of it and not feel like the outsider.

Greg O'Connor (26:53):

And that's really, so a really good example of that is, and it's about reading, it's with a kid that had written something and he had to get up at a school assembly and he could not get up and read it out, it was his writing but he was, for whatever reason I won't go into, but he just couldn't do it. So what he did, he actually just wrote what he had to do. He wrote, it was like a presentation. He then used Read&Write but use the program to actually read it out. He actually recorded the MP3, stood up at assembly. He stood there, pressed the button and it read. And as far as he was concerned, he was reading it. It was his words. And I love that idea that we're using that kind of technology to provide multiple different ways that kids can engage in the same process.


And he was fully engaged in that process. Whereas before that he wasn't going to do anything because he couldn't read. Hey can I just say that, and that kind of idea of writing, you only write words that you know and that you can spell and you only know words when you're exposed to them. So if you are only ever exposed to words that you can only read yourself, then you're never going to get exposed to the vocabulary. You need to be able to talk more deeply and more fully about what you need. So the more you read, by the age of 16 avid readers will read something like 400 times more texts than an non avid reader. And so we just got to give everybody opportunity to dive in and have stuff read and along engage with that text. And speaking of that, so another thing in the report was in the survey was it showed that 43% of people surveyed said they had no idea that that support was available to them through in their education.


They actually didn't realise that they could have got help in whatever they did. El'ise do you you find, I mean you've had a journey for yourself and for your kids now. I mean I'd rather ask you what are some of the highlights about the kind of support you've been able to find and the aha moments in your life and your kids' lives that you've been trying to remove these barriers, get rid of these, the idea that words are holding them back.

El'ise Bothe (29:17):

I think the biggest aha moment for me was that when I finally got my diagnosis is that I wasn't stupid. I thought I had so much insecurities, so many insecurities around me because I was that little kid that got pulled out of the classroom and I was so ashamed of it and I never could quite understand why. And my teachers back then didn't understand why there was no pinpointing me for being, having certain literacy. They knew my literacy wasn't, it wasn't amazing but there was no pinpointing my diagnosis. So if I only look back at the tools that we have now back then how far I could have come and what I could have achieved if I had those tools in my kit. I remember just being told to repeat-read constantly and to tell someone that had, I didn't have glasses so my eyes were extremely slow, they were lazy. Telling someone to read constantly when one, it's the biggest problem I probably had at the time to my anxiety around being felt or feeling stupid was there as well.


So I already had these piles of issues that were continuing to pile up on me. Yeah, it broke my heart as a kid to think that I was alone because it wasn't spoken about back then. And I feel now today it's exciting. I first looked at my kids and noticed when they were reading they were jumping words, skip jumping and obviously saying words in different directions. And it was really interesting because it was at such a young age, it was about three or four that my eldest started doing it and I went, the aha moment for me was he's got dyslexia. This is okay. We know now how we can work with this. I know what to do as a parent now. I know that I need to start acting on it early to be able to remove those horrible feelings that I did as a child. And it's exciting that I have different text tools or tools my kit to be able to do so.

Greg O'Connor (31:25):

And Jacinta we know a lot about, there's a lot of good practice around literacy and teaching reading for instance. And actually for everyone watching and listening when you go to our website for our Words Can't Hold You Back website. There's a link to teacher resource, there's actually a link to teacher resources, there's a link to parent resources and also workplace resources. But the teacher resources, we've got a great bunch of resources there and they're all around what we know about good literacy instruction, what we know about supporting comprehension, what we know about supporting so many those things. We do know a lot about teaching reading and don't we in our schools?

El'ise Bothe (32:07):

Most definitely. The small little things that I'm wishing that I had back then was even highlighting text for me would've made my world so different and or bringing up the size of a font. Everything they do in the classroom now is 20 times what they did before when I was at school. So the fact that we've moved in the right direction is amazing. I just wish little old me had those opportunities back then and I went to a fantastic school.

Greg O'Connor (32:39):

Yeah, I'm going to do a shout out here and say that because I often get asked, I mean I've just been away and doing some training and get asked, "Has reading gone down the googler?" Are we not reading as well?" And my response is, one is that we know so much more about teaching reading and we do such a great job. But the other thing is I think that we have a lot more people who we finding out about who struggle because one of the major reasons is we have to read now more than we've ever had to read before. When you think about Brett using Twitter, where does a young person go to actually find out what's happening? They go to social media and what do they need to be able to do? They need to be able to read and write. My kids don't ring me. They text me and so I want to talk to them but no, no, I've got to do the texting stuff.

Brett Salakas (33:37):

They text you, do they text you in words or emojis?

Greg O'Connor (33:40):

Well I've got to decipher all that and I think there's a dark art there that I don't understand sometimes. And maybe that's intentional, but.

Brett Salakas (33:49):

My point there though is, it's that the comprehension and the ability to be able to cipher the messages is what's crucial in that. We have different types of communication for different formats and different social settings. So I'd like the way I would structure an email that I'm writing to my boss or the texts that I send to a loved one or the quick message that I send to my kids that clean up your bloody room before I get home. Something like that. They're all slightly different structured sentences, slightly different phrasing and different intent on the way you present that. But being able even to break down those subtle variations in intent and comprehension and meaning. These are all crucial parts to culturally unpacking the meaning of words.

Greg O'Connor (34:44):

Yeah. And sometimes words can get in the way. So I've just flown back this morning as I was telling you guys before we started this recording and of course in the back of, sitting in the back of the plane you-

Brett Salakas (34:55):

That showing off of your travels just because you have got the passport with a lot more stamps that-

Greg O'Connor (35:02):

You don't get stamps anymore. But anyway, in the back seat is the instructions on what to do if you're going to fall out, there's going to be some issue and you pull out those instructions. What do you notice about those instructions? There are no words, they're all images because they want you to understand really quickly and they've realised that if that's the best way to actually do it, so yeah, hey look-

Brett Salakas (35:30):

That's the IKEA instruction methodology, right?

Greg O'Connor (35:35):

But that makes sense in that, I mean the object of putting together that cabinet that you bought from IKEA, you're not being assessed on the ability to read and write. You're being assessed on the ability to put this thing together. And so we've removed those barriers, those words have been removed because that's not, wasn't the purpose of exercise. And that's I think happens in school so often is that we put words first as a barrier to get to the learning. And we're not assessing words. I'm in science, I should not be assessing your ability to actually use grammar and spelling. I need you to understand what photosynthesis is. I don't necessarily need you to actually... Why am I getting you to be marked on your ability to spell the word rather than understand what that word actually means.

Brett Salakas (36:21):

That's right. Like 60% of every mathematics test is basically a literacy test because you need to unpack the wording and the problems and the phrasing before you even get to the mathematical exercise.

Greg O'Connor (36:34):

Yeah. And mathematics is a great example where you've got words that are homophones like pie and pi and then you've got confusable words and you've got take away the word take, in phrases that mean multiple things. So it's very, very confusing. So one of the things from, and we've already touched on it a little bit, one of the things come out of the report was 71%, so a big number said that they thought that some form of technology would've been helpful to them in overcoming their literacy difficulties during education. I'm sure you've all got an opinion on this, Jacinta, you do this every day and what you do in your classroom, you use educational technology. Is it a bad thing or is it a good thing that you use technology in the classroom?

Jacinta Keenan (37:26):

I think I'm so biased and I think it comes back to I'm so addicted to technology and using it in my classroom every day because I was that little kid at school who had trouble with the reading and it's... For me it's that enabling tool. It's that breaking down the barriers. And I have to explicitly say to my students, we were doing a maths assessment yesterday and I had to remind them to use their voice to explain how they worked something out. Because I said, "I'm not a, you don't have to type it. You more than welcome if that's what you'd like to do. And if that's how you can express yourself, that's fine. But I'm not assessing your literacy skills. I want to know I'm assessing your numeracy skills and your understanding of fractions. So use your voice." So I think, yeah, the reason I'm so addicted to technology and using it every day in the classroom is because it just, it's an enabling tool.

Greg O'Connor (38:24):

And sorry, just stop you there. So tell me, you said use your voice. So how did they use their voice? How did they all, did they all shout out to you at once going, "Miss, this is how I did it?"

Jacinta Keenan (38:34):

I guess yes, sorry. Into the iPad we use an app called See Saw, so quite often. They will take a photo of their work and then I'll get them to just put a little audio button on their See Saw task and just record how they did it.

Greg O'Connor (38:55):

Leave a voice note with that.

Jacinta Keenan (38:56):

Yeah. Yep, yep. Essentially yeah. Which, and then becomes a really important tool in the classroom for assessment later on. Because I don't know about other teachers but I know once a child has spoken to me about how they're doing something, I then listen to 29 other children that are explaining how they did something. I can't remember that. So it becomes that really good tool for teachers as well to have that evidence of where children are at with their learning because I think we're a lot more accountable than what we were in the past for students and making sure their learning gets to the next stage of where they need to be. So yeah, finding the right tool is so important and showing the children explicitly how to use those tools so that they can access them when they need.

Greg O'Connor (39:44):

And so technology can be used both as an instructional tool like a remediation tool. So there are lots of programs that support reading instruction but also, so what we've been talking about really is tools that actually compensate for the fact that you're not in a remediation class, you're not actually learning to read at the moment. You're actually in this class where you've got to get on and read stuff to. You've got to read to learn so to speak. And so it's actually using tools like voice notes and text to speech and I think you mentioned highlighting El'ise All those kind of tools. And I think what often gets confused with people is they think, "Oh if I give this to the kid. If I give them text to speech, they're never going to learn to read."


And we know that's not the case at all. In fact, for older kids, they've already checked out right haven't they, they've already kind of gone, this is too difficult, I'm not even going to do this. If I can reengage them... A good friend of mine's name's he's, Kevin Honeycutt, he talks about you got to hook them before you can cook them. You got to get engage them and actually, and then the remediation can kick in. They just in, they work together. Remediation and compensation works together.

Jacinta Keenan (40:58):

Totally. Totally. Like my students, particularly when they're doing writing, sometimes they might use, they might type their writing instead of handwriting. But a really good tool for them is when they're using that Read&Write toolbar on the iPad. They can type use the predictive text but then listening to what they've written back becomes that really important tool for them to be able to edit their writing. Because I've got lots, I teach early years so lots of children who have trouble with literacy, they're sounding out their words but they're doing it phonetically and then they go back to edit what they've written. They can't tell you what they've written because it's so jumbled with the spelling choices they've made and so forth. So it's that integrated approach. It's not doing it in isolation, it's doing it in the classroom.


And children can do it discretely in that way too. They can just grab it when they need to. Even simple things now of if I've given them a piece of paper with something to read, taking a photo and now even just the camera app on the iPad will recognise the text and you can press long hold and it will speak to you. So just doing those little things discreetly means that we don't have to remove those children and have those remedial lessons in the classroom anymore.

El'ise Bothe (42:20):

My daughter did that last night and she thought she won lotto. It was, she was, "Can you believe what this actually did mum?" I'm like, "Yeah." It was so, it was just to see her little face light up was unbelievable. I could actually still hear her running around the house. She was that excited. So yes, it's a very good tool, that one.

Greg O'Connor (42:40):

And so if you were to future gaze into the future and kind of go, okay, so what can we do? The report has said is this is big numbers that people struggling and that impacts upon all the things we do. Parents have said if only we knew more. Obviously technology is important more and more. I can ask each of you I guess to think about where to with all this. If I start, if I kick in first and say it's kind of like one of the things is that just have the tech available that for instance using technology. I love that idea that technology's not technology if it was invented before you were born. So lots about kids will just have an expectation that technology would just be there. Eventually kids won't think that's magical. They'll just think, "Oh that's what it does. That's what I need to do." And I think that's what I think is important.


I think ultimately for me, you can't actually teach to the future because you don't know what it is. But you can give the tools available to remove words that do hold us back because we've got lots of stuff we can do to remove those. So that's my two cents worth if I was future gazing. Anybody else want to throw what they think the future should look like?

Jacinta Keenan (44:04):

Similar to that Greg, I think it's removing the stigma that they can just grab the devices and it's for everybody. It's not for just the children that are having difficulty with their reading. It's for anybody at any time to grab the iPad or their Chrome Read&Write toolbar and have it spoken to them. Because I think as El'ise mentioned before, it does, once you hear something being spoken to you, it goes in so they're reading at the same time. They're still reading, they're seeing the text that's highlighting on the toolbar as it's reading the words to you. And that can be really powerful. And so I think allowing students and even in the workplace outside of school, whatever they're doing, allowing them to use that technology whenever it's necessary to help them.

El'ise Bothe (44:56):

Yeah, most definitely I agree. And it needs to be available to everybody. And like you said, that as soon as you remove that stigma, the amount of people that will openly and honestly come out saying, "I didn't realise I had literacy problems until those tools are available." It's such a valuable thing in terms of costings and pricings for me, like with my children, before we went on the show, we were very strapped for cash. We couldn't afford a lot. So tutoring was out of the question. We were trying our best with schooling, three young kids, one wage. So in terms of tutors and spending monies on tutors one on one every single week, we couldn't do it. When obviously we won a bit of money on the show.


It gave me options to be able to source outside. But if I had this in the classroom, if I had this on my devices that was available for my kids to use it any time myself, my mum, oh my gosh, we would've been so much better off than where we are now. So I'm excited that there is options, but yeah, I just wish that, I wish there was more, well not such a financial burden on the families because that also offers stress.


It also offers a lot of mental health issues as well. It's just a vicious cycle if it's not available to everybody. And that's my personal experience, the fighting, the arguing on not being able to give your children what they need is so heartbreaking. But yeah, I do believe it needs to be in every single classroom around the world really. So yeah, that's my personal story.

Brett Salakas (46:40):

That's a really important point. And I think as a society that's some of the really big questions we need to look at and address. And I think I just want to say thank you for raising that as an issue because that is one of the real big challenges. Because we have, you know what the reality is, we do have a lot of solutions. When you ask Greg, can we future cast, can we look forward? A lot of the stuff that we have, we actually have right now. It's just being aware of it, being able to accept, find access to it and implement that sort of stuff. I cut you off there Greg. I know you were going to say something. I've got about a thousand answers for your question. Before I dive in, I'm going to let you say what you've got to say.

Greg O'Connor (47:22):

I was just, all I was going to say, Brett was following from El'ise wouldn't love that your mum had access to that when you gave her that Jimmy Barne's book. If she could have got that Jimmy Barne's book as a book, but maybe as a digital book too and she would've just listened to it, right?

El'ise Bothe (47:39):

Oh my mom a 100% yeah see my mum struggle. You Brett.

Greg O'Connor (47:44):

Yeah, I was thinking of Brett's mom with the Jimmy

Brett Salakas (47:48):

You're asking can I say something?

Greg O'Connor (47:51):

No, no can't you see I'm looking at you Brett. I'm looking.

Brett Salakas (47:56):

No, no, I was going to say future casting, having a little, looking at the old crystal ball. I think the answer is do you know what? It's immersion. Whatever technology that we can use that can immerse students in language, immerse them in vocabulary, hearing things like El'ise were talking about podcasts before, being able to hear the audio books be, anything that can expose children to aural language, new words, new phrasing, new technologies, all that sort of stuff. This all adds up. There's not just what it once was where you had to read, as we open this discussion, you had to be a member of our library. You had to borrow paper books and you had to read 4 million book, 4 million words. I think Greg said it at the beginning of the year. We don't only need to go down that road. There are so many technologies that we can wrap around us in our periphery of our existence that can expose students to new phrasing, new vocabs, even on YouTube being able to jump on YouTube and hearing how they do that and all that sort of stuff.


And they can be exposed to things that they previously were impossible for them to be able to be exposed to and learn how to do. I think podcasting is going to be, is one of the big things. Like podcasts are becoming more and more mainstream. But I think actually schools setting up podcasting stations so students can in their own time and it take away that stress of, hey, I have to respond in front of everybody on time in that exact moment that I've been asked, all that sort of stuff. Being able to withdraw, have some time to consider, maybe write a script, do my research, get the words ready, and then actually record a podcast on the history topic that they're doing, or record a response to the book that they happen to be reading and then actually share that language. These are all things that we have the technologies to do now.


We just need to start embedding them around it. There's a tool that I love right now, it does a little bit of, in one very small fraction of some of the largest suite that Texthelp has, but there's this great tool called Synesthesia that I love and it's this AI tool it makes like these, kind of spooky deep type of things where a student who doesn't have either the ability to speak or the language or the confidence or whatever, he can actually type written text, put it into this tool. They select the avatar that they want and an AI generated person can appear and actually speak and read for them so they can still communicate. They're still learning words, still building on their written knowledge and their understanding of language, but be able to have another entity actually share that for them so they can still.


Like you say, Greg, have that agency to fully participate and be fully included within the learning cycle. Then I think all of these things are just magical and the more we wrap these around the experiences of our children, the better off they're going to be because of it.

Greg O'Connor (51:18):

Yeah, and for me, ultimately then what happens with that kind of stuff, it gives, I'm just think you go back as a teacher, it gives me time then to do my teaching and to actually sit and do the remediation with those kids and do the explicit instruction around what reading is and it just opens up all those opportunities. And again, I would everyone listening and watching, I'd recommend that you go to our website and then we've got a whole bunch of resources, particularly around literacy instruction and what is good reading instruction and all that. And again, going back to that idea of remediation and compensation, these two things, they all work together. I love that idea that I might get shot for saying this, but technology won't replace teachers, but maybe teachers who use technology will replace those who don't. That's all I'm saying. But there's a lot more we could talk about. You're just getting warmed up Brett, and I'm going to have to cut you off.


It's been there is so much in this report for you to actually unpack and think about. What we're going to be doing over the next 12 months is really wanting to actually start this conversation. And there's a lot more to talk about really about are words holding us back? Well, we think words shouldn't hold us back and we want to have this campaign where we want to actually raise this level and raise the awareness. So thank you to El'ise, Brett and Jacinta for joining us today.

Jacinta Keenan (52:55):

Thank you.

Greg O'Connor (52:57):

And providing your own perspectives on this very important topic for me, the number one topic. It's an issue that affects everybody. Clearly the research is telling, it affects everybody and we all have a role to play in removing the stigma around literacy and helping break the literacy cycle, I think. So everyone listening and watching, be sure to visit Texthelp's website and download the research report. If you've got any thoughts about what we've chatted about, please join the discussion. You can do that by using the hashtag, it's long. Hashtag Words Can't Hold us Back.

Brett Salakas (53:38):

Don't put the apostrophe in the hashtag.

Greg O'Connor (53:41):

No, no, no apostrophe. That's it.

Brett Salakas (53:44):

For rookie social media users, putting the punctuation, the hashtag breaks.

Greg O'Connor (53:49):

And don't put the word apostrophe in the hashtag either.

Brett Salakas (53:52):

Don't put the word apostrophe in there. Yeah, yeah, that's it.

Greg O'Connor (53:55):

Yeah. So thank you guys, it's been fantastic. I look forward to catching up with each of you again sometimes soon. And everybody else, until next time, thanks for joining us.

Donna Thomson (54:08):

Thanks so much, Greg, for hosting the session. And thanks to our panelists, El'ise, Brett and Jacinta for sharing your insights and experiences. I really enjoyed the discussion and I hope our listeners did too. So before I go, I promise to share three things with you. So here they are. First up, one thing to know. So adults with low levels of literacy are more common than you might think. 56% of Australians who took part in our survey said they have difficulties with literacy during their education. And when a person struggles with reading the long term social impacts are profound. One thing to think about, there are a lot of negative feelings associated with literacy difficulties. It can cause frustration, embarrassment, and can have an impact on everyday life, both at work and at home. And that's why it's so important that we make our content as accessible as possible.


We use plain English short sentences and try not to use jargon words. So when we write, we should focus on being understood instead of trying to sound clever. One thing to do, as we've mentioned in this podcast, there are a lot of people who feel their literacy skills, let them down. So the Words Can't Hold us Back campaign carries an important message. We have lots of resources for you to check out on the campaign page. If you'd like to find out more, visit And that's us for today, folks. If you found today's discussion interesting, why not subscribe to the show so you can catch the next episode. Search for Text Help Talks on your preferred podcast player or streaming service to subscribe from there. Thanks for listening and have a great day.