Taking WordSmart to the world

Taking WordSmart to the world

As a teacher you are more likely to remember the kids that create ways to avoid doing work by acting out or becoming the class clown and of course you remember the ones that  shine. That’s how it was for Paul Blackman former primary  school teacher, Guidance Counsellor and Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour with 40 years experience in education.

 When Paul was in his second year of teaching he had a class of year 8 students. Two of the students tried very hard but for whatever reason had major issues with literacy. 

“My heart went out to them. I could have spent all day with them but I had 34 other students who I needed to spend time with and I didn’t know how to help them. I had no knowledge about dyslexia or any other learning difference.” 

That was 40 years ago and understanding what was happening in a child’s brain has been his passion and driving force ever since. This has led to running courses on the practical applications of Neuroscience for educators.

The logical next steps were to make this knowledge scalable. So he began a journey  dedicating 6 years to developing the Wordsmart application. WordSmart uses storytelling to mimic the way our brain naturally learns,  gamification to engage readers, and teaches the basics of reading. This includes CVC words ( three letter words), sight words, rhyming, decoding and the shapes of the letters. (Graphemes)

WordSmart has invented a new word by changing the word “dyslexia,” meaning difficulty with words, to “prolexia” meaning proficiency with words. Prolexic students are given a number of multi-sensory tools which enhance and accelerate their learning.

Using  Lexplore an assessment tool developed in  Sweden can track the children’s eye movements and record the words they fixate on to provide significant information on a students reading performance including their reading age, their percentile rank, position on a bell curve and by definition if they are dyslexic. All for a fraction of the price $20 and taking approximately  5 minutes.

 Lexplore also measures fluency which is needed for a student to achieve advanced levels of comprehension.It gives our tamariki the  ability to make inferences and critically evaluate text.

With the current situation in education, if parents want to get their child help from a teacher aide they require a private assessment from an educational psychologist the cost is somewhere between $500-$ 800.

 The outcome is generally that the child is assigned a teacher aide who often lacks the tools to remediate the child’s learning differences. The report diagnosing  dyslexia is often really challenging for a lay person to understand and the outcome doesn’t help the student.

 Initially assisted by a grant from the Callaghan Foundation, and a considerable sum of his own money.Paul’s intent was to help New Zealand meet its commitment to the United Nations conventions on The Rights of The Child. The desire was also to promote the best outcomes in literacy for all learners and this has proved to be the case.

 While he has engaged with New Zealand schools,and worked with individual children, Paul has also just returned from overseeing the deployment of WordSmart in Fijian schools with dramatic results.

 “Not everyone is wired to learn language the same way, but one of the most amazing things about our brains is that they are flexible. Neuro-plasticity, means the brain can adapt to change  the way we learn to read. 

 That ability is the focus of WordSmart’s tools and applications,resulting in profound changes for children diagnosed with dyslexia” says Paul.

 It follows then the World LiteracyFoundation would be interested in the work that Paul has been doing with WordSmart, and with that in mind, he submitted a proposal to make a presentation at their World Summit at Oxford University next year. 

 The summit will put WordSmart squarely in front of some of the World’s preeminent specialists in dyslexia and learning difficulties. 

 Taking WordSmart to the World Summit is obviously a massive opportunity for the company, and one that Paul relishes. “It’s exciting and gives us hope for our children’s future” 

 Little did Paul realise, when he submitted his proposal, that one of the organisers of the World Summit was Joe Ghaly. Based in Australia, has been working closely with Paul working to get Lexplore established in New Zealand and Australia. 

 “I have to be sure that the science is really solid. “Our goal to provide a bespoke solution to all learners is challenging and our solution aside from our app is to use assessment tools which offer the opportunity to provide targeted interventions. Lexplore is based on the work of 50 scientists over the last 30 years.

 Paul is  now a part of  the World Literacy Foundation Task Force, to help generate interest and funding to support the work of the Foundation.

 “The values of the task force we are part of, dovetails perfectly with our own. Education is fundamental to the economic growth and social wellbeing of our communities. It opens access to opportunities for all age groups and lifts the living standards. Wordsmart’s involvement will multiply our results.”

 This is not rocket science but what is needed is a vision which promotes and provides proven tools to achieve it. The World Literacy Foundation’s vision is to eradicate illiteracy Worldwide by 2040. New Zealand’s expertise will now become a part of this.

 Paul says in relation to the personal testimonies as with Nevaeh’s (opposite) and there are many. “We will of course always offer it to locals and Johanna and I are locals. The key thing I would love to see happen is related to assessment. We can pick up children with dyslexia issues in four to five minutes and then we need to execute proven techniques starting with a change in mindset to accelerate our country’s literacy standards”


Renee Dekker and daughter, Nevaeh, with WordSmart creator, Paul Blackman[/caption]“It was quite a few years ago and Nevaeh was attending MBAS.

WordSmart Informer

Renee Dekker and daughter, Nevaeh, with WordSmart creator, Paul Blackman

There was something not quite right with her progress in learning and we got some help from a lady called Erin Young (from Social Workers for Schools). She spent a lot of time trying to help us and Erin intuited that Nevaeh had a form of dyslexia. She worked with us for a year and in that time referred Nevaeh to have a sensory processing assessment. This was a process of assessing audio, movement and touch sensitivity and response.

From this we knew that Nevaeh was experiencing her class environment as overwhelming to the point that she was not able to process any material. For her, it was ‘fight or flight’ going into that environment. Erin was such a solid person during this time; she stayed with us determined to alleviate Neveah’s dyslexia and our concern. Erin remembered that one of her relatives Blair Murray was working on the graphics for a computer application called Wordsmart, for a man named Paul.

One thing led to another, and soon after, we met Paul and Johanna.(his wife). They were so willing to assist Nevaeh on her journey.

With this, we started schooling from home as Nevaeh had lost quite a lot of confidence, and her mindset was she was not good enough.

Paul set us up with a week’s worth of work based on Wordsmart. The change came quite quickly, in one or two months. We were blown away by her progress, with Nevaeh becoming proficient with words rather than disabled with words. Her spelling and reading kept on improving and she rapidly advanced. It is not just about literacy, but also confidence, self-worth and behaviour.”

Renee (Mother)



WordSmart Delivers in Fiji

WordSmart Delivers in Fiji

 The Informer recently featured a story “Did I Read That Right?” 5 July 2022) on WordSmart, a local initiative designed to help dyslexic and other children with learning difficulties, achieve better results in English literacy.

To recap, WordSmart.app is a hybrid reading programme aimed at beginner readers. The app provides the basis for students to become successful readers, by mimicking the ways our brains naturally leam to read, using stories.

At that time, company principal Paul Blackman and his partners were about to leave for Fiji, where the Government had committed to deploying the program in Fijian schools.

Fast forward a few weeks, and Paul is excited about the success of the project in Fiji. The excitement began on first arriving at the Delainamasi Government school, which was the first school to be selected by the Fijian Government for the project.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, has been a sponsor of the project, which aims to provide IT solutions that complement the schools’ existing programs. This School has been selected as the pilot school to provide a model for other schools wanting to provide digital solutions for all Fijian students, and every one of the school’s 103 new entrants has been issued with a tablet.

Paul’s first impressions of the School were overwhelmingly positive. “There are signs everywhere which provide inspiration, instruction and motivation for all the students,” he says. “The students are respectful, receptive and responsive and I’m really impressed by how fast they are learning to decode words to learn the basics of reading. I could teach here for the rest of my life. It’s so exciting to be teaching kids who truly want to learn.”

The WordSmart pilot is supported by Dhiraj Bhartu who heads up educational IT for the Ministry of Education and Prof. Som Naidu who was the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific. While in Fiji WordSmart has been invited to apply for a grant which would enable them to roll out the WordSmart app for the whole of Fiji and the Pacific region.  

Paul’s right hand man Blair Murray had taken on the role of providing the technical expertise to install the application on Samsung Tablets for all the 103 year one students. When he arrived it was clear he needed to be a “jack of all trades,” including sourcing portable internet Wi-Fi. Thanks to Blair the Delanamasi Govemment school is now able to provide all year one students with sufficient access to wifi to run all three classes. WordSmart has been able to utlilse the skills of a development team that includes Seba Illingworth, Eric Hogan and Stephen Knightly to overcome some quite complex
technical challenges. The team left the teachers with sufficient knowledge and skill to maintain the solution.

With WordSmart now will and truly established in the school, Paul is able to return to Whitianga, feeling a mixture of relief and excitement knowing the application has been left in safe hands.




Delainamasi Govt School Selected For Tech Enhanced Learning Project

Delainamasi Govt School Selected For Tech Enhanced Learning Project

Delainamasi Government School in Nasinu is the first school in Fiji selected by the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts for a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) project.

Minister for Education Premila Kumar confirmed this during her visit to the Northern Division.

Ms Kumar said one of the best things that ever happened was the 2021-2022 revised budget, where the Ministry of Economy had given money to the Education Ministry to set up a school which would symbolise how a future classroom should look like.

She explained that this would be in terms of technology and the arrangement of the classroom where they want to move away from chalk and talk learning, to more discovery and creative learning.

“So we are setting up Year 1 at Delainamasi Government School as an example of how we can teach students using technology,” Ms Kumar said.

“We should be able to show that to the heads of schools and encourage them to use that model and advance teaching and learning in primary schools.”

She said they would start from lower classes and then move to high schools later.

Ms Kumar said they have just received the money for this project and a special team was working on logistics.

She said they were hoping to start the project soon but a definite time frame was yet to be confirmed.

Ms Kumar said we live in 21st century and it was more about technology.

“Considering the pace at which technology is developing and how technology is changing our lives and the way we do things, surely on that basis we need to change our education system,” she said.

“So that there is technological advance seen in classrooms, the way we teach our students and the way they are learning.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Education’s permanent secretary Anjeela Jokhan has confirmed that about $108,000 has been allocated for the TEL project.

“The team is working on getting quotations for tablets and facilities and looking at different learning applications which would best suit the teachers, students and the classroom itself,” Ms Jokhan said.

School’s head teacher Aminio Kaivuaqava said to be selected was an honour and privilege.

“We are indeed looking forward to the project as it will greatly assist our children and most importantly it will equip them with IT skills which are needed in this age and era,” Mr Kaivuaqava said.

He said they have 1025 students with 25 teachers.




New technology to address growing literacy gap in schools

New technology to address growing literacy gap in schools

A new piece of software for schools aims to address a growing literacy gap by identifying students – particularly in low socio-economic areas – who may have dyslexia.

New Zealand literacy company WordSmart – alongside Sweden company Lexplore – have created a literacy package to assist students struggling to read by targeting the area in the brain that they have difficulty with.

It uses a mix of teaching techniques and technology that traces a student’s eye movements and is being piloted in a number of schools including Ngāruawāhia High School.

Principal Chris Jarnet​ said it will have huge benefits to New Zealand schools that are under resourced to cater for the growing number of students with learning difficulties.

Dyslexia – one of the most common learning difficulties – has been officially recognised in New Zealand since 2007.

It’s believed at least one in seven students have dyslexia in New Zealand according to the Ministry of Education, but there’s no centralised data collection or standardised assessment or screening for it.

More parents since the Covid lockdowns have also reported learning difficulties such as dyslexia in their kids.

WordSmart marketing manager Blair Murray, left, and founder Paul Blackman.
WordSmart marketing manager Blair Murray, left, and founder Paul Blackman.

“They’ve got a real gift, but it’s just misunderstood.”

The technology – while not a replacement of a diagnosis – can identify a students’ literacy issues in around four minutes.

It follows the eye movements of a student in milliseconds while they undertake a number of tasks tailored to their age level, including reading and recall.

It picks up letters and words the student struggles with to generate a report – that only a teacher or principal can see – showing the level of literacy and what support could be given in class to see them improve.

Nervousness is also taken into consideration – with the developers recommending the test be done more than once by a teacher they feel comfortable with if needed.

Of the decile-two school’s 299 students, over half have some form of learning difficulty, he said.

While each school has learning support, teachers whose role is to cater for the neurodiversity of every student, it takes a lot of time and effort to support those struggling, he said.

“It’s a huge issue for us,” Jarnet said.

The software follows the eye movements of a student in milliseconds while they undertake a number of tasks tailored to their age level.The software follows the eye movements of a student in milliseconds while they undertake a number of tasks tailored to their age level.

“A lot of the students come in still on level one (the reading age of a five or six-year-old) and we are getting them to at least level six (the reading age of a 10 or 11-year-old) by Year 11, but my staff are working their butts off to do that.”

While other kids on the lower end of the spectrum may never get picked up, he said.

“We apply for funding all the time for those kids and without a whole lot of history it’s very difficult to get them the support.”

He said having technology such as the app in schools will save a lot of time and resourcing.



Lean to read through gamified storytelling

Lean to read through gamified storytelling

All parents understand the importance of their children learning to read. Becoming a confident reader from a young age is critical to your child’s ability to be able to follow their passions and dreams.

However, due to the impacts of COVID-19 on schooling and education, many parents are faced with the need to move to online learning and homeschooling. This change in structure can have its challenges for parents who are now needing to balance work, parenting and teaching. That’s why it’s important to find what your kids are passionate about, then use that passion to help them find the motivation to learn to read without getting discouraged.

Storytelling is how our brain naturally learns

Did you know that children’s academic successes at ages nine and ten can be attributed to the amount of verbal conversation they hear from birth through age three? Oral forms of language (listening and speaking) are typically the very first methods of communication that kids come into contact with. As they begin to create mental associations from listening and speaking, reading and writing will come more naturally. That’s why Wordsmart uses funny oral storytelling to teach the sounds of the letters

It’s absolutely crucial to start your child’s reading journey at an early age, as between the ages of three to seven, your child’s young brain is highly receptive.

Wordsmart can instill a more positive learning experience and give them the motivation to continue learning through play.
Wordsmart can instill a more positive learning experience and give them the motivation to continue learning through play.

Gamifying the process of learning to read and write

Wordsmart is an app that was created to help children improve their literacy through gamification and storytelling. Based on scientific research and personal experience in literacy, the app triggers your child’s learning sweet spot, by mimicking the way our brains naturally learn using storytelling to teach the sounds of the letters.

By using sound, sight and touch to work through quests and earn rewards, kids will be subconsciously developing phonological awareness, letter recognition, sight words, letter-sound matching & tracing, long and short vowels, CVC words, rhyming couplets and more. Wordsmart also encourages psychological well-being in young learners, helping to support and strengthen healthy core beliefs so that children experience positive emotions while learning.

For children who have previously struggled with reading and writing, Wordsmart can instil a more positive learning experience and give them the motivation to continue learning through play. The app has also been successfully used as an intervention tool for all children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, as a more engaging and flexible alternative to conventional learning.

The creators of Wordsmart want to reframe the idea of dyslexia, which means difficulty with words. Instead, they propose the use of their created word, Prolexia, which means being proficient with words, as this expectation shift may play a huge role in helping kids to succeed.

Wordsmart is designed to help set children up for success through interactive games and activities they’ll be excited about.