A Ground-breaking Approach to Reading

A Ground-breaking Approach to Reading

By Paul Blackman & Blair Murray

We live in a precarious time, which has accelerated the use of online learning tools.

What if we could take advantage of technology for the greater good and empower all children to become successful, life-long learners with a passion for reading including those that normally fall through the gaps due to learning differences, such as dyslexia?

Our history is full of amazingly talented people such as Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Steven Spielberg and Richard Branson, all dyslexic, whose contributions have made a massive difference to our world.

How many of our precious tamarakri, do we have sitting in our classrooms whose contributions we may never see. Sadly according to the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand while 10% of the general population are Dyslexic this climbs up to 90% among prison inmates.

What if we were able to cater for all students regardless of where they find themselves on the learning spectrum? So how do we improve outcomes for these learners?

We believe it’s about changing a child’s core beliefs so that they see their learning differences as an asset and learn to turn their learning differences into an advantage.

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Paul Blackman (Founder)

Our Worldsmart Kids app aimed at children 4–8 years is about providing a foundation for all students to achieve to their potential by tailoring a reading programme to suit their existing skill level.
The games found in the app are inherent in making the learning experience fun. They include storytelling (the brain’s natural way of learning), Phonemes, Graphemes, Decoding and Listening Skills, alongside Mindfulness to support focus and impulse control. This methodology is supported by the latest research in Neuro-Science. Furthermore, artificial intelligence and voice activation allows the student to progress at their own pace.

With competence in reading comes confidence across all areas of learning. The app is not designed exclusively for students with learning differences, but for any beginner reader, including reluctant learners.

The WordSmart Kids app has been built from the ground up here in the Coromandel. The app is constantly evolving as is artificial intelligence as a learning tool. We have a talented team of experienced locals bringing our vision to life; the app is available for a limited time free on the Apple App and Google Play Store.

Paul Blackman & Blair Murray (Published in Seagull Magazine, October 2020).



Educational Neuroscience – Finding your personal learning sweet spot

Educational Neuroscience – Finding your personal learning sweet spot


By Scott Bolland

We are born with a natural thirst for knowledge. Biologically, the highest concentration of happy hormones (endorphins) in our body is found in the learning centers of our brain. This means we are hardwired to learn. It also means learning brings us great joy.

Just imagine what you would rather do – engage in a stimulating activity like reading or drawing or staring at a blank wall? The answer is fairly simple: We are what Jaap Panksepp calls ‘Seekers‘.  We find joy in self-exploration and play. We like to seek and engage in activities that activate the learning centers of our brain. This is how we learn and how eventually competencies emerge.

But if that is the case why do so many kids struggle at school?

The answer is also quite simple: There is a mismatch of how we teach and how the brain actually learns. To understand what this means let me explain a bit more about the learning process.

The learning centers in our brain release happy hormones (endorphins) in an inverted U- shape based on the familiarity of the topic we are learning about. Accordingly, we perceive things that are too familiar as boring and those that are too unfamiliar as aversive. An example would be reading the same book over and over again versus reading a book in a language we do not speak.

In both of these scenarios – too familiar, too foreign, it is unlikely for us to learn. Our brain phases-out as they are not very pleasurable and engaging.

So how do we learn? The answer to this is to find each person’s individual learning sweet spot. Here learning occurs naturally as we are in the flow.

A model created by Lev Vygotsky can help with understanding this approach. He stipulates that it is the things on the periphery of our current knowledge, in the “Zone of Proximal Development”, that extend our capabilities. These are highly pleasurable as endorphins are released making learning enjoyable. Further than that, when we engage in learning in this zone also Dopamin is released making learning highly addictive.


Source: Lev Vygotsky (https://www.simplypsychology.org/vygotsky.html)

If we now bring what we have just learned back into the classroom situation we understand that a set curriculum, at a set pace, leaves some students bored and some behind. With the current approach, only a few students get information on the periphery of their knowledge which means they are engaged, are learning well and enjoying it. Studies have shown that up to 63% of all students in the classroom are disengaged and therefore not learning as well as they could be or not at all.

But how can one teacher tailor the learning content specifically to 25+ students and their individual level of knowledge? This is a daunting task that seems unachievable.

A few years back this would have been an impossible mission. But with current technology around Artificial Intelligence, this is an achievable goal. It can be used as a tool to optimise learning content in a digital context. Artificial Intelligence today allows us to adapt to the students’ needs and capabilities within seconds.

With the advance of fun and engaging digital learning games that keep the students motivated to learn this new technology can be seamlessly integrated into the classroom to support the teacher and the students.

Remember, the ultimate goal is finding the right balance between challenge and achievement to tickle the students learning sweet spot. We want children to learn, be happy and excel. Because happy kids are better learners that live up to their full potential.

Source: Scott Bolland

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