The magic of online learning boosts kids' reading and writing skills 

Below: Associate Professor Tess Lea with Dr Phil Burgess

A 10-week trial of a new web-based education tool in three Northern Territory primary schools stimulated an increase in the concentration and literacy skills of children struggling to read and write.

The ‘Abracadabra’ software, supported by a $750,000 grant from the Telstra Foundation, is interactive and educational, and designed to help struggling school students aged five to eight years learn basic literacy skills which are the cornerstone for their future learning opportunities.

The trial was led by Associate Professor Tess Lea, Director of Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research (SSPR), who noted that even halfway through the trial they could see that the program was having a positive impact.

“Several children, some of whom couldn’t sit still, became engaged in Abracadabra’s educational gaming format. It offers surprises, competition and rewards, without comparing one student to another. One boy in particular, who struggled with simple letter identification, was absolutely engrossed,” Dr Lea said.

Following training workshops held in Tennant Creek and Darwin, primary school teachers have been taught how to use the software which uses an interactive whiteboard.

SSPR began the Abracadabra trials in the Ludmilla, Milikapiti and Tennant Creek primary schools during May and June 2008.

After seeing the software in action, Dr Phil Burgess, Telstra’s head of Public Policy & Communications and a Telstra Foundation Director, said that the initiative was a great example of the difference that the Telstra Foundation can help make by investing in the education of young people.

“The Telstra Foundation called for projects that would help build social connections for Australian kids through the creative use of information and communication technologies,” Dr Burgess said.

“The innovative work conducted by the Charles Darwin University’s School for Social and Policy Research will have a positive and lasting difference to the lives of the children involved in the program, and its impact will affect more children once the program is implemented across the Northern Territory.”

First developed and implemented in Canada by the Centre for the Study of Learning and Performance at Concordia University, ‘Abracadabra’ has achieved excellent results. Hoping to translate these outcomes, SSPR leads the project in Australia in conjunction with the Northern Territory Department of Employment, Education and Training, and Menzies School of Health Research. It is complementing an existing initiative, the Australian Government’s National Accelerated Literacy Program, also lead by SSPR.

The feedback from students at the schools will help refine the software before it is can be implemented on a state-wide basis. During 2009, three additional Northern Territory schools will test the software as part of the two-year Abracadabra trial.

“Abracadabra has the potential to increase the reading and writing abilities of students in the important early childhood years,” Dr Lea said.

“A student who travels from community to community can access Abracadabra from any school or any place where there is a good internet connection.”