Improving literacy with text and tablets

(Last Updated On: June 17, 2014)

Auckland’s Ponsonby Primary School tried an innovative way to help motivate a small group of Year 2 students improve their writing skills. It introduced Samsung Galaxy Notes as part of an accelerated literacy programme and the results were ‘amazing’. 


Kids read and write at a variety of levels. But when a group of Year 2 students were obviously struggling with their writing – despite being relatively good readers – it was cause for concern for Susan Robins.

“We’d identified six students whose reading was within cohort but their writing did not reflect their reading ability,” said the Ponsonby Primary School Deputy Principal and leader of the Junior Syndicate. “The school had applied to join the Ministry’s Accelerated Literacy Programme, so we had some release time to work specially with these kids. This was not instead of the normal programme but as part of it.”

Susan was joined by her colleague Christina Kelly, and with the backing of the school’s Principal and Board of Trustees, set about devising a way to help the group.

“It was very important to have the support and encouragement of the Board and the leadership team, which helped us achieve our goals.

“We asked ourselves ‘why did we think these kids were reluctant to write?’ and ‘what could we do to enhance their writing?’ That was our challenge.”

The school had just acquired a number of Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 devices and it seemed and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put them to good use.

As part of the project, Robins and Kelly conducted a needs analysis that of the six ‘accelerated’ learners. They concluded:

  • Writing lacked structure and organisation;
  • Sentences showed little elaboration or variety;
  • Children used very simple vocabulary;
  • Children rarely used punctuation; and
  • Children have little motivation to write.

“We felt that engaging these kids was very important to our success,” explained Robins. “We had these new Galaxy Notes and thought they could be used not only as effective learning tools but also as great motivational tools. We felt that the engagement of our children was very important.

“Parents and whanau of the whole class were informed by letter about the introduction of tablets into the writing programme. The identified children were also given a letter to explain that they were priority learners.”

The pair set about their task by first collecting a baseline assessment of the kids’ writing skills – against which their progress would ultimately be measured.

“We decided to include the whole class in a writing enhancement programme; the six identified children would be involved in the classroom’s ‘Writing Hub’ and would also be withdrawn for extra help.

“The objectives of the Writing Hub were clearly displayed: ‘We are learning to write for an audience’. We started an ‘Authors’ Club’, and introduced the tablets as a tools for writing.

“The interactive writing was done as a group. One teacher motivating; the other teaching modelling on the whiteboard. All the children wrote ideas, words, sentences, and planning in scrap books. These books were tools for trying out words, recalling words, exploring spelling patterns, and were referred to when children began their writing for an audience.

“The children who were targeted as our ‘accelerated’ learners were grouped together and had the benefit of being guided with their writing each session – unlike the other members of the class who would have a guided writing session once a week. The group was also withdrawn twice a week for work away from their class.”

The class shared share six Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 devices and used S Note as the writing software, which accepts both typed and written input – the latter using the S Pen. However, plans soon evolved.

“The original idea was to use it as a handwriting tool – in actual fact, we found typing also worked well. The predictive text was wonderful.

“The children just loved it. They could write their ideas. They might only put ‘we went …’ and the computer predicted what the next word would be. Remember they can read, so predictive text gave them inspiration. They couldn’t wait to get their ideas down on paper.”

The project lasted four weeks and all those involved showed improvement in their writing. Comments on their performances included:

‘Student A was very keen to use the tablets and quickly understood the idea of predictive text. Within two weeks he was using words and phrases, such as ‘Sadly I was unable to go.’ Interestingly, this skill translated to his written work and the quality and quantity improved in his handwritten work.’

‘Student B’s writing was often structurally incorrect and this was reflected in her reading errors. She was disinclined to write other than her own personal experiences. She improved as she became involved in the Authors’ Club and wanted to expand and share her ideas. She liked the tablets and the ease of editing was advantageous.’

‘Student C had the most dramatic success. He was fascinated with the tablets and the choice of words that would be offered once a few initial letters were offered. The ease of seeing his ideas being created on the tablets excited him.’

‘The engagement level with the tablets was very high indeed with Student D. He was able to teach us all how to take a photo and embed into his writing. HE was a writer who preferred not to make mistakes or take risks. The ease of editing and the presentation of his work appealed to him and he quickly began to write for pleasure and was excited to share is writing during Authors’ Club’

“The tablets were used from a pedagogic view to engage our group of learners. Overall, it was an amazing and very successful initiative,” added Robins. “I found myself learning along with the students. Everyone was very excited by the outcomes. Engagement was high; writing definitely improved. Even though texting was preferred to the pen, we also saw an increase in the quality of handwriting.

“As we’ve moved on, the tablets are no longer a special tool, they’re just part of everyday learning and embedded in what we do.”  

Susan Robins was talking to INTERFACE Editor Greg Adams.

ponsonby-primaryPonsonby Primary School

Opened in 1876, the school moved to its current site in 1921
and was renamed
Ponsonby Primary School (rom Curran Street School) in 1931. It’s a decile 10 school in central Auckland with a roll of around 400 students. The school’s buildings are all network cabled and have full wireless capability. A BYOD programme was introduced in 2012 and the present focus is to “develop info technological capability”.


galaxy-noteSamsung Galaxy Note

The Galaxy Note is an Android-based tablet computer produced by Samsung. It comes in a variety of sizes, from 7-inch to 12.2-inch.

S Note

Developed by Samsung, S Note is an app for creating, editing and managing both typed and handwritten notes (using the S Pen). It comes pre-installed on the Galaxy Note and data can be synced with Evernote for sharing and managing.

If you’re interested in finding out more on the Galaxy Note – or other Samsung products – contact Phil Giller, Education Lead, Samsung NZ, on
021 243 8017 or

Categories: Article, Issue 56

Leave a Reply