Alison Sutton - Winner 2015

Oral language skills are an important part of learning, and yet research has shown that roughly a third of young people lack the necessary language skills needed to make a great start on reading.

COMET Auckland and Learning Auckland are sponsoring Talking Matters, a collaboration of representatives from more than 30 organisations in teacher education, health, early learning, family services, child development researchers, parenting programmes, family literacy and government.

Talking Matters is raising awareness of the importance of early oral language and will explore ways to encourage and upskill families and educators to provide the richest oral language environment possible.

Two forums have explored the importance of early oral language and school readiness and considered strategies that are effective in growing the communication confidence of children in their first few years. Already some of the participating organisations have made small changes to their practice as a result of the information shared.

Talking Matters is drawing on insights from Alison Sutton’s Winston Churchill Fellowship early in 2015 when she looked at city-wide literacy initiatives. Enhancing oral language in families and in early learning and family services emerged as a key strand of action in the cities Alison visited in England and the USA. Alison has been active in the media, advocating for more attention and action on children’s oracy. We are encouraging adults to talk, sing, read and tell stories to their kids as much as they can – simple, free and easy strategies that make a big difference.

NEXT STEPS: Talking Matters has been in a scoping phase this year. More network meetings are planned for 2015, a work programme is being developed and we are applying for funding to support this collaboration.

If you’d like more information on Talking Matters, please contact Alison Sutton, COMET Auckland’s Manager, Literacy, at


Why Fathers should encourage their kids to read

books_blue_photography_pink_abstract_hd-wallpaper-1879901COMET Auckland manager for literacy and family learning Alison Sutton spoke to about the gender gap in literacy and oracy, and how we can help combat it this Father’s Day and Tuesday’s International Literacy Day.

In Auckland primary schools, 81% girls are reading at or above the standard level for their age, compared to 72.6% of boys who are reading at the same level.

These figures are significantly lower down in South Auckland areas captured by Auckland Council’s The Southern Initiative programme, with only 58.9% of boys reading at or above the standard for their age.

“Those figures are really worrying, because the gaps in literacy between girls and boys widen as young people go through their education journey,” said Alison.

As these boys grow into adulthood, this can result in a lack of the basic literacy skills needed for adults to do their jobs, said Alison, and can have a negative impact on their children’s reading.

“We need to build the literacy levels of parents and caregivers so that our young people can get the best start in school, and adults can thrive in their work,” she said.

There’s a call for an increased focus on literacy for boys and men across the country, so in keeping with the Father’s Day and International Literacy Day theme, COMET Auckland is encouraging fathers and father-figures to spend more time talking, reading and singing with their kids.

If you’re interested in reading the full article click here, or if you want to know more about oracy programme Talking Matters, click here.

Help promote Talking Matters this International Literacy Day

Talking MattersSupporting parents to help their kids learn is the key to getting more children reading successfully and getting the best start in education.

Oral language is the foundation for literacy, so we’re using International Literacy Day – Tuesday 8 September – to promote the importance of talking, singing, storytelling and reading to children.

Before we can read and write, we have to speak, listen and understand, so children need to be exposed to an abundance of language in their everyday lives.

A great way to grow children’s brains is through conversational turns – where the conversation goes back and forth between the adult and child at least five times (this is more than asking them questions).

Here are seven things you can do to support literacy and oracy on International Literacy Day:

  • Dedicate the day to storytelling – invite a couple of parents to tell stories about their lives, or to tell the legends of their families and cultures
  • Read aloud – read to your own kids or have them read to you or each other. Have every class read at the same time
  • Create a random act of reading – grab a pile of books and take your children to read in the public such as the park, a café, or even on the footpath
  • Spread the word – tell parents a couple of simple, free and easy ways to help grow their children’s brain by talking, singing and reading to them. One great idea is to make a collaborative digital book with your children
  • Have a book swap next week – bring in books from home, ask other parents to do the same, and have a book swap
  • With Father’s Day coming up this Sunday, ask all the Dads or father-figures you know to read to their children, and post a photo of it on social media
  • Spread the word to your staff at work by having a short training session about the importance of oral language and consider how as an employer you might help improve literacy for your own staff

Keep up with us online

We will be posting facts, stats and updates about International Literacy Day and Talking Matters on Twitter – you can follow us here.

If you’re on Twitter, use #TalkingMatters in your tweets to help get our message across.

If you want to know more information about Talking Matters click here, or check out the links below for some recent interviews and articles on oracy and literacy:

Let’s Read Them a Story! The power of parents

All parents want to help their children learn, but parents sometimes feel unsure of the best way to help. New research shows that parents with relatively little time and no specialised knowledge can still support their children’s learning effectively.

Let’s Read Them a Story! The Parent Factor in Education, a 2013 OECD report shows that many parent-child activities linked with better reading performance among students involve relatively little time and no specialised knowledge. Key actions parents can take:

  • Reading books to children when they are just beginning primary school
  • Talking with teenagers about topical political or social issues
  • Reading themselves: When parents are interested in reading, children are more likely to be interested too.

The OECD research also highlighted that parental involvement in education is essential for the success of children throughout their school years and beyond.

Reading to children isn’t easy for everyone. Parents who are not confident readers may find it hard to help their children with reading; others may not know the importance of reading to children,particularly younger children. Growing Up in New Zealand: Now We Are Born (Morton S. et al, 2012), the second report in a longitudinal study of children born here in 2010, has found family differences in reading by the time the children were nine months old:

  • 16% of mothers and 38% of fathers in the study reported they seldom or never read to their babies at nine months of age, despite only 2% of parents saying they had no books in the home
  • 4% of mothers and 15% of fathers seldom or never sing or tell stories to their babies.

Helping parents develop reading confidence and skills is crucial if we want to break intergenerational cycles of low literacy.

What would it take to support all families and whānau to read, sing and tell stories more often to their children (including babies)?  Imagine what might happen if every child in the country had an adult read to them 10 minutes a day, every day of their preschool lives!  What would it take if we had storytellers and readers all over our communities so there was reading in parks, libraries, community centres, churches, marae?


APril 14 – Literacy Leaders day- new thoughts

As it happens, the 14th of April was Leaders in Literacy.    Andreas Schleicher Director, Directorate for Education and Skills blogged about the findings of the OECD survey of adult skills and what nations might do about the findings. It made me think about the outcomes I would want from a nationwide strategy on adult literacy.  Many things would be pretty standard

  • Making sure people knew what provision was available, via a national campaign
  • Continuing to  build and support a capable workforce
  • Informing our practice, policy and investment from data; data on programmes
  • Ensuring learners in programmes make progress and are equipped to transition to higher levels of study
  • Working with stakeholders to ensure quality programmes across the system, fit for the diverse purposes of adult lives
  • Developing a research programme that informs practice and policy
  • Growing uptake from most vulnerable and high risk or high need learner

What we don’t have yet is any cross-sector commitment to making a difference. Imagine if a national strategy included:

  •  Working with partners to ensure all government departments and services know about and respond appropriately to the literacy needs of their constituents or clients
  • Working across sectors to reduce the pipeline of young people leaving school with insufficient literacy
  • Commitment to raise the early oral language and school readiness of all our children.

 Thought leaders for literacy in the USA were commenting also, primarily on the schooling system. Their comments resonate with my observations from the Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship

  •  Low literacy and poverty are inextricably linked
  • Cross sector partnerships and collective impact thinking is needed if we are going to make a difference
  • The adult literacy world needs to support and contribute to community-led reading improvement initiatives
  • We all need to think inter-generationally – school reading initiatives or tertiary programmes for individuals are insufficient in themselves to tackle the cycle of intergenerational literacy

Whatever it takes – cross-sector action in Leicester

Leicester has committed to a ten-year programme to raise children’s reading levels, through Whatever it takes. The strategic board of WIT includes representatives from a union, adult literacy, community education, as well as schools.  Last year, their results were the second most improved in the UK, so stakeholders are pleased with their collaborative action.

I met Ellen Lee, the energetic programme leader toward the end of their week-long Authors Week. Fifty children from each participating schools came to autho??????????????????????????????????????????r-led workshops to promote a love of reading (and writing). That equated to more than 5,200 children over the week- a marathon effort.

Interestingly, Whatever it takes is co-chaired by a strategic lead from both the primary and secondary sectors, full-time positions that are funded by the schools themselves.

Early aims included: providing inspirational work outside the classroom to promote reading; supporting schools to take a whole-school strategic approach to reading; and quality staff professional development. School clusters meet twice a year to discuss specific local needs. Targets have  included supporting reluctant readers, ESOL and boys.  Students are surveyed annually about attitudes to reading (as well as what and how much they read) and the percentage of students reading for pleasure is tracking up.

Some students don’t transition well to high school, particularly with low reading ability play. A new initiative is identifying about 300 10-11 year olds who are significantly below reading standard during their last year of primary school. They will be offered support through the end of their school year, through the summer and into the second term of their first year at high school.  Interventions include synthetics phonics coaching, an inspirational day out and being matched with a older buddy from their new high school.

Given our own statistics – 24% of students leaving primary school below the NZ reading standard – and our summer reading slump, a focused programme of support across that all important summer of transition is worth exploring.


r-FINANCIAL-LITERACY-FOR-WOMEN-large570The Auckland Financial Literacy Network met last month at the HSBC House in Auckland CBD, to discuss:

  1. Women’s financial independence
  2. The importance of closing the gender pay gap, and
  3. How financial literacy issues affect young Pasifika women in New Zealand.

There was a fantastic turnout, with the conference room reaching capacity. Guest speakers Kelsi Cox and Saumalu Kali from YWCA highlighted that although the gender pay gap is steadily decreasing in New Zealand, a gap of 9.9% was recorded in 2014 – meaning that women earned an average of $300 less per week than men.

Participants learnt that women in New Zealand face constant delays in their careers, with policy and organisations limiting paid leave and employment. This is a disadvantage for women trying to pay off student loans and contribute to their savings.  For example, statistics show that it takes women three years longer to repay student debt.

More organisations are looking at their diversity policies however, and making changes to counteract gender inequalities in the workplace.

For more information on the work COMET Auckland is doing in financial literacy, or to be involved in the next Financial Literacy Network meeting, please contact our Skills Manager Shirley Johnson at

For the full March 2015 newsletter, please click here.

Let’s celebrate International Literacy Day

Celebrate International Literacy Day

Celebrate International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is on September 8th this year, and COMET Auckland wants to encourage Aucklanders to get involved with some fun reading activities with your family, workplace and community.

Our city has a literacy challenge – 410,000 adults with low literacy and 470,000 with low numeracy.   Low literacy, English language and numeracy limit individuals and families from participation in work, community and active citizenship.  Reading underpins literacy and learning, so reading matters to all of us. Māori and Pasifika boys and men are the least likely to be keen, skilled readers.

Let’s use September 8, International Literacy Day to celebrate reading and highlight the benefits that come from reading. Be creative with work mates, family and your community about Random Acts of Reading.

Here are some ideas you can use to celebrate International Literacy Day.

  • Hold a book-swap
  • Put an item about the importance of reading and reading success stories in your staff newsletter
  • Turn off the TV and read aloud with your kids
  • Set up a whānau ‘speed read’ challenge – who can read the most books over  Sept 7-8
  • Set up a reading flash-mob on the footpath outside the office or in a local park
  • Collect books from people you know and donate them to a prison library, a women’s refuge or a rest home.
  • Get a local sports team to read something interesting after the match or in training
  • Have a special breakfast for dads and sons, where you talk about the value of books men and adults
  • Start a conversation with your local community house,  marae, local adult literacy scheme, English language provider  or school about supporting learners and reading  with them
  • Have a read-aloud at the office; people share a paragraph from a book or poem they love.
  • Ask the men on your staff to read with or to a boy – and photograph it, so we can create a digital story about men and boys enjoying reading.
  • Set up a game of Street Scrabble near you.

September 8th is a Sunday but it sits at the end of Adult Learners Week, so take action on reading any day that week.

Let the COMET Auckland team know what you intend to do and we will record it and link with the ACE Aotearoa ‘Random Acts of Reading Campaign’.

Happy reading!

New Resource: Helping adults learn maths

Numeracy is the use of maths in the real world.

We use maths all the time without even thinking about it. Measuring up for a garden shed, multiplying a recipe for 4 people so it can feed 12, calculating how long a trip will take and how much it will cost or comparing costs of specials at the supermarket are examples of how adults use maths, calculations, shape and statistics in every day life.

If you are helping adults learn a new skill, you may also need to help them with some maths or maths-related language that relates to this new skill.

Here is a resource for tutors that suggests some ways you can help learners build their numeracy skills, without having to be an maths expert yourself.

Embedding and Numeracy: a resource for ACE tutors offers strategies and tips for working with learners who are learning skills that require some understanding and use of maths language.

Let me know if you find it helpful in the comments section below, and pass it on if you find it useful. The resource was developed for Te Kupenga o Manukau ACE Network.

New resource: Helping adults learn new vocabulary

Embedding and Vocabulary

What can you do if you are helping someone learn – to cook, to improve their golf, to use small business software – and it becomes clear they have trouble reading and writing?

Helping the learner to understand the new words that relate to the subject they are learning is a great place to start.

In any new subject there are new words, technical terms and abbreviations. If a person has never heard those terms, it makes it hard to use them, read them or write them down. And sometimes people can read a word but not understand what it means in a particular context. Understanding is key!

I’ve been involved in developing a resource for tutors to help people to learn and overcome the barriers that new vocabulary and words can create.

The Embedding and Vocabulary resource offers strategies and tips for people teaching in the community to use when working with learners who are covering new areas.

Let me know if you find it helpful in the comments section below, and pass it on if you find it useful. The resource was developed for Te Kupenga o Manukau ACE Network.