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Porirua Literacy Project Champion


The Porirua Literacy Project

Joy Allcock 

Joy is married to Vic (a GP at the Mana Medical Centre) and they have four adult sons and two grandsons. The family have lived in Porirua for the past 32 years.

Joy is an author, publisher and literacy consultant. She runs professional development workshops for teachers throughout New Zealand and internationally. She originally trained and worked as an Occupational Therapist, then in 2000 she completed a Master of Education degree with first class honours at Massey University. She has been working in the literacy field since 1995 and has co-ordinated a number of literacy projects in both primary and secondary schools. Much of her work has grown through working in partnership with teachers and schools in Porirua City.

Although we do have a world-class education system in New Zealand, we are continuing to slip further and further down the rankings in international literacy studies.

Why is this?  Can we change it? Results from a three year project at Titahi Bay School say we can. 

Joy will tell us about the changes made to literacy instruction at Titahi Bay School - the effect they had on children’s literacy achievement and the Massey University project proposed to start in Term 1 in Porirua in 2014 that will evaluate this method of instruction in other Porirua schools. If we can replicate the results achieved by Titahi Bay School, the work we are doing in Porirua will have significant implications for literacy education in New Zealand.

Porirua Literacy Project Champion                     

By Donna Gemaries

Cat and KittenWhy does Cat begin with a C yet Kitten begin with a K?Joy Allcock

Joy Allcock asked this question when she spoke to Plimmerton Rotary this week and it’s probably fair to say that no one in the room knew the answer. Joy was presenting information about the Porirua Literacy Project and she explained the need to teach children to understand how written English works. 

Although the funding for this project is still being finalised, 21 Porirua schools from northern, western and eastern Porirua have signed up to take part in it in 2014.

Joy was originally an occupational therapist, an assessment driven profession and she has taken this focus into her interest in literacy. She has been searching for answers as to why so many children are struggling with reading, writing and spelling. Well, a revolution is on the way. Joy thinks she has found some answers that will help lift the literacy achievement of our children. You can check out her web site here.

Everyone needs to be literate – our economy depends on this.  English is the international language of business but many people teaching it do not really understand its structure. Joy is not knocking our teachers; in fact she is very supportive of them and in awe of the skills and knowledge of teachers in Porirua city. However, teachers have not been trained to teach the system that underpins the English language, which is a disadvantage for them and their students. It is something that needs to be remedied.

Joy presented some statistics from the US that show there is a definite link between illiteracy and crime. 85% of juvenile offenders in the US justice system can’t read above a 9-year-old level. Our prison population shows the same kind of picture. Joy explained the Matthew Effect where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer - those who learn to read early do better and better at school, and those who do not learn to read in their early years fall further and further behind. Research shows that if you haven’t learned to read well by the age of 9 years then you can't catch up with your peers.

New Zealand has a long tail of literacy underachievement. An international study of 10 year olds (PIRLS) shows that New Zealand has slid from the top of the list of schools taking part in this study to 23rd. New Zealand has not got worse – we have stayed exactly the same for 10 years, but other countries have got better. Another international study for 15 year olds (PISA) places us 7th in the list of countries taking part. This could be interpreted as us improving but in reality, many of our lowest achieving students do not take part at this age. Many have already dropped out of school by the age of 15.  Without literacy skills they cannot be independent learners at school so they leave early and contribute to the alarming numbers of illiterate adults in New Zealand society.

25% of children in New Zealand classrooms are failing to learn to read. Despite many initiatives being introduced over the years, this figure has not changed. What we have done is not making a difference. Every school in New Zealand has children not achieving.  It is not just a problem for children from poor socioeconomic circumstances. 

How do we help all children access literacy?

In 2009, Kerry Delaney, the principal of Titahi Bay School (Decile 3) asked Joy to do some Professional Development with the staff and they changed classroom practice in the junior school in 2010. By 2012, 30% more students were achieving at national expectations - 91% of year 3 and 4 students were reading as they should be and 82% were writing as they should be, compared to 60% for reading and 49% for writing before this change in practice was introduced. 

Joy’s theory is captured in her idea of working with what children already know as a starting point - using language as the pathway to literacy. She asked us to imagine a 5-year-old’s brain containing 5 buckets.

Bucket 1 - Vocabulary breadth.
These are all the words a child has ever heard. Some children have a large bucket of these words and some have a small bucket but every child comes to school with a bucket full of words they have heard. Children can use what is in this bucket to recognise the sounds of English.

Bucket 2 - Vocabulary depth or the understanding of vocabulary.
The words that children understand and can use correctly depend on their exposure to conversation, explanation and on their experiences in the world. This bucket will have fewer words in it than Bucket 1.

Filling buckets 1 and 2 is everyone’s job.

Buckets 3, 4 and 5 are not very full and they might be totally empty. Filling these buckets depends on explicit teaching and for the most part this is the job of teachers. 

Bucket 3 contains words that children can read by sight. They have learned to ‘read’ these words by seeing them over and over again. 

Bucket 4 contains knowledge of the alphabetic code. Knowledge of the letters of the alphabet is part of this, but the way the alphabetic code works needs a lot more than just alphabet knowledge. This has not been taught well in the last 30 years. We need to use this code to translate print into words. Some children need explicit instruction in this.

The final bucket, Bucket 5 is empty as it contains knowledge of the spelling system that underpins written English. Teachers often don’t know much about this either! 

We need to teach the code and the system of written English. This is the focus of the Porirua Literacy Project. Teachers can make a difference. Since the February 2013 Education Gazette article about the results at Titahi Bay School, they have had teachers visiting them from all over the country. The method they used is a way of thinking rather than a programme.

Massey University has designed the research project and will evaluate the results. Joy has already held two training workshops for teachers taking part in the project next year. These have been attended by about 90 teachers from Porirua schools.

What can we do as parents and grandparents to help our children to be ready for school?  Joy suggests building vocabulary and experiences and talking about what is happening in the child’s world. She also suggests we play with sounds in words, reading rhyming books and playing sound-based games. Instead of playing “I spy with my little eye something beginning with a letter”, we could play “I hear with my little ear something that sounds like ‘ar’, or ‘p’ or ‘t’ ”. Joy reminds us to tune into sounds. Show children how letters are used to represent sounds, using family names to start with – John has a J to write his ‘j’ sound, Sharon has a SH to write her ‘sh’ sound but Sean has just an S for his ‘sh’ sound.

So why does cat start with C and kittens start with K?

Joy got us to work this out by asking us to think about the spelling of words that start with K – kind, keep, kitchen, kettle, kite, key, kept, kiss, then words that start with C – cat, cup, cot, clap, cry, curtain, car, clue. None of the words starting with C have an I or E after the C (if they did the C would sound like ‘s’ – circle, cent, circus, ceiling). So, we use a K if the next letter is an I or an E, or if the next sound you hear after the ‘k’ is a long ‘e’ sound (key, keep), a short ‘e’ sound (kettle, kept), a long ‘i’ sound (kind, kite) or a short ‘i’ sound (kitchen, kiss). 

There is a system to English spelling after all!

March 2014 is Rotary International Literacy Awareness month. Let’s get Plimmerton Rotary Club behind the Porirua Literacy Project. Let’s make our Porirua schools into leaders of literacy - locally, nationally and internationally.

Editor's note:

Just before this meeting, Joy received feedback from a primary school in Petone. I followed up on the feedback and received this message from Jacqui Pennington, New Entrant teacher at Sacred Heart Petone Primary School.

'The results we have just collated are amazing. In writing last year we were not meeting our target of 85% students meeting National Standard. We are now exceeding the target with 89% at or above. This however for me has not been the only exciting result, it’s the buzz in the staffroom as colleagues discuss what they are doing and seeing in their classrooms. It’s the way the whole school has been able to embrace the programme'.


‘Polio Plus’  -  Championed by Gordon Wellwood -  1985

“I have been asked to tell you a little about our Club’s involvement in the international project of ‘Polio Plus’. Probably because I had been given the job of raising the target allotted to us by Rotary International.

In 1985, and Angus Langbein was our President that year, Rotary International launched ‘Polio Plus’, the first and largest international coordinated private sector support for a public health initiative, with an initial pledge of US$120 million.

Every Rotary Club world-wide was allotted a target and our Club’s target was approximately $7,500. This to come from a membership of 40 – 45.

Believe me, this was a challenge.

The first thing I did was to write a personal confidential letter to every member of our Club, explaining about ‘Polio Plus’ and asking for a donation of $20.  The response was amazing with some members giving up to $100.  So this started us off with our first $1000.

Only one member refused and his name has never and will never be revealed.

The second thing I did was to draw a barometer on a very large piece of white cardboard.  This barometer showed level increments of $1000 up to $20,000 and of course special attention to our target of $7,500.

The barometer was on display at our Club meeting every Thursday and what a delight to show it on the first night with the red total just over $1000.

We had various fund-raisers such as Sergeant’s session, Raffles, and Funny Money Evening.

But probably the greatest contribution was specifying ‘meal refund’ money to go to ‘Polio Plus’.

The red barometer rose rapidly. We soon passed our allotted target and in fact finished raising approximately $15,000.

By 1988 Rotary International had raised US$247million, more than double their fundraising goal of US$120 million and in that year the World Health Assembly passed a resolution to eradicate polio.

At the 2013 Rotary International Convention in Lisbon, Portugal, an announcement was made of an extended fundraising partnership between Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Microsoft).  This extended fundraising partnership is in excess of US$500million.

The number of polio cases world-wide has now been reduced by over 99%, from over 350,000 a year in the 1980’s to 223 in 2012.

However, polio is still endemic in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan and there has been a recent outbreak in Syria.

The 24th of October each year has been marked by Rotary International as World Polio Day and we have all been asked by Mr Dong Kurn Lee, chairman of the Rotary Foundation to, quote, “Strengthen our determination for the work ahead”.

Some members of our club have contributed more than just financially and in 2009 Jenny & Ron together with Carolyn & Graham Wallace travelled to India with a group of 20 from District 9940. They participated in a ‘National Immunisation Day’ over a two day period when they applied polio drops to hundreds of children at clinics and homes in a slum area of Agra.

Our Club has given strong support over the years to ‘Polio Plus’ and I now appeal to you all to continue this support until eradication has been achieved”.


The partnership between Rotary and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation means that for every dollar we raise for polio eradication through to 2018 the Gates Foundation will match it two to one, up to US$35million per year, so our contributions will work twice as hard.  The joint effort called ‘End Polio Now’ comes during a critical phase for the eradication of Polio globally. It is an emergency, and if immunisation is not kept up outbreaks will continue to occur. The recent outbreak in Syria, as a result of the civil unrest over the past three years, has been in children under two, which shows that immunisation has been difficult to keep up with volunteers reluctant to enter the war zone. News a week ago reports a comprehensive mass vaccination programme continuing to be implemented across the region.

What we can do to support the programme is to buy a money box to put in our home or our office or waiting room to put loose change into to join the push to END POLIO NOW.

Please contact to obtain your money box.  An average of $30 / member is all we need to do our bit towards ‘End Polio Now’ or bring along your donation.  All collected funds will be forwarded to District by end of February 2014.   

Cockle Count in the Pauatahanui Inlet  The triennial Cockle Count of Pauatahanui Inlet will occur on Sunday 1 December 2013 - weather permitting! Led by GOPI (Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet), this long-term monitoring of cockle numbers is an opportunity for the community to have hand-on participation in the scientific survey of the harbour ecology. Anybody over 8 years old (for health and safety reasons) is welcome to meet at Stout Cottage, Pauatahanui Wildlife Reserve at 2.30pm (coinciding with low tide) to then be allocated to a team to undertake one of 31 'transect' surveys around the Inlet. Each team is headed by a knowledgeable leader, so there is an opportunity to learn more about the Survey and the Inlet health.The results of the Cockle Count are analysed by NIWA and its report will be publicly available early in 2014.

Great news – e-Learning Porirua has been nominated as one of the finalists for the Porirua Chamber of Commerce Awards. The Awards dinner and presentations are on Thursday 5 December at Te Rauparaha Arena starting at 6pm.  Tickets are $100 each and apparently selling fast, but most Rotarians will be at the Christmas Party so unable to support Wendy and the Trustees who will be attending. Fingers crossed!

Support those who are growing moustaches for Movember – Allan Nichols made a plea to the membership that prostate cancer awareness needs to continue.  Guys - at least get a blood test done.

The Christmas Party for our children and grandchildren is happening on Tuesday 3 December at the Mana Cruising Club:       Start 5pm     Meal 6pm     Adults $20   Children $10  Provide named gift for your own children for Father Christmas to handout. Email Peter Cox  with numbers to

The board has approved funding to:  Mana Coast Guard (from our Melbourne Cup/ Casino Night) - $1000; The Australian Bush Fire appeal - $500; Philippines Cyclone - $500; and Wellington Free Ambulance  - $500.


Porirua Literacy Project Champion

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