Taking Wordsmart to the World
By John Pratt
As a teacher, you’re more likely to remember the kids that can’t take learning for granted, as well as you remember the ones that shine. That’s how it was for Paul Blackman. A former secondary school teacher with 40 years experience of education, Paul was struck by a couple of his Year 8 students, whom he regarded as exceptional kids, struggling to overcome their difficulty with basic literacy.
That was six years ago now, and Paul Blackman is off to speak at the World Summit of the World literacy Foundation at Oxford University in 2023. In that six years, he has dedicated much of the time, working on his WordSmart application, helping people attain proficiency with written language (see our story on WordSmart in The Informer on 5 July, 2022 -check website). Essentially, WordSmart uses an AI tool called Lexplore to objectively measure fluency, and applies gamification( elements of game playing) and storytelling to engage readers around the meaning and semantic intent of words. WordSmart intends to challenge “dyslexia,” meaning difficulty with words, to become “prolexia” meaning proficiency with words.
Initially assisted by a grant from the Callaghan Foundation, and a considerable sum of his own money, the intent was to help New Zealand meet its commitment to the United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child. While he has entertained some engagement with New Zealand schools, and worked with individual children, Paul has also just returned from overseeing the deployment of WordSmart in Fijian schools, with dramatic results.
Renee’s Personal Testimony - Whitianga
“It was quite a few years ago and Neveah was attending MBAS. There was something not quite right with her progress in learning and we got some help from a lady called Erin Young (from Social Workers for Schools). She spent a lot of time trying to help us - Neveah and our family. Erin intuited that Neveah had a form of dyslexia. She worked with us for a year and in that time referred Neveah to have a sensory processing assessment. This was a process of assessing audio, movement and touch sensitivity and response.
From this we knew that Neveah was experiencing her class environment as overwhelming to the point that she was not able to process an material. For her, it was ‘fight or flight’ going into that environment, Erin was such a solid person during this time; she stayed with us determined to alleviate Neveah’s dyslexia and our concern. Erin remembered that one of her relatives was working on the graphics for a computer application called Wordsmart, for a man named Paul.
One thing led to another, and soon after, we met Paul and Leah (his wife). They were so willing to assist Neveah on her journey. With this, we started schooling from home as Neveah had lost quite a lot of confidence. Her mindset was she was not good enough. Paul set us up with a week’s worth of work based on Wordsmart.
The change came quite quickly, maybe one or two months. We were blown away by the progress, with Neveah becoming proficient with words rather than disabled with words. Her spelling and reading kept on improving. She rapidly advanced. It is not just about literacy, but also confidence, self -worth and behaviour.” Renee (Mother)
“Not everyone is “wired” to learn language the same way, but one of the most amazing things about our brains is that they are flexible. We have neuro-plasticity, meaning we can adapt and change the way we learn, and that’s the focus of WordSmarts tools and applications,” says Paul.
It follows that the World Literacy Foundation would be interested in the work that Paul has been doing with WordSmart, and with that in mind, he submitted a proposal to make a presentation at their World Summit at Oxford University next year. The summit will put WordSmart squarely in front of some of the World’s preeminent specialists in dyslexia and learning difficulties, such as Professor Guinevere Eden from Georgetown University Medical Centre.
Little did Paul realise, when he submitted his proposal, that one of the organisers of the World Summit was Joe Ghaly, based in Australia, who had been working with Lexplore prior to Paul’s interest in the tool. Taking WordSmart to the World Summit is obviously a massive opportunity for the company, and one that Paul relishes. “The values of the task force we are part of dove tails perfectly with our own. We know that education is fundamental to the economic growth and social wellbeing of our communities. It opens access to opportunities for all age groups and lifts the living standards. Wordsmart’s involvement will multiply our results.”
Paul has now also been recruited to the World Literacy Foundation Task Force, to help generate interest and funding to support the work of the Foundation.
Paul says in relation to the personal testimonies, and there are many, “I have to be sure that the science is really solid without my personality. I do strive to be involved and ensure each child has what is right for their learning, but now is the time to transfer to large numbers. We will of course always offer it to locals. Leah and I are locals. The key thing I would love to see happen is related to assessment. We can pick up children with dyslexia issues in four to five minutes. With Lexplore ( from Sweden), we can track the children’s eye movements that reveal stress and inability to process what’s going on. With the current situation in education, if parents have to get a private assessment, they are referred to a psychologist. The outcome is generally that the child is assigned a teacher aid who does not understand the ‘fluency’ the child needs to be able to learn. We have a great programme and a process to help the children. Fluency is the main issue when it comes to learning. Fluency measures the ability to gain meaning, working and progressing within the person to advanced and sustained levels of comprehension.
This is not rocket science. The brain has the ability to re-invent itself. This is neuro-plasticity, the brain’s flexibility overcoming the interferences of stimulation some children have with hearing, sight, touch. The brain can re-create a clear pathway.
Caption- Paul , Renee and Navaeh.