The University of Auckland’s Summer Learning Journey (SLJ) programme requires Year 4-8 students to blog at least twice, giving them opportunities to read, write and share their knowledge on a digital platform with their classmates, families and teachers.

The nationwide programme is designed to address the dramatic drop in reading and writing achievement many school children struggle with after returning to school from holidays.

The students' work is assessed by a group of qualified teachers, educators and teacher trainees from the University of Auckland who work over the summer to read their blogs and provide feedback.

Original programme leader Dr Rachel Williamson-Dean says it’s a great way to ensure students return to school ‘match fit’.

“Without it, some children return to school having lost up to a year of literacy learning,” she says.

The programme is designed to be flexible and the activities can be completed in any order, and from any location, over the six-week break.

Each year there are different themes such as ‘A Journey Through Time’ or ‘People Who Have Changed The World’.

Students are also encouraged to think laterally, take pictures and create videos, making it both fun and educational.

Teachers say they can identify students who have blogged, compared to those who haven’t, when they come back to school in Term 1 of the following year.

The program was devised by a team of educational researchers in the university’s Woolf Fisher Research Centre and thanks to the support of the Hugo Charitable Trust, the free digital literacy programme is being offered in key South Island low-decile school settings - the Toki Pounamu cluster in Greymouth and the Uru Mānuka cluster in Hornby, Christchurch.

Hugo Charitable Trust donations manager, Julia Hunter, says the Trust is thrilled to be a part of the innovative project.

“We fund a range of medical research and education programmes, as well as helping those with physical or mental health care needs, and supporting social programmes all across New Zealand, and this particular programme caught our eye as we could see the impact immediately,” she says.

At present SLJ operates in 50 schools across New Zealand, with participants generating 31,000 blogs and comments over the past three years.