Literacy Support in a Remote Outback School

In this post, Greg O’Connor, Professional and Consultancy Services Manager at Spectronics in Australia, provides insight and ideas for teaching literacy skills to students in remote locations that do not speak English as their primary language.  Greg has been actively involved in supporting individuals with diverse learning needs for 29 years.  Read Greg’s bio Here.  Thanks Greg for providing this great and practical information!

I recently spent a week in a small school in a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory of Australia. By remote I mean it took a four hour plane trip, followed by a four hour bus trip and then another 5 hours in a four wheel drive vehicle across the beautiful landscape of the outback to get there! This school is just like any other school I am fortunate to visit, but at the same time it is also a school with almost 100% indigenous student enrollment. All students speak up to three languages including their first language of Ngarinman*.


While English is the second or sometimes third language spoken by students, teaching and learning at the school is in English. Unfortunately the Ngarinman language is currently not a written language, making English the only written text available. My role during the week was to explore with the teachers how to provide literacy support for those students experiencing difficulties with reading and writing in English, using iPads recently purchased by the school.

One of the strategies implemented using an iPad was the use of the app Book Creator, to create learning content in the form of an ebook. The aim was to provide 1. content that had meaning for students, 2. text in English that that was accessible using text-to-speech functionality, and 3. access to audio/spoken content that was in Ngarinman to allow for deeper engagement and learning for the students.

1. Creating content

Providing text for the ebook in Book Creator is simple enough but can be supported in a number of ways on the iPad. For students writing text, they can use apps such as iReadWrite (word prediction and dictionary support) and SymbolSupport (text to symbol support to support vocabulary and meaning) to support their writing.

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For teachers, generating text from various curriculum sources (as in “JGI” – Just Google it!) can be reviewed using the Readability Score app. Text from the source, e.g. website, is copied and pasted into Readability Score, and the app provides a grade level score and reading ease rating.


2. Text-to-Speech options

Using the ‘Speak Selection’ feature in the Accessibility section of Settings on the iPad, all text in an ebook becomes accessible via text-to-speak. Ebooks created in Book Creator can be exported to the iBooks app on the iPad where this feature is available.


3. Audio/Spoken options

To allow speakers of Ngarinman to provide a language translation and to comment on the text that is provided in English, the ‘Add Sound’ feature in Book Creator can be used. Students or indigenous elders can provide the spoken language directly into the app.

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Using the Book Creator app is just one of a number of strategies available on the iPad to support students struggling with reading and writing. I look forward to returning to this remote outback school to read (and listen to) the books created in both English and Ngarinman by students and teachers.

I would like to give a shout out to Jane Ross and her Backpack Classroom project, inspirational in exploring the use of the Book Creator app. Check out some of the ebooks created by Jane and her students here

* There are approximately 145 Aboriginal languages spoken in Australia today

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