Key Points:

The end of a Pt England School corridor was transformed into a dedicated podcasting room this year with the addition of a window and a door.

The soundproof space - a modest set-up with a couple of chairs, a microphone and a computer - is an example of the do-it-yourself attitude that made Pt England the first school in the country to have a regular podcast.

Now Korero Pt England, the students' online audio recordings of reviews of New Zealand books which started in 2005, has subscribers in more than 50 countries.

With several new posts a week, eLearning team leader Dorothy Burt believes it is the most prolific school podcast in the country.

A study of the decile-one school's students found the initiative is changing their attitudes to books and may be a factor in improved reading.

"One of the teachers commented that when he takes his class to the library now the kids go in there purposefully looking for books and asking, 'Would this be a good book for podcasting?' " said Mrs Burt.

Mrs Burt was awarded a year-long Ministry of Education eFellowship to study how podcasting could contribute to better reading.

She selected a group of students across a range of reading abilities, including some who did not read books outside of school.

Findings from the first six months showed all made at least six months' progress, which was better than "the norm" for struggling readers.

Some improved their reading ability by more than a year level.

Mrs Burt said struggling readers partnered up with more confident students on the projects, while fluent readers were extended by choosing more complex books.

The podcasting also appeared to hook in male students, who, some say, tend to be less likely than girls to enjoy reading books and writing about them.

University of Auckland faculty of education senior lecturer John Roder said podcasting was still in the emerging phase in many schools but it had the ability to enhance learning.

"A lot of schools shy away from it because it seems to be not connecting to the basics," said Mr Roder, "when in fact if the teaching is there, it will probably do a much better job of teaching the basics."

It taught pupils to find information and to critically examine what they read and heard.

Mr Roder said the Pt England model was "mature" but because podcasting was relatively new, many schools were still learning about it and grappling with the technology.

He expected it to become increasingly common.

The Education Review Office report on Pt England School last year praised its use of information and communication technology to develop students' literacy.

It said podcasting was a "real-life" activity, improved organisational skills and required "increasingly complex oral and written language".

The school's broadcasting history dates back 11 years, when it launched an inhouse TV network to beam student presenters live into classrooms for 10 minutes a day.

The inhouse TV was done on the cheap, with principal Russell Burt installing cables to link classrooms as a weekend job.

In 2001, it started screening on Auckland regional channel Triangle TV at 5.45pm on Wednesdays.

Mrs Burt came up with the podcasting idea on the way home from a conference in the US three years ago.

At the conference an announcement was made about technology to simplify podcasting.

She was also inundated with overseas teachers, fascinated by her New Zealandness, asking her to keep in touch.

She came up with the idea for the podcasts - each of which includes an explanation of a "kiwiana" term - on the flight home.

The school has guidelines for its podcasts, requiring a student to read a book and write a review, looking at the plot, characters, setting and theme.

A teacher reviews the script and, with the student, comes up with improvements or changes.

The youngster then partners up with another student to interview them about the book.

They practise, record with another student as technician and edit before it goes live on the iTunes website.

Subscribers to Korero Pt England live in more than 50 countries.

Mrs Burt said Polish, Thai and Chinese listeners use it in English language lessons.

Students of 21st-century literacies at the University of Texas at San Antonio in the United States are told to have a listen.

But the biggest inspiration comes from letters from "real, live" New Zealand authors, Mrs Burt said, many of whom have written in after listening to the review of their book.


Hooked Pupils
Where: Pt England School.

What: First school in the country to have a regular podcast, with pupils as young as 6 now posting recordings of New Zealand book reviews online several times a week.

Why: To use technology to hook students into lessons.

Result: Early research findings show improved reading across all abilities and an "attitude change" to books, particularly among boys.