Today's schools are barely recognisable to adults who went to school in a different era. Grandmother Denise Mills and education reporter Simon Collins spent two days in a Year 4 "modern learning space" to report first-hand on the new world. Today: reading and writing.
Maybe, just maybe, modern ways of teaching reading are picking up the kinds of children who once never learned to read.
On the first day of our observations in the Year 4 learning space at The Gardens School in Manurewa, two boys were struggling with their writing.
Their task, set by teacher Carly Kidd, was to show that they had understood a story she had just read to them by retelling it in six sentences.
The book had been loaded onto their Google Classroom so they could refer back to it on their iPads as they wrote their six-sentence summaries in their exercise books.
Some did it quickly.
One girl, who had only recently arrived from Jamaica, was completely flummoxed and didn't write anything.
Others, including the two boys, struggled to write one or two sentences before music sounded over the loudspeakers to signal the morning break.
Two days later, when we returned to the same reading class, the scene was much more animated. All sorts of things were happening at once.
This time, Kidd and the other three teachers in the Year 4 learning space were working with different groups on the skills of skimming text to find key facts.
At one end of the space, Kidd was working with five girls who were sitting on the floor around a whiteboard trying to work out whether the story she had just read to them was fact or fiction.
A lot of the answers had more to do with the pictures than the text: "It can't be true because a real person wouldn't look like that." There was no consensus.
At the more advanced end of the space, half a dozen children were sitting on the floor with low desks in one of the breakout "workshop" rooms where teacher Tracey Kuba was asking questions about a book the children had not read. They had to find facts by using the book's contents page and index to find the right section of text, again working in pairs.
In the larger, open space, a bigger group of children were retelling a story using "Story Mountain ", creating word boxes around the shape of a mountain on their iPads marked "introduction", "build-up", "problem", "resolution" and "conclusion".
Three boys were sitting around a table with teacher aide Silva Mezel learning phonic words "rash", "crash", "dash" and so on.
Another small group, including the Jamaican girl, were downstairs in the library doing one-to-one "Rainbow Reading " with the librarian, Julie Dobson.
And the two boys who were struggling to write on the first day? On this second day they had taken large-sized illustrated rhyming poems from a box and were filming each other reading the poems. They were having great fun - and apparently had no trouble reading the poems.
It was a reading class, but bore little resemblance to the reading lessons that 67-year-old grandmother Denise Mills endured in Mt Roskill 60 years ago.
"In our day it was more textbooks, and the blackboard was used," she says. "We would go into the classroom and be told to turn to page 7 and read paragraph 10 perhaps, and that was our teaching."
"I was the one sitting at the back," she says. "I lost my mum when I was very young so I didn't have any confidence. I didn't have the ability to learn because I was so stressed with my home life.
"The teachers always had their favourite pets, and if you were not the favourite pet that's when you got lost in the system."
The school day then was broken up into six or eight periods. A quick 45-minute reading lesson might be followed by 45 minutes on maths or social studies or nature study.
At The Gardens, the Year 4 students do a long literacy block until morning tea on most days, then a long maths block until lunchtime. Afternoons are for "inquiry" - investigating issues which might combine social studies, science, maths, technology and English.
The system of a large class split into small groups based on ability or interest should mean that no child falls through the cracks.
By Year 4, the more advanced students can quickly read through whole texts, while the slower children, Kidd says, "are still learning their sight words and remembering that a sentence stops with a full stop".
"I think we do quite well in terms of having our students' levels based on the assessments we have done with them, and then we are explicitly teaching them what they need to be able to improve," Kidd says.
There are still traditional spelling lists.
"Using spelling lists is something that at the moment, for our team, we have as one of our homework tasks," Kidd says.
"They get a list of 10 words. They do a mini-test at the beginning of the week, they get little activities to do during the week, and on Friday there is a little test to check that they do know those words."
The children also use a computer program, Spelling City , to test themselves.
In class, the teaching aims to help the children learn the practical meaning of words. For example, a simple picture book, Flea Makes Scones , was meaningless at first for one boy who asked, "Is a scone an animal?"
"He had no idea what a scone was, so there was a lot of learning through to by the end of the week making scones with our teacher aide," Kidd says.
A fifth of the 556 children at The Gardens School have learnt English as a second language. Almost half (47 per cent) are Asian - mostly Indian in this case. Another 10 per cent are Pasifika, 7 per cent Middle Eastern and "other", 14 per cent Māori, and just 22 per cent European.
Across Auckland generally, our European population is ageing and our school children are extraordinarily diverse : 35.6 per cent European, 22.6 per cent Asian, 19.8 per cent Pasifika, 15.6 per cent Māori, 3.9 per cent Middle Eastern and other, and 2.5 per cent overseas fee-paying students.
Schools outside Auckland have changed much less and are still 56.1 per cent European, 28.5 per cent Māori, 7.5 per cent Asian, 4.6 per cent Pasifika, 2.4 per cent Middle Eastern and other, and 1 per cent overseas students.
Overall, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 26 per cent of all NZ Year 5 children in 2015 did not "always or almost always" speak the language of the test at home. (The language of the test was English for 98 per cent of the children and Māori for 2 per cent).
And demographic change is not the only change that schools are grappling with. Increasingly, children of all ethnicities are starting school tech-savvy but with less experience than previous generations of real human interaction.
"Because we are in a digital world, we find that the kids really struggle to understand facial expressions, so it's making them more aware of those things and getting them to make predictions," Kidd says.
The resulting language might be unfamiliar to parents.
"Children might come home saying, 'I've been summarising today', or, 'I've been inferring today'," she says.
"Literacy is actually not just your reading and writing. It encompasses all of the things that we do to communicate with others."
Canterbury University literacy expert Dr Alison Arrow says The Gardens School's approach is "reasonably typical" of NZ primary schools, although many schools have abandoned homework such as spelling lists.
"Families' lives are busy enough. I have children myself and sometimes we just don't have time for it," she says.
"I'm not worried about that because the teachers are the experts in their area, parents aren't."
NZ Principals' Federation vice-president Perry Rush points to John Hattie's famous list of the effect sizes of 252 educational interventions in which homework comes 159th - below, for example, chess instruction (136th).
"Most schools encourage reading at home, and I think that's important because reading with your child is a marvellous way of supporting the love of literacy," he says.
"But spelling lists are falling away in terms of popularity, largely because there is an awareness that rote-learning words doesn't help students hold on to the capacity to spell that word.
"Notwithstanding that, there is an essential job for young students to learn their sight words. But taking lists home every week, as you progress through schooling, doesn't do a great deal."
PIRLS surveys since 2001 show that New Zealand's average Year 5 reading levels were stable until 2010, but slipped by a slight 1.5 per cent in 2015.
The decline was entirely among European children (down 2.3 per cent) and Māori (down 1.8 per cent). Asian, Pasifika, Middle Eastern and other groups all improved slightly.
Critics such as Briar Lipson, of the NZ Initiative, blame the decline on a shift away from teaching children to work out unfamiliar words from the sounds of each letter ("phonics").
"Children who are not reading when they arrive, unless they are taught systematically through systematic phonics, they either never learn to read for learning or it's very slow and they get left behind and the gap only widens," she says.
Massey University surveys have found that 85 to 90 per cent of NZ primary school teachers say they do use phonics in their teaching.
But Arrow, who was one of the Massey authors, says the teaching is not always effective because the teachers themselves don't know basic phonic rules such as using "ck" instead of "k" at the end of words with a short vowel sound.
Although 89 per cent of the teachers answered questions about word sounds correctly, only just over 50 per cent gave the right answers to questions about phonics or word structure.
"One of the things that is difficult is being able to explain how to spell words that have different vowel teams such as 'au', 'ie' and 'ee', and digraphs [two letters representing one sound] such as 'th' and 'ch'," Arrow says.
"They make a different sound. For example, 'sh' is not an 's' sound or an 'h' sound.
"A 5-year-old can learn quite quickly that 'sh' is a different sound. A 5-year-old can go home and say, 'I learnt about digraphs.'
"But the majority of parents today were not taught these things themselves. Parents who are at least mid-40s down were part of the 'whole-language' teaching era, particularly with writing. That is how I was taught. So we have several generations of teachers who don't necessarily know that."
She says England's results in PIRLS surveys have soared since the country adopted phonics in schools in 2007 and started testing all Year 1 students on their phonic skills in 2011.
Some British research has found that the change has helped disadvantaged children to catch up. But in Australia, where South Australia has adopted the Year 1 test and the federal government has been considering it, opponents argue it has failed in Britain.
But Kidd says the system used at The Gardens works, too.
"A third of our year group get pulled out to work with the teacher aide," she says.
"We have gone from kids who started last year reading at level 5, which you expect in the middle of Year 1, and shot up to be reading at [the expected level for] the end of Year 3," she says.
There is a tradeoff. True, as Lipson says, children may hear less of the teacher's spoken language in each class. But, as Mills says, many of the teacher's words in a traditional classroom simply went over the heads of the children "sitting at the back".
"You don't see that nowadays," she says. "The kids are participating all day learning. I don't think you can compare the teaching."
How school has changed
Monday: No more rows of desks .
Tuesday: Learning on devices .
Today: Literacy - reading to understand.
Tomorrow: Maths - the right answer is not enough.
Friday: Self-directed learners.