Born and raised in Auckland, Brigid Lowry is a young adults' author, poet and short story writer. These are the thoughts that followed our collaboration with Booktrack in 2014 - a New Zealand company with bases in Auckland and San Francisco, who have been creating soundtracks for downloadable e-books since 2011. In recent years, the company have developed Booktrack Classroom, a site dedicated to schools where their technology can be downloaded for free, and used in conjunction with sharing tools that allow teachers to control the security settings around their students’ work.
Recent research undertaken by the University of Auckland backs-up the vision of Booktrack’s creators.
The technology has also caught the attention of investors, technology groups and the media across the globe by winning numerous innovation awards and hitting the recommendation lists of the Huffington Post and the Silicon Alley 100. If listening to a soundtrack can help to immerse a child in a book, imagine what creating a soundtrack could do for understanding the structure of a story. We decided to collaborate on a pilot project, and take Booktrack Classroom into a couple of member schools in Auckland.
The next step was to choose a couple of great writers who were experienced at visiting schools and willing to take on a new challenge. In preparation for the two sessions, Craig Wilson from Booktrack provided training sessions for the New Zealand Book Council team, the writers, the school librarians and the teachers. Watching the two writers at work also allowed us to understand the support that both Booktrack and the Book Council would need to provide in order for Booktrack Classroom sessions to be widely available as part of a Writers in Schools visit.
Brian Falkner’s previous experience, enabled him to take a creative writing workshop that then went one step further so that all the students developed a soundtrack that went with their words. Ted Dawe was also able to run a creative writing workshop with Auckland Girls’ Grammar School, but as a newcomer to the technology, called upon the expertise of Craig Wilson to teach the final component of the session where the students worked on their soundtracks. Both schools now have the technology, trained teachers, and experienced students, that will enable them to continue to use Booktrack Classroom as an optional tool for their teaching if they choose to.
As a result of our pilot project, The New Zealand Book Council can see the value that this technology could add to a child’s capacity for reading and creative writing.

Like all good companies, Booktrack’s offering has clearly evolved with the engagement of their users. The New Zealand Book Council are working to identify some online tools that could help to engage, and develop students’ reading and creative writing skills, at home or in the classroom, so that we can share our findings with our school members. The marriage of music and story has been employed to bring knowledge to life long before the written word was even created.
Their patented technology tracks the speed at which you read, and they also have a platform that allows you to craft your own soundtrack using their vast library of custom composed music and sound effects. On average, students aged between 10 and 14 years of age experienced an almost 20% increase in comprehension of what they were reading, experienced 35% higher satisfaction levels, and read for up to 30% longer. The turning point came when I was struggling to focus on my trusty paperback in a busy airport terminal. Hobsonville Point Secondary School, is a new decile 9, co-educational school with a mix of ethnicities. TVNZ Breakfast covered the inaugural session with Brian Falkner and everyone involved watched with delight as the students engaged with the concept almost seamlessly. These topics aren’t traditionally combined in the classroom, and if a student does not show a natural aptitude for any subject, their focus is gradually taken elsewhere as they progress through the curriculum. Any interested school can download the free software and see if the sound tracked books, or the sound tracking tool would be useful as part of a lesson plan, a school project, or simply as an alternative way to engage a student. Not only do Booktrack’s downloadable e-books entertain and engage readers, their foresight in developing an expansive sound tracking tool means that they have opened a door to new users, which can help to inspire and develop creative writing skills. There were also potential benefits indicated for reluctant readers and students with learning difficulties that may be investigated in the future. The school combines curriculum subjects into blended learning modules, rather than teaching each subject in isolation.
We noticed that students intuitively began editing their work and analysing their story structures in order to synchronise the critical moments in their writing with their chosen soundtracks.

Using these two creative mediums symbiotically helps to keep a student’s mind open, and can take advantage of their strengths to support themselves in areas they may be less enthusiastic or confident in. Like any good online tool, you certainly don’t need to be trained by a professional or have a writer on site to make the most of it. I may not have chosen the most riveting read, but the music helped me to filter out the turmoil around me and I read for much longer than I had planned to do.
Auckland Girls’ Grammar School is a decile 3 school, with a predominant Pacific Island and Maori population and a more traditional teaching framework. Despite each being armed with headphones and devices, the students weren’t working in isolation.
The platforms are intuitive and easy to learn, and Booktrack Classroom has a number of video tutorials, and an email support system for registered schools. So why couldn’t a soundtrack inspire a piece of new writing in the mind of a student? Both schools have great school librarians who were open to trying something new with their students.
Imagine a child at home, surrounded by siblings playing, TV blaring, pots and pans banging in the kitchen. If a self-confessed bookworm can’t filter out the distractions, how hard must it be for a half-hearted reader?

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