Something I missed way back in December but which might be of some small interest to readers comes from the Indie (Dec. 09) and was sent me by a well-wisher.
It’s entitled somewhat hopefully ‘Don’t knock blogging – it’s the answer to our literacy problems’ and claims that blogging is at least one of the answers to getting boys to write. Writing is much more fun if it has a purpose and yes, if you’re wondering, I did get that GCSE so much admired by John Cleese in stating the bleeding obvious!
But seriously, Bev Humphrey from Woolwich Polytechnic, a boys’ school in Thamesmead, south-east London, has been running a writing project (The Write Path) to get boys writing. Schools have finally begun moving on from pen pal mode to harnessing a range of the new technologies and, as an example, Humphrey’s online project has grown to involve forty-four schools as far afield as China, Brazil, Australia and the USA. She has also managed to gain the collaboration of writers such as my old friend Alan Gibbons, who as well as being a children’s author runs the Campaign for the Book, Theresa Breslin, Melvin Burgess and Robert Muchamore.
Humphrey’s initiative is endorsed by research from the National Literacy Trust, which found that half of our schoolchildren think writing is boring. According to the Trust, whose research questioned 3,000 children In England and Scotland,
’61 per cent of those who keep a blog and 56 per cent of those who are on social network sites feel they are good or very good at writing, compared with only 47 per cent of those who don’t engage with text online. Pupils who are active online also tend to write more in traditional forms such as short stories, letters, diaries or song lyrics.’
I’m all for it. Giving children a real purpose for writing is absolutely key to encouraging them to put finger to keyboard – doesn’t quite have the ring, does it? However, this does leave out one crucial factor: before children can read from eBooks, write short stories and so on, they need to have basic literacy skills in place. I’m not saying that teaching children to read and spell, either as catch up or from the start of Reception, is incompatible with introducing the new technologies. Taught well, the two can and should go hand in hand. It just seems a pity that children should have to wait to reach secondary school and an inspired and inspiring teacher like Bev Humphrey to be motivated to want to write.
As I’ve consistently argued: if children are taught to read and write from the start of their schooling, by the end of Key Stage 1 (seven years of age), they should already be confident readers and writers.