Back in 2007 I started, as an NQT, with my first ever class of Year 3 children. They ranged from a P3 to a 4c in literacy. I know I am dating myself already with the mention of levels!
At times it was a struggle to give them all a voice. I had no teaching assistant and we did not vertically set for literacy so I was on my own trying to give all children the chance to progress in a vast subject.
One girl in particular stood out for me and emphasised my plight (and hers). She was a tremendously gifted speaker. She was keen, bright, enthusiastic and in literacy her whole face would light up during the carpet time part of the lesson. Her input was enlightening and her poetry, in particular, showed real promise and was often full of ideas that were far better than my examples – straight off the top of her head.
She would give example after example, eagerly passing on skills and knowledge to other classmates around her day after day. So we would eagerly all stand up and move to sit at the tables to write down our amazing ideas. And off she would go, face glowing. She would sit down, pick up a pencil. And stop. And stare. And stare. And nothing would happen. Her face would gradually darken and frown as she met with the frustration of not having the skill to write down her ideas.
My heart went out to her day after day. Her classmates would try and help. But as soon as she held a pencil it was as if the connection from the brain was broken and her beautiful poetry flew away, no longer tied to her like like a floating balloon.
So one day I brought a dictaphone to class. We did a literacy lesson on storytelling and I asked her to record her story into the dictaphone. No writing. No pencil. No blank paper.
The words flowed from her freely and her face was aglow with excitement. We played it back to the class in the plenary and she was delighted. The class erupted into applause at the end.
The next day we did the same again but this time I asked her to play it back to herself a sentence at a time and write it down. So she did and this time ended the day with a piece of work for the display board – and something I could mark to prove to the “powers that be” that her talent was indeed as amazing as I thought despite her previous low test scores and lack of written evidence.
And that is where www.gettingintoliteracy.com started. I started using podcasting with pupils who found the pencil-to-paper relationship tricky. Then we moved on to making films – children would draw pictures to go with their story, podcast the script then put the two together in Windows Movie Maker to create a video to be proud of and these finished articles would go on YouTube – sharing their excellent work.
Podcasting and film making were by no means INSTEAD of writing. But for these children they were giving them an outlet for their ideas and an incentive to help them with writing down the words from their head! It started with speaking and then writing and moved on to them writing scripts in advance and then producing more professional films from their scripts.
Since working in school I have gone on to work as a consultant sharing these techniques with other schools around the UK – showing how technology can be a tool to improve literacy (and every other subject but that’s another story!) rather than the shiny tech being the end goal in itself. All of these projects are cheap and easy so there is no school in the UK who could not afford to do them. However there are many schools around the world who cannot even afford this basic technology, or who have no wifi access to enable them to podcast, blog or any of the other tools synonymous with digital literacy nowadays in the UK. There are also still millions of children with no free access to school at all.
I now work for Pearson and in my role as Champion Schools Coordinator see great ideas shared from schools across the country and beyond. In my new role I have left this website and blog woefully neglected as it has not always meshed well with my day to day role.
However, last week John Fallon launched Project Literacy and I got all excited again! You can read his blog post for yourself here to find out about why Pearson are backing this five year project to ensure that everyone in the world has a level of literacy which will enable them to reach their goals and aspirations – and find the talents such as the young poet I taught back in 2007.
You can set your own challenges for Project Literacy here and have your say in what projects are funded around the world and add goals for the team.
Whilst I am not one of the team working on Project Literacy myself I have decided to do my bit by reviving this website and blog and writing all the ideas I have been thinking of for the last two years – hopefully that somebody, somewhere will be able to use them to make a difference to someone else, somewhere!
I also recommend that you support http://www.sendmyfriend.org/ whose mission is to “support every child’s right to go to school” around the world and who do this not through collecting money (although funds always help too) but by raising awareness and keeping this message at the forefront of the minds of the world leaders who can make this happen. Get your school signed up and involved to ensure every child in the world has access to free education.
And start challenging Project Literacy so that the next five years are a roaring success!