Establishing literacy as a pleasure

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With the surge in popularity of digital communication comes a requirement for everyone to use their literacy skills across a rapidly expanding range of contexts. Children growing up in the digital age are very motivated by the possibilities of ICT, so why not harness this enthusiasm and link ICT to literacy to encourage learners?

Here, Catherine Thornley discusses the proven benefits of linking ICT to literacy in the classroom and how this approach can be extended to encourage parents to support literacy development using a few simple ICT techniques at home.

Establishing the foundations for literacy skills at an early age is of utmost importance in order to prepare people for adulthood. As revealed in the Government’s literacy research paper, ‘Literacy and Social Inclusion’, literacy is hugely important and “underpins all educational achievement and is central to economic advance; it helps develop human potential and raises self-esteem.”     

For a number of children, literacy can be an area in which they struggle, and this may consequently cause them to form negative opinions about it. However, establishing good literacy skills at a young age can provide cross-curricular benefits for learners helping them to improve in other subjects, such as maths and science. If a child does not begin to grasp basic literacy skills early on in life this may result in them feeling disengaged which could negatively infringe on their development; not only their educational development but also social, both as a child and into adulthood.

ICT and literacy in the classroom

If early literacy skills are key to success, how can schools work to engage all pupils in attaining their potential? The Government recently introduced the renewed Primary Literacy Framework, which includes developments in ICT that can enhance literacy learning. Becta’s report ‘The Importance of ICT’ also examines ICT in primary and secondary schools across the UK, and it revealed that using ICT raises standards across the curriculum, particularly in English. Examples of how ICT has successfully supported literacy includes the use of talking books to raise standards in reading at Key Stage 1, whilst writing at Key Stage 2 was seen to improve, even in those pupils identified as reluctant readers and writers, when the use of the internet for research was encouraged.

Specifically relating to boys and literacy, using ICT was found to be a positive medium to motivate underachieving boys in studying poetry. Becta’s report also demonstrated that one of the schools visited whilst conducting the research particularly focused on utilising ICT to help improve boys’ writing skills. Students showed a high level of engagement when a visiting author encouraged them to change the size, colour and style of the text to reflect the words being used: for example, “enormous, blue eyes.” 

As the role of ICT in literacy increases in the classroom, teachers may also consider encouraging parents to introduce some simple ICT techniques at home.

The significance of parental support

It is well recognised that parents have a key role to play in encouraging good literacy skills. According to Warwick University’s Professor Alma Harris, who was commissioned by the SSAT to undertake research on parental engagement, “Parents play a vital role in the development and education of their children and this research shows that the biggest impact is when they are involved in their child’s learning within the home environment.” Entitled ‘Engaging Parents to Raising Achievement – Do parents know they matter?’ the report reveals that positive parental engagement extends beyond school activities and encompasses parents and teachers collaborating to support learning both within the classroom and in the home (www.

The Literacy Framework states that parents should be encouraged to explore fresh techniques for helping to improve children’s literacy. Making it as simple as possible for parents to become involved is key and ideas listed include introducing home-school contracts which emphasise the value of work at home to support a child as they practice reading. There is a recommendation that parents should aim to dedicate twenty minutes a day reading to or with their child.

Engaging busy parents and encouraging them to become involved in supporting their children with literacy can sometimes be a challenge. Work commitments and the stress of adult life may make it difficult for a parent to find the time to help their child with literacy. In some situations, parents may face their own literacy struggles, therefore shying away from becoming involved. It is also important to note that as well as ensuring activities are appealing to children, they also need to appeal to parents. The Literacy Trust states that according to a US study, fathers who choose reading material that appeals to them personally are likely to spend double the amount of time reading with their child.
Reading books remains a crucial activity for parents, but if barriers such as work commitments or parental literacy issues exist, or if parents are keen to explore some different ideas, then it may be worth exploring the potential of ICT related activities at home.

Making literacy a pleasure in school and at home

We can see the significance of parents taking an active role in their child’s literacy development, and that the key to success is finding activities to motivate and engage both children and parents. The introduction of ICT-based resources within school provides a great foundation for building a child’s enthusiasm for literacy, which can be further developed through parental support at home.

Classroom resources work most effectively if they are able to captivate and hold a child’s attention. For example, a resource such as Smart Learning’s Interactive Literacy is a CD-ROM designed to capture the attention of Key Stage 1 and 2 learners. The resource’s visual content supports teachers in injecting excitement into literacy using animations, interactive texts, writing scaffolds, audio support and videos across a wide selection of genre. Resources that provide a factor of entertainment, such as Interactive Literacy, mean that rather than literacy activities being a chore – they become a pleasure.

Whichever resources or techniques are selected, the most important part of successfully engaging children in literacy is to maintain an element of fun, both in school and at home. Used creatively technology can offer ways to inject fun into literacy, creating an environment where literacy skills are more likely to flourish.

Catherine Thornley.
Smart Learning is an independent publisher of educational resources


Simple ideas for using technology at home to support literacy skills:

  1. Choose reading material that appeals to both parent and child. This idea can incorporate technology too – for example, instead of reading from a traditional hard-copy book, utilise ICT by allowing children to listen to a tape or CD recorded version of their book, enabling them to hear different character’s voices. In the classroom, children can then relay the story; either via writing using the PC for older children, or for younger children, as a drawing / painting.
  2. Encourage parents to use a digital camera, which could be loaned by the school, to photograph a family day out or weekend activity. Children can then bring in their photos and create personalised story books, writing their own captions and discussing them with the class. 
  3. Following a family film night, encourage older children to write a short film review or discuss everyone’s ideas for an alternative ending.
  4. For parents who are not confident with ICT, schools could hold parent-child workshops where children and adults collaborate and use the internet to research an author or a story they are reading at home. For parents who are confident with ICT and have internet access in the home, set children a task in which they research an author and then type this up using a word processor to compile a fact file. 
  5. At home with parents, children could either search online or through a cookery book for a healthy-eating recipe which they can bring in and bake at school.
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