Friday, 25 September 2015

The "Classical" Way to Promote Literacy?

Edge author Katie Dale questions whether cheap classic novels are really the best way to promote literacy.

This week I was thrilled and delighted to be invited to open the new library at a local primary school. At a time when many public libraries are closing, and school budgets are tightening, this was particular cause for celebration. The love of reading at the school was evident, with murals of pupils’ favourite book covers adorning the school walls, and nearly every child  raised their hand enthusiastically when asked who enjoyed reading, scrambling to tell me what their favourite book was – titles that ranged from The Hobbit to The Gruffalo.

School libraries have also been in the news this week, with Nicky Morgan, the Secretary of State for Education, declaring her determination to improve pupils’ literacy. This is an important issue, especially as “evidence shows that children who develop strong reading skills early on are more likely to succeed at school, achieve good qualifications and go on to succeed in their adult lives and the world of work.”

However, part of her strategy is that “every secondary school
should have sets of a wide range of classics so that whole classes can enjoy them together – books I loved as a teenager by authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Emily Bronte” and she’s calling on publishers to give collections of classics to schools at a reduced cost.
Whilst cheap books for schools – whose budgets are ever-tightening  – is always a great idea, I have to wonder whether this focus on the classics is really the most effective way to promote literacy? Or whether it might actually backfire?

Classic novels, whilst wonderful, aren’t the easiest or most accessible texts for reluctant or struggling readers, and even the way that they’re deemed  “good for you” – and the fact that they’re on the national curriculum – can be an instant turn-off to teenagers.  I’ve always loved reading, but remember long hours struggling to plough through dense, dry, set-text classics as a teenager – and the relief of diving into a fast-paced contemporary book at the weekends, which I devoured by the shelf-full. But many of my friends were put off reading for pleasure, and now, in the age of social media, video games, the internet, and smart phones, reading as a pastime is struggling to compete more than ever before.

Consequently, does it really matter what books kids are reading, as long as they are enjoying reading? Nicky Morgan cites the classics as the books she loved when she was young, but I’m not sure how many modern teens would really put them at the top of their list of books to read for pleasure, and surely this is the true key to improving literacy? If a book is accessible, enjoyable, funny, exciting, fast-paced and relatable, won’t teens be more likely to read all the way to the end and, more importantly, pick up another book afterwards? In which case, might a mixture of popular contemporary titles - including graphic novels - be more successful, at least in the first instance?

After all, as most teens these days have smart phones, the classics are already available free of charge – as ebooks.

Katie Dale is the award-winning author of YA titles SOMEONE ELSE'S LIFE and LITTLE WHITE LIES 
Simon & Schuster UK
Delacorte Press USA & Canada

Friday, 18 September 2015

Love Football, Loathe Reading? Premier League Reading Stars Can Help.

Edge author Dave Cousins explains how a love of ‘the beautiful game’ can inspire an interest in reading for reluctant readers.

Premier League Reading Stars is an innovative programme run by the National Literacy Trust in partnership with the Premier League. The scheme is designed for schools to use with target groups of children aged 9-13 years who “love football but lack motivation to engage with and achieve in literacy.” Building on evidence that footballers can influence the way young people view reading, PLRS offers a range of resources for schools that tap into children’s passion for football. Results show that participation in the project can have a significant impact on attainment and attitudes to reading and writing, particularly among boys and those on free school meals.

Since kicking off its inaugural season three years ago, thousands of children have enjoyed taking part in Premier League Reading Stars. A 2014 evaluation reported that three out of four children taking part made at least six months’ reading progress during the ten week scheme, with one child in three making a year’s worth of progress! 

“On average, the reading progress of participating pupils was 50% higher than peers not taking part in the programme.”

A third of participants go on to join their local library, and the number of children who develop a daily reading habit as a result of the course is more than double. Nearly two thirds of the children involved say that seeing Premier League footballers read, made them want to read more. One of the participating school’s Ofsted report stated: “Both their reading and writing scores rose considerably as a result of their involvement in this initiative.”

The new enhanced programme for 2015-16 includes a wealth of resources and benefits, including:

—1 year membership to the National Literacy Trust Network. 
—Author events with a range of venues, dates and authors.
—New season resource pack (for 20 children) including teacher’s manual, children’s activity books, certificates, stickers and posters. 
—recommended reading list for 2015-16, including the best of football-related reading online. 
—staff training sessions, held regularly across England and Wales, (September to November). 
—NEW mixed box of 20 books specially chosen to appeal to reluctant readers .
—NEW access to our updated website, with interactive challenges, competitions and quizzes, plus entry to the National PLRS Competition with the chance for pupils to win tickets to Premier League matches.

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football, written and illustrated by Dave Cousins is out now, published by Oxford University Press.

Friday, 11 September 2015

All Change by Bryony Pearce

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about change.

I’ve been going through a lot of changes in my personal life – in the last year my mother has died, my family has moved house and the children have moved school accordingly. The first book in the Phoenix series (Phoenix Rising) was published and the sequel will be going to print in December. I wrote a book that is coming out (in America) in November and sold another to Telos. I performed at the Edinburgh festival and have a number of events planned for the next couple of months. A lot of changes. I am not the same person I was a year ago.

This specific date, September 11th, has its own associations with great change. On this day, the world itself changed course.

It seems strange to me, as someone who remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news came in, that when I go into schools to speak to students they see this date as history, something that happened when they were babies or in some cases before they were even born. They don’t remember the world as it was before ‘the war on terror’, they know nothing else. To my generation the World Trade Centre attack isn’t history, so much as current events, the repercussions are still ongoing, changes are still being made.

As writers our central focus is change; we launch our protagonists into unfamiliar situations, we put bombs in the centres of their lives and make drastic changes to their worlds. Even as we struggle with the changes in our own lives, we forge our characters in the crucible of change with every stroke of the pen and force them to come out of the other side as different people. We think of the thing our characters most fear and put them through it, we give them challenges with every step; we make them grow as people by forcing them to face change.

Literature is all about change: how we deal with it and what it makes of us.

Change is scary, but change makes us into the people we are. Without change there can be no growth. As teenagers who going into new classes, new schools or even new cities this month, I hope you can embrace the changes you face, knowing there’s a whole new you waiting to emerge at the end of it.