Review of the Primary Curriculum

The UKLA Digital Literacies response to the Primary review powerfully conveys high quality teaching and learning making use of new literacies and digital texts in primary classrooms.

UKLA Digital Literacies Task Group Response Nov 2008 1. The importance of skills being taught in context Effective literacy learning involves developing children’s knowledge, skills and understandings in motivating and imaginative contexts. Children deserve to be taught literacy skills in context of their engaging use. Evidence from recent UKLA projects highlights ways in which children’s knowledge and skills and positive attitudes develop through extended creative activities in which children are engaged in depth and over time, through their teachers use of film, drama, literature and extensive oral work (PNS/UKLA Raising Boys’ Achievements in Writing Project 2005; Teachers as Readers: building Communities of Readers 2007-2008)   Popular culture, new technologies and young people’s engagement with them constantly challenge concepts of education. With the emergence of Web 2.0 and user-led and created content, children have access to new exciting and informal ways of knowing and learning which are not always recognised in formal class-teaching environments. Many children are used to collaborating with others in out-of-school learning environments such as in online games and through critiquing other’s work on message boards and websites. One member of the task group has been undertaking PhD research in her classroom, exploring the use of online gaming culture and social networking practices as means by which children can engage critically with their own multi-modal literacy practices. During a year-long project, the primary aged children worked collaboratively to design and write a game-narrative which was played and evaluated by their peers. By utilising the affordances of Web 2.0 technology, the young authors/ designers of the game-narrative received feedback from their readers/players via online forums and webcams. This activity enabled the children to frame and extend their understanding of texts in fun and meaningful ways, and resonated with the tacit knowledge and abilities they had developed in practices outside of school. They were able to challenge and develop notions of plot and character by drawing on their understanding of both games and stories. Throughout the writing/ design process they developed a deeper understanding of the affordances of each mode of communication they chose to use, and became more discerning and deliberate in the ways they chose to construct their narratives.  As educators, we do not need to strive to replicate children’s recreational literacy practices in the classroom. School is too official and pedagogical a tool for that to be effective or even desirable. However the UKLA Task Group believes that it is important to recognise that the school community of practice is made up of young people who have their own communities with their own practices in which they learn and communicate effectively. With critical awareness and within meaningful contexts, new technologies can be used in the classroom to extend and develop the children’s ability to communicate their ideas effectively, and reflect on their leaning.  Another member of the group is currently implementing a ‘Farm Project’ in his school, where children learn key literacy and curricular skills within a meaningful and relevant context. The project aims to enable the children to work with a range of professionals to redevelop the school’s courtyard into a fully operational farm to cultivate produce to market to the local community. The long-term partner will be a farmer/agriculturist who will share their skills and guide the children through important decision-making processes. Other professionals will include landscape designers, artists, media specialists, banks and researchers. The children will have full ownership and the project’s overall aims and outcomes will be fully negotiated with them as they work with professionals. The possibilities for cross-curricular links are immense and the children will be developing key curriculum skills through a relevant context while also taking part in many real-life learning opportunities that extend beyond the normal boundaries of the classroom. The venture will also be operated as a business, with the children managing money through work with a local bank. They will then work towards selling produce in regular Farmer’s Markets to ensure sustainability. This project places literacy skills at the heart of its curriculum and aims to develop key digital literacy skills through the development of a website with evaluative video blogs (Web 2.0), a new media marketing campaign, and oral stories/podcasts, picture books and animations based on animal characters who live on the farm. The project has relevance and a long-term purpose which the children and will be invited to engage in and influence. In both these projects, the teacher-researchers have found the scope for extended learning opportunities was a significant factor in children’s engagement, commitment and enthusiasm. The projects utilise spaces that extend beyond the classroom walls and recognise children’s important contributions to curriculum design. Teaching through a multiliteracies approach in this way also helps to ensure children’s critical understanding of their literacy practices is not only recognised but highly valued, and developed within the school context. Key points:

  • Children need to be engaged in literacy practices that are embedded within authentic and engaging contexts
  • New technologies offer varied and meaningful challenges for children and need to be integrated into classroom literacy activities

2. The centrality of children’s literature We believe children’s literature is at the heart of the English Primary Curriculum. We do not support a list of children’s books, but do feel it is essential to include texts that recognise children’s worlds, develop cross-cultural understandings and reflect the multimodal, visual and moving nature of contemporary texts. Children need to work critically and reflexively with texts over time, experiencing the sound of written texts read aloud, responding to and co-authoring new texts through drama, role play, writing, dance, as well as through the digital mediums of film, DVD and interactive websites for example. Multimodal texts are a central part of children’s literature. It is essential that we take account of children’s varied literacy practices and popular cultures if we are to help children to make meaning in, and contribute to, our evolving society. Therefore a multiliteracies approach to the curriculum is crucial to developing a critical awareness of the ways in which modes converge to form new ways of communicating. One member of the task group is exploring is the concept of ‘multimodal writing.’ This aims to develop an understanding of how modes work together in multimodal texts to communicate a shared meaning. A child-friendly framework is used to analyse and critique multimodal texts such as films in a sophisticated manner. The analysis of texts fits with an overall theory of semiotics, which the children use to make inferences from their texts and remediate through the written language. This has led to some very sophisticated writing composition that surpasses age-related expectations. Over time, using a ‘multimodal writing’ approach significantly increased the children’s engagement with writing, helping to develop a ‘love for literacy.’ The children now make reference to the modes in their writing whether or not they have a multimodal text stimulus. This is consistent with Gunther Kress’s view that multimodality instigates deep changes in the writing process (Kress, 2003). The children make references to sound, for example, in a multimodal way in their writing and it is evident that digital literacies have changed children’s (and teacher’s) pathways to literacy. As a result other teachers in the school and local authority have asked for training in the area of multimodal writing. Children’s literature was used to inspire and motivate children’s engagement with their literacy learning, with long-term effects. We believe that children should be exposed to a variety of text types and that the role of the literacy expert in the school is to help other teachers utilise the ever expanding and evolving landscape of literature texts. The texts that the children engage with should reflect their own cultural background and invite them to engage with other cultures with which they might be less familiar.  Key points:

  • Children’s literature is at the heart of the English Primary Curriculum and multimodal texts are central to this
  • Children need to be engaged in literacy practices that develop understandings of how different modes work together to create meaning

3. Teachers’ subject knowledge The subject and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers needs to encompass: texts for children; ways of working with texts; ways of weaving digital technologies effortlessly into the English curriculum; and ways of developing children’s knowledge, skills and understandings in motivating and imaginative contexts. This demands continued investment in long-term ITT and CPD which should involve teachers as action researchers.  UKLA believes that there should be a literacy and literature expert in every school whose responsibility it is to promote good practice based on research evidence. Teachers who engage in research feel more confident in taking risks when designing learning opportunities, knowing that their decisions are grounded in sound pedagogy and are embedded in the collective intelligence of an educational community which reaches beyond the doors of their school. We believe that transforming educational practices requires dialogue between all interested parties, and this requires engaging with the wider spheres of educational research communities as well as more localised spheres. Teacher-researchers should be encouraged and supported in sharing their findings in schools and with teachers in training. Members of the task group have undertaken action research within their own class setting in association with other organisations and associations such as UKLA, CLPE, London Knowledge Lab (Institute of Education), Durham University, Creative Partnerships and Whole Child Learning. As well as undertaking research to further their own understanding of the potential of new technologies within a social multiliteracies context, the members have also shared their findings with the wider research and professional community. This has involved presenting at academic conferences, delivering training for education students, working with local education authorities and guiding teachers within their own schools. Unfortunately not all teachers are well supported in this area. Many do not feel empowered to bring their personal enthusiasms and knowledge to their teaching. This needs to be rectified if we are to have a truly innovative and forward thinking education system delivered by experts who see themselves as creative professionals responsible for shaping the learning landscape, not just as practitioners who deliver the curriculum. Key points:

  • Children need to be engaged in literacy practices that are embedded within authentic and engaging contexts
  • New technologies offer varied and meaningful challenges for children and need to be integrated into classroom literacy activities
  • Continued investment needs to be made in long-term ITT and CPD involving teachers as action researchers
  • Literacy experts need to be appointed in every school whose responsibility it is to promote good practice based on research evidence

Angela Colvert (primary teacher), Lynda Graham (educational researcher), Jackie Marsh (University of Sheffield), Martin Waller (primary teacher). UKLA Task Group response to the Primary Review November 2008

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