How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores? In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.
My opinion is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them. It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.
Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world. Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school. There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.
Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with what they see at pre-school or nursery. In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way. If I compare this to my children’s experiences at home it is vastly different. At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.
Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits. I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child. However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself. Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.
Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case. I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’ So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage. I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school. The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards. Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough.
If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.
This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes. I would create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology. This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning. Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors. I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments. To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe long held notions of literacy.