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E-mail chatter teaches a lesson

TEACHERS need to move from the 19-century novel to the "literacy of the 21st century" to take in everything from shopping catalogues to computer screens, a conference on "Learning to be Literate" was told in Edinburgh last week.

Henrietta Dombey, of the School of Education at Brighton University, said that e-mail produced a "chatty, off the top of the head, informal style of writing".

On her theme that literacy is not just about reading books, Professor Dombey told the conference, organised by the city's education department, that interactive multimedia technology - including images and text with a choice of options for finding further information - differs from a book "in which you start at the top. Here you have to make your own route through the text".

Voice recognition technology would allow more and more children to dictate their homework into their home computers, Professor Dombey predicted. But children could not learn to read solely with a computer. "Teacher interaction is essential. That is not something you can simulate."

Acknowledging the success of Edinburgh's pioneering early intervention strategy, Professor Dombey urged that reading should "be woven in throughout the day, for example, in the reading of science instructions".

Parent involvement was vital in passing on information about the kinds of reading and writing children were engaged in. "You must create a collaboration in which parents feel respected. This in turn enhances the parents' view of the school."

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