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Hi-tech route to literacy;Information technology

Computers have been sidelined by the literacy hour - but they needn't be. IT and literacy teaching can enhance one another, say Jessica Muckle and Jocelyn Wishart

The National Literacy Strategy does not stipulate - and only briefly recommends - the use of information technology, but literacy teaching and IT can complement each other, fulfilling both the aims of the strategy and of the national curriculum for IT at key stage 1.

Although many teachers say they have set their computers aside to concentrate on literacy, it is important to maintain the impetus of teaching IT. Along with literacy and numeracy, the IT skills will be the ones that will serve children in their adult lives.

Research has shown that IT can aid literacy. Children using electronic encyclopedias develop their reading skills as they find information. Using word processors can bring children much closer to writing, as "real" writers have found. Living Books interactive storybooks (from Br?derbund), for example, allow readers to enjoy and benefit from following text; such programs are highly motivating and stimulate reluctant readers.

In IT teaching, speaking and listening skills have always been valued - particularly in collaborative work and adventure programs. Educationists stress the importance of talk, and say the computer provides a natural focus for speech, listening, reflection and participation.

How can IT be incorporated into the literacy hour without detracting from the primary focus? And how can IT skills be taught within the context of literacy? Some practical suggestions for literacy work that is linked to software used at key stage 1 are given on pages 48 and 49 (more can be found on The TES website at www.tes.co.uk). All activities have been used successfully in the primary classroom over the last year.

Some programs are useful because of the dual skills they promote (these include Here I Am and others like Smart Alex (Brilliant Computing) and Oxford Reading Tree Talking Stories (Sherston)). Others (such as My First Amazing Incredible Dictionary) will be beneficial as long as the teacher uses them selectively.

Word processing packages will only be effective if the teacher makes sure that children use IT skills they already possess. Other packages, while fun and educational, may be better used outside the literacy hour as they do not aid specific literary skills - The Fish That Could Wish (Oxford University Press) is one example.

Of prime importance is teacher intervention and planning. Teachers must be sure why they are using the program and how it can fit the children's learning needs.

Jessica Muckle teaches at Hemington county primary school in Derby.Jocelyn Wishart is a lecturer in education at Loughborough University

NOTE:THE USING CD-ROMS TO DEVELOP LITERACY SKILLS AND USING WORD PROCESSING SOFTWARE FOR DEVELPING LITERACY SKILLS TABLES WHICH APPEAR WITH THIS STORY ON PAGES 48-49 ARE NOT AVAILABLE ON THIS DATABASE.

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