A higher purpose

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Elaine Williams talks to Kate Nayler about motivating reluctant readers with their own books

As a former professional footballer, Nathan Peel understands the power of motivation. Now training to be a primary teacher, he is putting that understanding into practice. Pupils will only hit the back of the learning net when they are fired up to do so.

The former Burnley and Sheffield United player acknowledges that as a child he made poor progress. His passion was football, but none of his teachers, other than PE staff, thought to harness that passion to promote learning.

As a graduate teacher trainee at St Michael and St John's primary school, Clitheroe, Lancashire, he is determined to work with pupils' strengths to tackle their weaknesses. He has embarked on training, with the backing of his head, in a literacy programme called BoosterBooks.


BoosterBooks is the brainchild of Kate Nayler, who spent 11 years working with learning and behaviour support teams in Lancashire before becoming an educational psychologist. She had become frustrated with a system that focused largely on the weaknesses of children with poor literacy. Such pupils, she says, are condemned to rote learning, using sound-to-symbol correspondences or similar systems, usually devoid of meaning or context.

Reading and writing, Nayler argues, encompass so much more than how sounds or graphic symbols are represented on paper; they are also about how we bring meaning to text through our knowledge and experience.

The main thrust of her programme is to motivate struggling readers and writers by setting them the task of writing a story then publishing it professionally. Children will be motivated to read a story they themselves have composed and are more likely to retain the literacy lessons learnt.

The teacher's role is to work in partnership with pupils as a scribe and a guide, providing "scaffolding" or strategic support, stepping in when pupils need specific help and back when they're making progress under their own steam.

Nayler is now running BoosterBooks courses for teachers and teaching assistants in how to become successful scaffolders.


The theory behind this comes from the Russian educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky who created the scaffolding concept. "Scaffolding is there to make sure that children don't fail," Nayler says. "Like scaffolding on a building, teachers lend support when needed."

Nayler believes that using a range of strategies for children with dyslexia or hearing difficulties is more effective than concentrating on phonics:

"Children will struggle because they cannot hear or absorb the sounds.

Phonics is working to their weaknesses. Scaffolding moves away from a rule-driven programme based on component skills research (which concentrates on what readers do) to one that is about effective teaching and learning. " Alec Webster, professor of educational psychology at Bristol University, backs the BoosterBooks philosophy. "If kids are not doing well with the literacy strategy," he says, "most schools withdraw them and give them something that is broken down into mechanical chunks, working at a slower pace. What Kate Nayler is doing is speeding things up, moving these children on to a higher plane and giving them an exciting purpose.

"What happens to footballers when their morale is low and they're trailing in the league? They don't do more work on their basic skills. They work with a coach who will give them a vision of the winning position."

Nayler is convinced that all pupils are motivated by the prospect of publishing a story. The clarity of purpose it gives means they are more likely to practise the things they need to complete the task.

"Children learn better when they are given genuine tasks and know where they are heading from the outset rather than through rote exercises of mechanics they already find difficult," she says, "That way lies disaffection. I have seen so many children with specific learning difficulties give up on reading and writing in the end, children of 14 or 15 who have made little or no progress at all. At issue is the quality of the learning process."

For further information about BoosterBooks courses, email info@boosterbooks.co.uk; www.boosterbooks.co.uk


1 Pick a group that will work well together as a team. Include children with a range of abilities, so the activity is not identified as something that is done by low achievers.

2 Select a subject that children will enjoy. Support them in making their own choice

3 Involve the children by allowing them to become characters in the story.

That way, they will really identify with it.

4 Make them think about who is going to read the story. They must know that they are writing for a real purpose.

5 Display their books in the library or classroom. Let them read their work to other children (or in assembly) so everybody can celebrate their achievement.

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