A world of digital literacy for all

5th October 2012 at 01:00
`Quadblogging' and `waypointing' are helping to spread the word among online school communities. Douglas Blane reports

Literacy across learning goes well beyond classroom reading and writing with books, pens and paper, says Hilary Bombart, head of literacy at Education Scotland. "One of our aims is to show that digital literacy is accessible to everyone.

"For the past year we've been building an online literacy community, in which teachers from all over Scotland can share what they are doing in the classroom and beyond."

Dave Adams, a teacher at St Louise's Primary, East Kilbride, and seconded literacy officer last year, is a member of that community. "One thing that kept coming up was that pupils would start writing blogs and really enjoying them," he says.

"Then no one but the teacher or their classmates would read them, so they'd lose interest. So I did some research and discovered quadblogging."

The idea is simple. Schools come together in groups of four to provide a ready-made audience for each other. Pupils take turns, a week at a time, to write their own blog posts and comment on the posts of colleagues in the other three schools.

"I couldn't find anyone who had done it in Scotland," says Mr Adams. "So I had to think about how to make it work using Glow - where you can set up blogs that work well."

Plans for a pilot generated plenty of interest around South Lanarkshire and 16 schools took part in four projects, he says. "We had 500 pupils and 40 members of staff involved. A popular topic was what high school was like and it was great to see secondary pupils allaying the fears of the primary kids."

Quadblogging is a nice solution to the problem of no audience for pupil blogs, says Mr Adams. With preparation and organisation it works well.

The same is true of another approach to literacy - waypointing, he says: "You hide interesting things and get the children to search for them using GPS on hand-held devices. We've had nurseries, primaries and high schools all doing this.

"You might have parts of a poem hidden in plastic boxes around the school and the children try to find them. The reason even nursery kids can do it is that the devices give you an arrow and a distance - so kids just follow the arrow."

QR codes bring in another literacy dimension, he adds. "You scan these with a smartphone or laptop and it brings up text. One teacher laminated codes and hid them around the school. The children searched for them using GPS, scanned them and got a question to answer."

The codes can be combined with literacy and outdoor education in other motivating ways, says Mr Adams. "Our latest project is called `environmental literacy'. Children find a place they like and over a few lessons write about what they can see there and how it makes them feel."

They go to the QR code website and turn the texts into code, which their teacher laminates and mounts.

"Pupils, parents and visitors to the school scan the code and read about the trees behind them, the row of houses in front or the rain hitting the leaves above them. It's a lovely idea and I'm really excited about it."

Literacy across learning is still a concern for some teachers, but good progress is being made across the country, says Ms Bombart. "Our team at Education Scotland has been out delivering professional development around the authorities, talking about innovative ways to tackle literacy.

"My impression is that nearly every school has a literacy group now. We want to encourage all of them to become part of our online literacy community and to share their experiences."

Join the Literacy Community on Glow: www.bit.lylithome

Resources and information in the Literacy and English Glow Group:www.bit.lyk2rcQR


Mystery is an effective way to motivate young learners, says Alan Connick, head at St Andrew's Primary, Greenock, where a carefully staged discovery inspired the whole school to write and talk about succeeding events for months.

"Imagine you're an eight-year-old and you arrive at school to see two scientists in protective clothing with a rusty old box, wrapped in chains, that's been dug up from the garden."

A short film of the discovery is shown to every class. Discussions generate theories about the box and how it got there. Volunteers are sought to interview people, write articles and film events.

"At 2.30, we assembled everyone in the school hall and I brought in the box," says Mr Connick. "Someone from each class presented their theories, in a variety of ways, illustrated with drawings and mind-maps. One class presented a timeline, another a comic strip. The Primary 5s had written a poem."

A reporter from the local newspaper explained how to research a story and ran workshops. Plans were made to search the grounds with a metal detector, looking for the key that would open the intriguing box.

The event generated a wealth of literary responses from the children - theories, films, scripts, drawings, storyboards, press releases and poems. Six months later pupils and parents still talk about the Big Find at St Andrew's Primary, says Mr Connick.

"It brought everyone in the school together. The children developed and extended their literacy skills, communicated, reflected, worked in teams, and produced and engaged with a wide variety of texts."


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today