Literacy hour need not be stale

10th March 2000 at 00:00
DID any other readers find National Literacy Strategy consultant Lesley Drake's letter (TES, February 25) both sneering and arrogant in its tone and dishonest in its argument?

She caricatures Terry Deary's phenomenally successful Horrible Histories as trendy twaddle. Curious, when you consider that any one of Terry's books will fulfil a host of NLS requirements. Furthermore, it was none other than Chris Woodhead who spoke of boys' under-achievement in literacy as public enemy number one. So what are Terry's books but magnificent boy-friendly tools in the battle to hook young males on literacy?

Drake's soccer allusion is even more breathtakingly inappropriate. Yes, you need skills to play football, but any youth trainee will tell you that you need a regular game to sustain love of the sport. Skills practice alone is stultifying. But the literacy hour defies this good practice and instead seeks to accumulate discrete skills with little time to pull everything together as a whole. A slavish interpretation of the NLS would boil down to bits of phonics, bits of grammar and bits of deconstructing text. hat a stale diet that would be.

Drake's final peroration is comic in its implausibility: children thrilled by spotting homophones. I beg your pardon! Thrilled by good fiction, fine poetry, riveting horrible history maybe. Let's have a sense of proportion here!

If NLS advisers really believe this nonsense, then it is a sad comment on the prevailing orthodoxy. Terry Deary and Mike Rosen are not proponents of illiteracy. What a ridiculous comment. Creativity is being squeezed and that is why we who have to implement the NLS in the classroom are forced to adapt it so heavily, with extended literacy sessions to reinstate what is missing.

And before Drake decides to sneer at this letter, how has a more flexible and creative approach fared in my school? Taking Drake's own criterion of success, the dreaded national tests, 96 per cent of our key stage 2 children achieved level 4 or above in English, and 57 per cent achieved level 5. And we did it with writing workshops.

Or is that just trendy twaddle?

Alan Gibbons

Teacher and children's writer

Orrell Park


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