Literacy scheme fuels greedy minds

14th August 1998 at 01:00
They sampled Italian cuisine on Monday, ate American-style on Tuesday, tucked into an Indian buffet on Wednesday and relaxed in a French restaurant on Thursday.

Even the most dedicated restaurant critic would be hard pressed to keep up with pupils on a South Tyneside literacy summer school which uses eating out as an incentive to improve their reading.

For most of the 36 11-year-olds who trooped into Pierre Victoire on Newcastle's Quayside for lunch on Thursday it was their first visit to a French restaurant.

Many had never eaten out before they signed up for Mortimer comprehensive school's literacy scheme, which combines treats and trips with traditional literacy work. But since they enrolled they have munched their way through the menus of the world.

Scheme leader Judith Ward said: "It's not just a treat. We are a very multicultural school and wanted the children to look at everything on the scheme in a non-insular way. We even teach them some of the relevant language which gives them a taste of different cultures."

Primed with a sheet of 15 useful French words the children ordered their meal in French, which caused much hilarity, not to mention confusion.

But there is no such thing as a free lunch - the children must attend every session, including a literacy hour, literacy project work, and do around an hour of homework every night to continue to qualify for the treats.

Even their literacy work has an international flavour. The children, up to two years behind in their reading, must make a tourist video and brochure about South Shields to send to their Turkish counterparts at a school planning an exchange trip with Mortimer next year.

Mrs Ward said: "We believe in writing for a purpose. They are not just writing for themselves or for display on the wall. The video and brochure are made by children for children and they have taken it very seriously. They know their work is the first information the Turkish pupils will get on what it's like for children in South Shields and they are determined to get it right."

The children picked local attractions and researched their history before writing a brochure and scripts to read to camera for an accompanying video.

Rosheen McGee, 11, said: "We wanted to show the Turkish children where to go in South Shields. Doing the video was fun and we had to do lots of writing and reading before we did it. I think my spelling and writing has got a bit better already. They don't get cross with me here for getting things wrong. They just tell me to keep trying and do my best."

Fifty six pupils due to join Mortimer in September were assessed as falling below level four in key stage two tests, the expected standard for their age. Thirty six agreed to sign up for the scheme.

Mrs Ward said: "Some children were just not interested. They were determined to have their holidays to play out. No matter what incentives we offered they didn't want to know. Another problem was that some parents had already booked holidays which clashed with the scheme. If the scheme runs next year we will have more notice and hopefully minimise this problem."

Local businesses have supported the scheme by donating food and other incentives so the school could spend its funding on literacy resources.

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