Taking the team approach to literacy pays off for one award-winning school. Geraldine Brennan records how pupils rise to an Olympic challenge
The Olympic dream has arrived at Werneth School in Stockport, and its 1,200 pupils are going for gold in their latest sports-themed cross-curricular reading and research challenge.
Every year staff focus on a different sporting event for their annual summer term project. Last year it was Formula One, and the World Cup in 2006. Now it's the turn of the Beijing Olympics.
Werneth has a whole-school, year-round emphasis on reading for pleasure and developing information literacy skills. Last year this led to it being selected as the Reading Connects secondary school of the year by the National Literacy Trust.
It's down to an effective partnership between Nikki Heath, recently named as school librarian of the year by the School Library Association, and Sally Westrope, literacy co-ordinator. They compile imaginative and inclusive themed activities and ensure everyone participates by pitting the school's mixed-aged forms against each other.
This year, the challenge has been extended to key stage 4, so activities have to be structured carefully to inspire 11 to 16-year-olds in 52 forms. The classes work as a team on some research and writing projects but can choose individuals to do certain tasks, such as designing a mascot for the Beijing Olympics, or holding a first heat to choose the entry that will represent them. Form tutors act as project managers, ensuring the tasks are completed, usually at a rate of one or two a week.
The challenge includes fact-finding missions on China, the Beijing Olympics, the paralympics and the history of the Games, for which pupils have to use the library and the internet. Other tasks require writing, design and debating skills. There is also a treasure-hunt-style information trail featuring 52 sports (one for each form) and, as a tie-breaker, the opportunity to make the case for a new sport to be added for 2012.
"The team approach means that weak pupils are not pitted against the much more able: everyone has something to contribute," says Nikki, who devised this year's activities. "Pupils work to their particular strengths and last year's winning team happened to have many who would be considered less able readers. They were publicly rewarded, which increased their confidence and motivation."
"It will bring everyone together and everyone can be part of it," adds Sally.
The challenge is promoted throughout the school and in assembly. Sally makes a promotional DVD each year and the school is covered in Olympic sports posters for the treasure hunt.
To keep motivation high through the summer term, the literacy budget pays for prizes. Last year the form that made the best team effort went bowling and laser shooting, while the pupil who made the best individual contribution from each year group received an iPod Shuffle.
This year, form tutors will nominate pupils to enter a prize draw for each year group and Nikki and Sally are planning a sports-themed treat for the winning form.
While it's possible to do well in the challenge without being a keen reader, one section involves the Stockport Schools Book Award (an annual children's fiction prize for which Nikki has helped to select the shortlist). Previous challenges have helped to generate the enthusiasm for reading that she has fostered since joining Werneth (where she was a pupil) in 2004 after working for Stockport's school library service.
"The competitive element works every time," she says. "Pupils will read to find out about something they're interested in and to get a great prize for their form. Then they realise that reading has something to offer them and they carry on. I have pupils who were unenthusiastic readers who now chat to me about their reading habits."
The judges for school librarian of the year were impressed by Nikki's "passion for supporting students to become both confident, independent researchers and to read for pleasure" through activities. These include encouraging new Year 7s with low reading levels to join the Fit 4 Reading Breakfast Club and Drop Everything and Read - once every half-term the whole school (including staff) stops what they are doing for 20 minutes and reads.
Every form has a librarian who organises a book box from the school's library service, every pupil has a reading passport and a reading record. Nikki also has a team of pupil librarians who run the library at breaks and lunchtime so that she is free to help individuals.
Werneth will have arts college status from September and is a rapidly improving school (34 per cent passed five A*-C GCSEs in 2005, 46 per cent in 2006 and 51 per cent in 2007, with more than 60 per cent predicted for this year). "Literacy is a key part of our journey to excellence," says Pam Campbell, headteacher
Nominations for the 2009 school librarian of the year award open in August, when a nomination form will be available at www.sla.org.uk
TAKING THE CHALLENGE
- Design a mascot for the Beijing Olympics and choose a name for it (you can ask everyone in your form to do this and vote for the winning entry, or nominate someone to design it).
- As a team, research and produce an illustrated A3 factsheet about your form's allocated sport. This could include: how the sport began, number of competitors, rules, current champions and famous participants, unusual facts and events surrounding the sport, record-breakers.
- If your form could take part in any sport, which one would it be and why?
- Invent a new sport. Outline the rules, equipment needed and where it will be played. Illustrate your sport as much or as little as you wish. You may also combine two sports in order to make your new sport, for example, snookchery, (archerysnooker,) F1 shopping trolleying, extreme bowls or downhill kayaking.
- Choose a sport that exists but is not included in this year's Games. You have to make the case to the Olympic Committee for including the sport in the London event in 2012. Points to consider: why should it be included? Which stadium could it be played in? Why would adding this sport make the London Olympics special? Is this sport already known by the competing countries? If not, how will it be introduced to them before 2012?