Time to turn the page in children's literacy

17th May 2013 at 01:00

The past two decades have seen the publication of arguably some of the most successful books and book franchises for children and young people - from the Harry Potter series to the Twilight saga.

But despite these publishing phenomena, the rise of smartphones, tablets, computer games and the internet leaves literature competing for attention with gadgets designed to provide immediate entertainment.

Last month's Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy showed that only two-thirds of S2 students enjoy reading, and that children from the most deprived areas less often perform at their appropriate level in literacy. The proportion of boys who achieve at or beyond their expected level is slightly lower than that of girls, the survey shows, while the number of those who say learning is boring rises with age.

Perhaps the most important conclusion to make from the findings is just how critical reading for fun is to improving literacy - that teachers and parents must keep encouraging their children to read into their teenage years.

This is more of a challenge for children from the most deprived backgrounds, where exposure to books at home from a young age is less likely and confidence among parents to support their children's literacy is lower.

Yet the same survey shows that 92 per cent of children in P4 enjoy reading and school. Clearly, then, it is about keeping this fire alive.

Innovative approaches are needed. Schemes such as the Scottish Book Awards, in which schoolchildren across the country read and review the shortlisted titles and decide the winner, as well as pilots promoting active reading, such as the Reading to Learn initiative at Barrhead High in East Renfrewshire, show that students can enjoy reading in school.

Bringing in outside partners for support has become the weapon of choice at many schools - whether in the form of visits by children's authors or getting involved with projects in conjunction with the Scottish Book Trust.

But with IT-literate students who are interested in technology, even organisations as passionate about traditional printed literature as the book trust know that to keep children engaged, the reality they live in cannot be ignored.

In an interview with TESS last year, Scottish Book Trust chief executive Marc Lambert said that it did not matter if young people chose to read on an electronic device rather than paper. "What matters is what you are reading," he said.

Combining literature and modern media seems a sure recipe for success, as the Booktrailer pilot, in which young people created short trailers on books they read in class, appears to suggest.

Using new media to encourage the consumption of the printed word is a strategy well worth considering. Embracing the future can help to secure the past.

julia.belgutay@tess.co.uk.

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