Turn to the arts for inspiration

20th June 2003 at 01:00
Literacy goes MADD uses music, art, dance and drama to improve children's writing. Victoria Neumark takes a look.

Every year the Year 4s make buggies. So as we were doing the Caribbean Dozen, we decided to make Carnival floats," explains Abigail, her eyes alight with enthusiasm. Trish Parsons, Year 4 teacher at St Mark's CE Primary School, Bromley, agrees. "What else did we make with our Literacy goes MADD project?" Hands shoot into the air and wave agonisingly. "Poems... stories...dances...songs...we did group reading..we made masks...we looked at people in pictures of fancy dress...we did drama with our machetes...we looked at the slave trade." she beams. "We got a lot of geography out of it, didn't we?" she says, brandishing the elaborate folders that Year 4 made for three weeks' homework. The folders, Stephen's with tissue paper collage, Fergus's with watercolour washes, Andrew's with painstakingly drawn maps, a computer map and word art, are packed full of information, it is true, but also with the joy of expression. Which is what Literacy goes MADD is all about.

Literacy goes MADD (Music, Art, Dance and Drama) is the brainchild of Jay Mathews, exprimary head and adviser in dance and drama. She, along with Pamela Smyth, then adviser in art in the London borough of Bromley, were deeply concerned about the shift away from creativity and a broad and balanced curriculum and into a narrow, content-based model of learning.

Just under three years ago, they set up Literacy goes MADD to show how literacy skills were interwoven with teaching music, art dance, and drama, producing detailed materials for half-term projects across the primary phase. Each pack is based on one rich text, like myths of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia or Caribbean poetry; then teachers' books and photocopiable worksheets follow through with schemes of work, activities in music, art, dance and drama, warm-ups and cool-downs, extension suggestions. It's all there, from CDs to learning outcomes, from vocabulary to resources, all springing from the link between literature and the other arts.

Feeding first into Bromley schools, Literacy goes MADD has caught the imagination of pupils and teachers. As Andrea Moss, teacher at Valley primary school, says, "Creativity can make the literacy hour more practical, making it more accessible to all abilities."

From small beginnings, the scheme has grown until now it is used by 20 group projects and more than 600 schools across the country. The range of materials covers post-key stage tests, musical theatre suggestions and literacy bridging into Year 7, based on Jamila Gavin's award winning novel, Coram Boy. Now, focusing on writing, the scheme also offers writing frames and literacy strategy-friendly lesson plans, with time for group reflection in the plenaries.

Retired primary head John Statton, who has been rigorously evaluating work in the six Bromley schools now using the scheme in Year 4, is confident that writing in particular has shown clear improvement. "A majority have moved up a level step," he says. "And even more importantly, the children themselves feel they have made progress. Primary education need not be split into boxes, even with the literacy hour. It's clear evidence that music, art, dance and drama can improve children's writing."

Tel: Jay Mathews : 01367 253510Email: LITERACYgoesMADD@aol.com

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