In Response to “What Should We Call Literacy?”

A chance encounter in the school library last half term provided me with a timely reminder of the fact that you never really know who will read what you write. Essentially this is what makes writing exciting! Writing opens up communication and, as an English teacher, I attach a high value to communication so I want to invite discussion. I’ll admit that I wasn’t expecting the first discussion I had about my blogpost to be with a student though. I’ll also admit that it’s rare for any student to ask me direct questions about semicolons outside of their timetabled English lesson. So, it was a rare opportunity indeed for discussion with a student about punctuation and precise communication that I enjoyed last half term.

Why was this discussion significant? Well, I was genuinely surprised to find a student who had read the blogpost in the first place and, furthermore, to find someone who is so passionate about the value of participating in high quality communication across the curriculum in order to access the best outcomes in life. When I was told “I liked your article on literacy, Mrs McConnell”, I was quite taken aback and challenged the student to tell me what it was in particular that they “liked” about the article ( – it’s very easy to “like” things nowadays and I wanted to be absolutely clear about the value of my post). In response to my question I was told that it was Geoff Barton’s assertion that “literacy should be embedded into what every teacher in every subject does” and the point about not waiting “to prioritise effective and accurate communication” that had connected with this student. Fantastic! I probed a little further and promptly decided that it would be best for James to offer his own opinion on the post. So, please forgive the preamble and enjoy James’ perspective on literacy. James is a student who combines coding with copywriting and programming with proofreading to enjoy success at every level – impressive!

Clare McConnell @DHSBEnglish

Head of English

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“Literacy shouldn’t have a name: it should be embedded into everything in the curriculum. I agree completely that literacy should be part of every subject taught; no matter the area, spelling, grammar and punctuation are vital to communicate ideas effectively.

Literacy is more than just about gaining marks in a test though; its value throughout life is huge. Literacy is, quite possibly, the single most important thing any student will learn throughout their school career. Whether you’re explaining why x equals 3.6 or the game plan for the second half of a football match, words and the way you craft them are essential. We put too much emphasis on the devices we use in writing before some students can even craft language to the point where they would be able to use them.

The way that literacy is taught at DHSB is exemplary. I’ve observed several things whilst here, and I’d like to share two things that I feel make the teaching of spelling, grammar and punctuation so brilliant:

· Enthusiasm. Teachers here genuinely care about how we use words, and in return the students actively listen and work upon feedback. We have a real sense of community at this school, and the sincerity of the teaching staff is a quintessential example, as well as a real extension of the fact that people care.

· Knowledge. Both the depth and breadth of the information provided to us is a real example of how the curriculum teaches us how to create impact and create a lasting effect on the reader.

I also feel that literacy should have a larger place in primary education than it already does. Whilst style is important, and it’s great to get children of a young age into creative writing, what’s a knowledge of how to write a journey and return story when you can’t form a coherent sentence? What are brilliant ideas without a medium to convey them? Language is a tool, and like any tool it needs practice and guidance to be used at full capacity. Variable sentence lengths, paragraphs and stylistic rules should be taught much earlier than they are, and spelling needs to be an omnipresent subject all the way through the primary curriculum. Advanced punctuation seems to be a more challenging subject to master.

I found that most of my primary education didn’t challenge me. However, at the end of my primary career, the teacher I had at the time was taken ill and we were placed with a long-term temporary teacher. It was probably the single event that completely flipped my perspective on the English language. They engaged the whole class, and gave us the tools that we needed to create better pieces of literature. We were taught with captivating and – dare I say it – fun techniques (not at all dissimilar to Mr Robert’s Kinder eggs in the pure simple ingenuity) that caught the attention of the class. This could possibly be the single event that really inspired my passion for literacy.

A final thought. In an increasingly digital age, we seem to be losing grammar altogether. Going to any YouTube video and scrolling down to the comments, or looking at any social media feed shows how we seem to be regressing in the ability to follow the basic rules of the English language. It’s scary to think that in a few generations time a person might not be able to pick up a pen and express themselves through writing without being backed up by a spellchecker. Is this the true robot apocalypse?”

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