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Evaluate a current issue in Education.

Discuss the impact of this issue on the teaching of Literacy and the effects this has on the role of the TA.

I have chosen to evaluate the subject of boys underachievement in writing as it is an issue which impacts on our school, locally and nationally. Statistics revealed earlier this year confirmed that: "Within the English results, there was a six percentage p oint increase in the share of boys meeting the required standards for reading but a drop of two percentage points in writing. Some 65% of boys met the standards for reading compared to 78% of girls, while 80% of girls met the standards for wri ting compared with 67% of boys. Boys' writing was highlighted as a particular concern when the primary school results for 11-year-olds were published last wee k. In English overall, 80% of girls made the grade compared with 67% of boys." ( In 2007, our school¶s Standard Attainments Tests (SATs) bucked the trend (achieving 100% in Literacy), but since then the pattern has re emerged. Interestingly, in year 2 the more able (MA) literacy group are all boys, but this is atypical. We have 5 out of 7 MA maths groups which are either wholly or predominantly male. I have discussed at length this issue with my literacy co -ordinator; we have looked at writing in general, new strategies, boys attainment in Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2 and SATs results, as well as the children¶s and teacher¶s attitudes to writing. What is writing? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:
noun 1 the activity or skill of writing. 2 written work. 3 (writings)

books or other written works. 4 a sequence of letters or symbols forming coherent words. (The Oxford English Dictionary, 1989)


It is true to say that in my setting every child can form coherent words and from Reception class can write simple sentences up to Year 6 who can mostly form complex pieces of writing. Therefore, this is not an issue of simply µputting pen to paper¶, but achieving the standards that are set out in the National Curriculum (NC) and Primary National Strategy (PNS). Piaget¶s Constructive Cognitive theory (1896-1980) argues that all children go through the same stages of cognitive development but at different rates. (Piaget, 1985). Is it then, that boys will achieve the same level as writing as girls but a later stage? Many of the world¶s greatest authors are male. Is our expectation that all children should reach a certain strand of attainment at the same time unrealis tic? Boys and girls do work differently and have different learning styles. Males generally have more-developed right hemispheres - which disposes them towards spatial tasks such as map -reading or interpreting technical drawings. Females generally have mor edeveloped left hemispheres - which is probably why they learn to speak earlier than males and are often more adept at languages. Females are also better at fine motor control, which probably accounts for their generally superior handwriting skills. It seems, after discussion with the literacy co-ordinator, teachers and through observation that a significant barrier to learning (that begins at an early age and often never leaves them) is the perception that most of the writing that they are expected to do is largely irrelevant and unimportant. Children are often expected to copy from boards or books but cannot see why. What is the bigger picture? What is the purpose? It is clear that all children, but especially boys need clear and obvious learning outcomes. As Wendy Bradford comments: ³Boys are the best barometers of good teaching. Very often if a boy doesn¶t see the sense of purpose in doing something then he blooming well won¶t engage with it at all. Moreover, if he doesn¶t have

the opportunity to talk through and share ideas before he puts pen to paper, he will find the task extremely difficult.´ (Wendy Bradford, 2000) So, how do we keep boys on track, engaged and achieving in writing? I have looked at different strate gies, theories, schemes the school is using in its current practice, the success/ drawback of these solution and the impact this issue has on my role as a Teaching Assistant (TA). In 2003, the HMI issued a report called ³Yes he can: Schools where boys write well´ (2003) (see appendix i). Its main findings include that in these schools:

There is a culture where intellectual, cultural and aesthetic accomplishment by boys as well as girls is valued by all. (HMI, 2003)

We now have ³Writer of the Week´ awards during assembly which serves to congratulate any child who makes significant

improvement within his/ her writing. I have noticed that the majority of the awards go to boys and children in lower ability (LA) groups. This is done to encourage other underachieving children and boys and reinforces the notion that to achieve is µcool¶.

Other findings from the report state that:

Marking is prompt, detailed, indicates clearly both what has been done well and where improveme nts can be made. (HMI, 2003)

Just recently our school has implemented the ³3 Stars and a Wish´ method of marking which highlights positive aspects of children¶s work with an explanation and one area that could be improved next time. The children also peer assess using this method.

Another finding reports that in successful schools:

Efforts are made to make writing task s purposeful, through seeking µreal¶ audiences, through publication and display and through writing to support t hought.

A school newspaper has been set up by the literacy co -ordinator. Children were interviewed for the roles of editor, photographers, journalists, lay-out artists and sports reporter. 45 children applied for the ten roles, 29 of whom were boys. The fo ur journalist posts went to 3 boys and 1 girl. All children in the school are invited to submit articles. This is just one example of writing for purpose and a specific audience. The writing must be planned and drafted before being submitted for editing. Since the implementation of a new school football team, sports journalism has become a popular past -time for the boys. This seems to have bred a culture in which they take pride in writing well. After the publication by the HMI came a report by Caroline Daly µLiteracy Search on Improving Boys Writing¶. A range of strategies were discussed (see appendix ii) I chose to look into one of these strategies: writing frames. These can be modified to the specific needs of an individual, group or class. Writing frames provide a framework for a specific task. Sometimes being faced with a blank piece of paper and told to write can be daunting and can impact on motivation. A frame can break down the writing (both fiction and non-fiction) into smaller, manageable ³chunks´ of writing. They can separate ideas, paragraphs, formats (eg introduction, middle, conclusion) and even have success criteria/ checkpoints tagged on. (See examples ± appendix iii) Having used writing frames for a lesson that I delivered I found them useful for differentiation. The lower ability (LA) group found them especially useful in order to structure their work logically. Writing frames can be very simplistic for work with Key Stage 1/ Special Educational Needs

(SEN) groups or more complex for work with KS2/ Gifted and Talented (G&T) groups. There are, however, some drawbacks with writing frames. They can limit the thinking of some children and can also become the focus of the activity rather than the learning itself. If the frame is modelled by the teacher first, explaining that it is the content as well as the process that is important for the learning, writing in this way can help to make it attainable, especially to the more logical-thinking boys. Of course, this is just one method of helping boys to achieve in writing; there are many other methods and strategies to keep them on target. Drama, the use of ICT, Talk for Writing, Every Child a Writer, non fiction texts, partner talk, writing for purpose and audience and visual texts. Some of these are laid out in the PNS Boys Writing Flyers (see appendix iv). All these strategies have an impact and a place in today¶s literacy class. My role in supporting literacy usually lies with the LA group, who are mainly boys both in the Year 1 and Year 4 class es in which I am based. I take the group out of the classroom when feasible and we discuss the learning outcome, sometimes at length. Keeping the boys focused and on task is always an issue. Therefore, I tend to break down the lesson with questions, role p lay, small amounts of research and peer assessment. The boys generally do not produce a large amount of writing; they have not yet developed the stamina, but I have seen an improvement in the quality and content since the implementation of new strategies. I also use a large amount of encouraging language, stickers and rewards which help to keep them wanting to write. In summary, a variety of strategies can be implemented to help raise boy¶s attainment in writing. Writing for purpose and audience seem to be the catalyst for the majority of boys and this should be remembered in a well planned literacy lesson, together with time to


let children talk about their writing, improving vocabulary and the ability to communicate more effectively and proficiently. Boys underachievement in writing is an important issue impacting on today¶s schools, but ³It is important to remember that gender is only the fifth most important determinant of a pupil¶s a cademic performance, coming way below prior attainment and social background´ (The Independant Newspaper, 2002)



(2002, September 12). The Independant Newspaper . HMI. (2003). Yes He Can - Schools Where Boys Do Write Well. Ofsted. Piaget, J. (1985). The Equilibration of Cognitive Structures: The Central Problem of Intellectual Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd Edition ed.). (1989). Wendy Bradford, C. N. (2000). Getting it Right for Boys - and Girls. London: Routledge.