Raising boys' achievement in writing: Case study - Year 1 Stories from another culture

Date of issue: Sep. 2004
Theme: Raising boys' achievement
Audience: Key Stage 2 teachers

LA: Medway

School context

I work in a junior school in an urban overspill area of Kent, with a roll of 450 children. Children come from mixed socio-economic backgrounds, and the proportion of children with special needs is in line with the national average.

Class context

The 27 Year 4 children who participated in the project were in a mixed-ability class; one-third had specific learning needs, including one child with a statement who had a full-time teaching assistant. The majority of the class were achieving girls, with most of the boys forming average and below-average groups. There were ten boys in the class, six of whom formed the focus group for the study. With the exception of one of the boys, the others were part of a friendship group who played football together at break times. The class had experience of drama techniques throughout the year, but this had not been central to the planning. The class were in ability groups for writing, and as a result the focus boys were not taught writing by the class teacher, except in literacy.

Reasons for choosing focus children

The boys were selected due to their lack of achievement and progress in writing, in literacy and other subjects, regardless of their National Curriculum level. Most lacked motivation and would find displacement activities rather than write. In preparing to write and in sharing ideas, Adam would take a dominant role, but then have nothing to write, while the other boys would allow others in their group to do all the talking. However, Richard said he enjoyed writing because it is 'good for your brain'. The others said they 'sometimes' enjoyed writing, but this depended greatly on what they were being asked to write. Strong factors against writing included: making your hand ache, poor spelling and presentation, being told what to write about.

Visual/drama strategies used during the project

This work describes a three-week unit from the Year 4 range: multicultural texts. Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by J. Steptoe was selected because not only was it a multicultural text but it also raised issues and dilemmas for the characters involved, another Year 4 literacy context, and drama readily lends itself to the exploration of relationships, conflict and resolution. The work began with the class representing their predictions about how the story would end as freeze-frames, drawing on their prior knowledge of the text type. Other drama activities during the work included hot-seating, role on the wall, overheard conversation, decision alley and group sculpture, as well as circle time where the class discussed issues and character emotions and/or behaviour. The drama activities culminated in a wedding ceremony. By this stage in the work, the class were taking on separate identities and taking control of the drama, moving away from the teacher, who incidentally, was invited to take part as a photographer.

Impact on children and their writing

By the end of the unit the boys' perceptions of themselves as successful writers had changed little, but their attitudes to writing had moved forward. They said that 'Yes, sometimes' they all enjoyed writing. Although they were still concerned by secretarial skills, Scott found that he needed to use more interesting vocabulary although he said '[it] gives me harder spellings what I can't spell'. More importantly, Scott's reason for definitely enjoying writing after the unit was because '… it puts good memories in my head'. Previously, the boys thought of writing as physically demanding but now they remembered the drama work that had led to the writing.

In this section

  • Raising boys' achievement in writing: Case study - Year 1 Stories from another culture