Boosting literacy through edtech storytelling

How can teachers blend literacy with edtech resources? Charlotte Krzanicki, senior education advisor at Greenwood Academies Trust, explains

Statistics from the National Literacy Trust report that after six years of increasing reading enjoyment levels, during the 2017/18 academic year, young people’s enjoyment of reading decreased and only half of UK children enjoy writing – cause for concern given the centrality of literacy skills to succeeding both in school and later in life.

Literacy is of critical importance. No one would argue against that – it’s fundamental to a good education, and research shows that higher levels of literacy lead to better economic performance across entire countries, but just knowing its importance and knowing you have to teach it isn’t enough.

Literacy has always been a core focus for our team at Greenwood Academies Trust, but even with that consistent focus, we had noticed that some pupils were consistently struggling to develop these skills. Committed to providing our pupils with the highest quality education and empowering them to fulfil their potential, we decided to broaden our thinking on literacy and try new approaches. The result: an approach that looked beyond the value of assessment and instead focused on encouraging pupils to fall in love with reading and writing.

Digital storytelling: a brand-new approach

If you want pupils to be excited about reading, to be engaged and want to discover, it’s important to look for ways to promote experiential literacy. With this in mind, we knew we needed tools that allowed us to introduce an element of physicality, technology and healthy competition.

The competition angle was just that: a Trust-wide storytelling competition. This approach was particularly appealing for our team because it ensured our pupils weren’t working in isolation and also brought us closer together, strengthening our wider teaching and learning community by sharing stories from other academies. The technology angle was necessary as we knew we needed a tool to make sharing stories easy and exciting for students. To this end, we introduced a video sharing platform called Flipgrid which met our requirements and helped take the competition to another level, as it not only helped us broaden the competition beyond writing stories, it also encouraged knowledge sharing and helped pupils find their voice.

One of the great impacts of this approach was being able to engage boys in particular. Our experience has shown they have wonderful ideas and are full of imagination, but when it comes to putting those ideas into a narrative, they become disengaged. At primary age, boys generally learn best by doing – sharing ideas, talking and being physically active rather than sitting down with a pen and paper and passively learning. Storytelling with edtech enabled them to gather momentum without the restriction of learning in a more confined way.

Reading their stories out loud also helped our pupils edit and perfect their own work, empowering them to take greater control of their learning experience. We also found their choice of vocabulary was extended as they weren’t hindered by the uncertainty of spelling errors, and the work they were submitting was of a higher standard than traditional methods previously allowed. We were also able to address different curriculum areas, such as using expression and testing out drama techniques.

As a learning tool, the competition has been an outstanding success for us, helping us address literacy, writing, communication skills and self-directed learning. But the fact that it was also fun for our pupils is just as important. Our teachers know that if learning is fun, pupils will become active participants in their education and leave the classroom with a greater understanding of the core skills and knowledge. They understand that finding innovative ways to engage our pupils, such as digital storytelling, has set an exciting precedent that we’re excited to explore.

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