Herts for Learning’s Primary English and Early Years teams joined forces to host a new conference focusing on reading and writing opportunities for young children, entitled Early Literacy: the Gateway to Lifelong Learning.
Ruth Goodman, English Adviser at Herts for Learning (HfL), opened the conference and introduced the three keynote speakers: Julie Cigman, Author, Pippa Goodhart, Author and author/storyteller Kevin Graal.
Julie Cigman’s session, entitled ‘Becoming a writer in leaps and bounds’, focused on how we can improve all children’s motivation, confidence and attainment as writers. She said all children can become confident and motivated writers, stating: “We need to use observational assessment to plan appropriate provision for writing that matches the developmental needs of all our children”.
Julie discussed the innate differences between boys and girls that impact on school learning and often result in boys typically doing less well in writing than girls and how to minimise the impact of those differences.
Julie explained that there was too much focus on the ‘end product’, “but the prime areas of learning, all the experiences children need to do this, is what we need to focus on”. She referred to the ‘literacy iceberg’ where the visible part at the top is the end product but underneath are all of the experiences that the children need to have to be able to create that end product including the Prime areas and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.
She gave examples of how to plant ideas and how we can support compositional writing skills by scribing children’s words; modelling the action of a writer, allowing children to develop a ‘writers voice’.
Julie concluded her session with a helpful mnemonic device, describing how writing experiences need to be EPIC: “Everywhere; Playful and Purposeful; Irresistible resources; and Contextualised and Child-led (although with adult support).”
Next, Pippa Goodhart, author of 120 books including the bestseller ‘You Choose’, inspired the audience about her own story of how she struggled through school but became a writer of children’s stories after working in the children’s department of a bookshop.
Pippa looked at the different routes children might take towards story creation. “Making up stories comes naturally to children”, she said. “They are trying things out in their imaginations, and by doing this, among other things, they learn empathy.”
She encouraged delegates to consider that not all children are reading and writing at home, and to try to have books that reflect the diversity, and the interests, of the class. In order to aid early literacy in the classroom, she concluded: “you all need to become readers and enjoyers of children’s books.”
Julie and Pippa were then joined by other subject experts in leading a series of workshops, giving delegates the chance to explore a number of different aspects to early literacy. Julie gave advice on supporting writing development while Pippa delivered a workshop on creating a storybook character. Rose Blair from HfL talked about parental engagement with reading and writing while Kirsten Snook from HfL led a session on enticing into writing. Meanwhile, Martin Galway from HfL advised on selecting texts both in and out of the classroom. Author and storyteller Kevin Graal led a workshop on motivating children to tell stories. Jenny Ferguson from HfL discussed reflecting diversity in text.
During the breaks, delegates had the opportunity to get books signed by Pippa Goodhart and to visit the exhibitors, which included Collins, Mighty Writer, the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre, and HfL. They could also have their photo taken in a special photo booth with roving actors from the Radlett Theatre Group, who came exuberantly dressed in character a king, witch and tiger!
In the afternoon, Rose Blair, Early Years Adviser at HfL led a session with two Early Years leaders from Hertfordshire schools; Claire Hurley from Oughton Primary and Nursery in Hitchin and Sarah Whisker from Mandeville Primary School in Sawbridgeworth who shared their positive experiences of the Early Reading Project with the delegates.
In the final keynote session, author and storyteller Kevin Graal remarked: “words can change your life when you can express yourself and describe your feelings”. He led by example by ending the conference on a high, captivating the audience with his funny and insightful stories, riddles and songs.
Speaking about the conference, Ruth Goodman, English Adviser at Herts for Learning said:
“It has been a privilege to host this conference. We were inspired and challenged by a fantastic collection of high-profile expert guest speakers and workshops, all sharing best practice. We have come away from the day overflowing with ideas which will have a real impact on children’s literacy in the EYFS and beyond.”
The conference was held on 19th November at the Hertfordshire Development Centre, Stevenage.
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