Spotlight on...Boys Literacy

MakeBelieve Arts and literacy for boys

With an almighty crash, the knight tripped over his own sword and tumbled to the ground, making a sound like a thousand pots and pans crashing from a cupboard. The smug and scaly dragons laughed so hard they blew fire out of their snouts.

The knight is a 10 year old boy, and the dragons are his mates. They stand in front of their peers in their school uniforms, bringing their story to life. A drama class? Not quite. It's a literacy class. Specifically, a boys literacy class.

For the past 10 weeks, MakeBelieve Arts has been delivering an innovative literacy programme for boys in Lewisham. Two of our male practitioners, Ross and Stas', have been working with two groups of boys from St Josephs Primary and Grinling Gibbons Primary to increase their enthusiasm for and engagement with literacy. In a two-term programme, boys aged 10-11 have the chance to explore literacy and storytelling in ways that support and enhance their learning style.

‘Boys learn in a different way,' says Ross, ‘and we wanted to support their more physical and visual learning style.'

‘Starting the project, the majority of boys lacked confidence but were really excited and proud to be part of the group. What was more, the boys instantly wanted ‘play', as play wasn't something they considered as being part of their literacy lessons.'

Teachers have also witnessed the value of the work for the boys involved.

‘We have got boys who find writing very difficult,' says Bernard, a Year 6 teacher at Grinling Gibbons Primary. ‘They really relate to the kinaesthetic learning that's going on.'

Engaging boys with literacy has been on our radar for some time. Jessica Shepherd recently reported in the Guardian that government data shows close to 19,000 eleven year old boys are entering secondary school with a reading age of seven or below. When we secured funding from The Ironmongers' Company for this project, we saw a huge opportunity to deliver positive work specifically focussed on literacy attainment in young males.

Ross and Stas' have been working with the boys using theatre techniques to bring the ingredients of storytelling to life. Exploring Who, What, When, Where, and Why, the boys have been sharing their stories, exploring their imaginations and building confidence in a supportive environment.

‘There's a negotiation continually taking place,' Stas' reflects. ‘Beneath the story and narrative is the real life experiential learning.'

Their work will culminate in a sharing where both schools will come together and celebrate their achievements.

The project has been a rich experience for both the boys, and MakeBelieve Arts. It's not often you get the luxury of two terms to work supportively with two specific groups of young people. The boys' lifelong learning, and our professional practice, has grown richer as a result.