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Improving Writing Outcomes For Boys Through Expressive Art And Creativity

Let little lads indulge in their interests through role-play, dance, music and more, then link that to mark-making to give their writing purpose

  • Improving Writing Outcomes For Boys Through Expressive Art And Creativity

My latest blog post on firestartingblog.wordress.com came as result of International Women’s Day and thinking about how we promote girls in EYFS.

The gender gap is a constant cause of concern, and for that post I wanted to shift focus away from promoting boys to promoting girls.

Here, however, I return to the ever-important issue of boys, and their writing – or should that be lack of it?

There is no question that in Early Years one size does not fit all. The new framework was originally built on the overarching principles of the unique child, positive relationships and enabling environment. Joined together these three elements lead to learning and development.

In the bid to support our children to achieve the (non-statutory) Early Years Outcomes, and judging the children against them, I often wonder if on the way to those outcomes sometimes we have lost sight of the importance of those principles.

This is particularly true when it comes to writing, and the ever-increasing pressure early years appears to feel in getting children, especially boys, to the Early Learning Goal:

‘Children use their phonic knowledge to write words in ways which match their spoken sounds. They also write some irregular common words. They write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others. Some words are spelt correctly and others are phonetically plausible.’

There is a 15% point gap in the achievement of this outcome for girls and boys, and not just in 2016. Each year girls perform better than boys in all ELGs.

The fact that writing is generally the most-focused-on outcome continues to be a national trend. We know the importance of writing to support all other subjects and learning throughout school. However, in EYFS we need to question why the boys often appear to be more-reluctant writers, otherwise all the pure writing interventions in the world will have little impact.

Here, we need to go back to that unique child, the positive relationships and the enabling environment for help.

Teachers in my school have this year embarked on a piece of action research, each for marginal gains. If successful, these could pave the way for larger gains in boys writing in the future, if they are pursued and adapted well.

Having always been an advocate of using creative strategies to engage children in early years wherever possible, I decided that this would be my focus for my action research, entitled ‘Improving Outcomes for Boys’ Writing through Expressive Art and Creativity’.

This has seen me engaging in research around the area of boy’s writing, and then looking at the following ways to promote boys engagement through creativity and art.

1.The first thing I realised was that boys like a purpose to writing. Through the ‘art’ (and done well, it is truly an art) of interactive role-play, boys realise they actually need to write. Follow their interests, and find out what they enjoy role-playing, then facilitate the purpose of writing in that role-play. Lists, receipts, messages, awards – their mark-making becomes a necessary part of playing the roles that excite them in the real world. It fills me with joy when a 3 year old mark-makes ‘3 quid’ on a piece of paper and hands it to a friend! If they’re using paper and pens, make it purposeful. Role-play also gets them talking. And remember, if they can’t talk it, they can’t write it.
2.Boys tend to be far more attracted to mark-making that doesn’t involve paper and pens. So, messy mark-making use different media such as foam, gloop, slime, dough and mud to create patterns, marks and letter sounds they may have learned. And all the while you’re also exposing them to texture and sensory experiences, so they are flexing those very important pre-writing muscles required for shoulder, elbow and wrist pivots.
3.Music! As an advocate of Write Dance, I now adapt this to include topical or ‘child choice’ music now I understand the physical movements it focuses on. Using two paintbrushes to cross the midline to the tune of Uptown Funk takes some beating. Plus, it helps to close the gap in the physical development needed to close the gap in writing. For these same reasons, music is also used to facilitate dough gym and dough disco.
4.Gross motor phonics – get the whole body moving, get creative with those mnemonics, give them a bit of rap! Most discrete phonics in my nursery is practised using the whole arm and a pointing finger. Don’t forget to use a little hip flick! They can apply using fine motor control in all the ways above and throughout the continuous provision, and you will have opportunities for mark-making everywhere.

So far this year, with a boy-heavy cohort, I am seeing a much better uptake of boys choosing creative mark-making.

Nicky Clements is associate leader for EYFS, Victoria Academies Trust and EYFS lead at Rowley Park Academy, as well as a mum of four boys.

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