Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Dressing Up Literacy Must Have a Purpose

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Dressing Up Literacy Must Have a Purpose

Article excerpt

A few weeks ago, I sat in the gym hall for parents' evening. Taking a rare gulp of air, I found time in between the dash through appointment slots to look up. In the island of seats at the middle of the room, I saw the usual clusters of families, many of whom had brought little children. One was dressed as Buzz Lightyear; another as a pirate. Four Elsas from Frozen skidded round, chased by a couple of Annas, a Snow White, and witches galore. This was World Book Day, of course, when characters from fiction peel away from the page. And into parents' evening.

It's striking how World Book Day plays out so strongly in the key constituencies of the younger years, where dressing up seems easier to integrate into a day that may already involve a stronger emphasis on kinaesthetic activities, play and jolly rewards. Secondary schools seem to have a more sanguine approach to face paint and Captain America jumpsuits with six-packs drawn on them in foam. I don't know, maybe your GCSE classes are different.

Fast-forward a few years past school and they'll all be at it again, only this time it'll be for Freshers' Week, Halloween and pub crawls, and they'll all be dressed up as Fred Flintstone and Wonderbra Warriors. An evening suit and a pair of vampire teeth always saved me from greater indignity at such times.

I asked a lot of primary teachers what they were doing for World Book Day, and the response was heartening: a huge number of them were following the catechism of make-up and dressing-up box, but they were also using it was a vehicle to drive kids towards text. Some of them had the children presenting an introduction to their character and the book - the motivations and themes behind the grease paint - to their peers. Some of them were re-enacting scenes for the room to dissect. Others were doing sponsored readathons; others were simply reading - the most controversial thing to do with a book, it seems, on World Book Day. …

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