Let’s be clear.
This footballing country is in a dire state. Germany are better than us. France are better than us. Denmark, Finland and Sweden are all better than us. In fact, England rank so poorly that we top only Cyprus, Italy and the United States of America.
Italy was the clue. I’m not talking about footballing prowess here. I’m talking about literacy. In an OECD ranking of basic literacy amongst 16-24 year olds, England placed 19 out of 22.
What is literacy? Google it. If then you can read, digest, and interpret the information that is the fruit of your virtual labour then you are literate; you will know that the primary definition one encounters is ‘the ability to read and write.’ I think that’s a fairly succinct summation of what literacy is. However, as with all things, it lacks perfection. It doesn’t take into account speech for one. And what if I can somehow read War and Peace in a day or two but can’t string a single sentence together with a pen? Am I now illiterate?
For me, literacy is the ability to read, write and communicate in a manner which allows oneself to survive, thrive and ‘get on’ in a world which is, in spite of what certain right wing media outlets will have you believe, becoming increasingly reliant on the written word as a means of communication because of advances in modern technology and not in spite of it.
I am a teacher of English. I am also a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur football club and my students know this. I know they know this because everyday I talk to boys about football. I talk to black boys and white boys; rich boys and poor boys; naughty boys and good boys. About football. A lot. And that’s the key. Football is the way in.
According to the National Literacy Trust:
Boys tend to enjoy reading less, tend to read less often and think less positively about reading than girls.
Big news. What’s more:
Only 28.7% of boys in KS4 say that they enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot. This is nearly half the number of KS4 boys who say that they enjoy reading (56.7%) and nearly half the proportion of girls in KS4 who enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot (43.9%).
Teenage boys…think less positively about reading compared with younger boys. Only 20.4% of boys in KS4 agree with the statement that “reading is cool” compared with 49.1% of boys in KS2. At the same time, however, KS4 boys are more likely to agree with the statement that “I cannot find anything to read that interests me” compared with KS2 boys (42.8% vs. 28.3%). KS4 boys are also more likely to agree with the statement that they “prefer watching TV to reading”, with 69.9% of KS4 boys agreeing with the statement compared with 57.7% of KS2 boys.
So what’s to be done about all this? Well, a report by the National Literacy Trust states that their research has found that:
Young people who enjoy reading very much are four times as likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all. Alternatively, young people who do not enjoy reading at all are fifteen times as likely to be reading below the expected level for their age compared with young people who enjoy reading very much.
Quite simply, we need to get the boys reading. ‘Last Minute Pen’ is an attempt to do just that.So what is ‘Last minute Pen’? I’ll tell you what it’s definitely not. It’s not:
- Balls and Books
- The Lit Man
- Football Lit
- Terry PENables
- West Gram (mar) Utd
- Manchester Untitled
- The Referees Eyes are full of Lit
It’s none of those. It’s ‘Last Minute Pen’, a blog aimed at encouraging a love of reading, writing and general word funnery (Yes, I wrote that) via the world of the (not so) beautiful game. It all started as I was watching Spurs play Man Utd with my brother and my Dad earlier on in the season. Much to their exasperation I took considerable delight and loudly exclaiming, ‘METAPHOR’ every time the commentator said something like, “The ball just fizzed past the net,” or “It’s absolute magic the way he flicked that ball over the wall like that”. Fizzed? Nothing in football fizzes. Magic? Walls? It’s all metaphor! This got me thinking; could I somehow get away with watching a game of football in class based around metaphor and simile? Or cliche? Personification? And why stop there? Football contains a veritable kit bag of literacy material:
- Football biographies waiting to be read. Let’s compare the way Sir Alex ‘writes’ with the way ‘Arry Redknapp does. Any differences? And what about this secret footballer that writes for the guardian. What can we infer about his character from the language he uses. Might we be able to guess his secret identity?
- Cockney rhyming slang waiting to be dissected (“He’s hit the beans” anyone?)
- Difficult-to-pronounce names that we can have a go pronouncing in a footballing discussion (with a covert aim at to improve our confidence in reading names aloud).
- We can analyse books like Match of the Day analyses games. Let’s have half time (5 page) punditry and analysis of books where students play the roles of Lineker, Hansen and Shearer!
- Let’s look at the way the Tabloids and the Broadsheets differ in their use of language to report on the game.
- Let’s have footballing metaphor (‘‘The lads have run their socks into the ground.’‘) of the week!
- How about Intertextual allusion of the week? (With that goal, [Harry] Kane has finally shown that he is able.”) Okay, I may be getting a wee bit carried away.
As often as I can I’ll be posting lesson activities, discussion and commentary centered around the worlds of Education and Football, all with the overall objective of giving boys a way in. A football way in.