Imagine, if you will, a giant frame of monkey bars stretching out in front of you. You reach out and grab hold of the very first rung. You’re hanging in mid-air but it’s okay because you can see the very next rung coming up. You stretch out, grasp it with one hand, then pull yourself across. So far so good. You’ve got a solid grip.
But then something alarming happens. The rung after that is missing. With nothing to grab hold of, you’ve got nowhere to go. You’re left dangling.
New research suggests that almost half (49 per cent) of Year 1 pupils in the UK experience this sense of helplessness every day. Only instead of missing monkey bars it’s gaps in their vocabulary that are the problem. The research was carried out by the Oxford University Press and involved a survey of 1,300 teachers. This ‘word gap’ has serious consequences for the pupils in question – without the necessary words they can’t progress with their learning.
And failing to get a grip on vocabulary affects children further down the line. Secondary school teachers said they thought around 43 per cent of students in Year 7 lacked the vocabulary they needed to engage with the learning. A clear link was drawn between having a ‘word gap’ and low confidence, with 80 percent of teachers saying they thought a limited vocabulary led to low self-esteem. In addition, 82 per cent of teachers said they thought pupils with limited vocabulary would be less likely to stay in education.
Now think back to those monkey bars. You’re hanging in mid-air. Your strength is running out, your fingers are slipping and you feel like you’re about to fall. Then you hear a voice calling to you to hold on tight. Not only that, it encourages you to keep on going. Tentatively, you reach out a hand and, amazingly, it makes contact with solid metal. Rung by rung you claw your way across. Whenever a new gap looms up, you hear that reassuring voice again and the missing bar miraculously appears. On you swing until eventually, triumphantly, you make it all the way across.
At The Children’s Literacy Charity, we have an army of tutors and volunteers to cheer children on and help them overcome whatever difficulty they face. It’s our belief that literacy issues are best tackled early on. Working one-to-one, we identify where children are struggling and help them to bridge each gap, word by word, or even sound by sound or letter by letter. Our vision is for every child to ‘cross the monkey bars’, and feel the surge of confidence that comes with the achievement.
For a glimpse of some of this work in action, have a look at this video.