Online literacy work amplifies what works offline – and south Wales pupils enjoyed the best of both worlds
Not content with creating world-class online creativity tools for primary children with Purple Mash, software publisher 2Simple set up an imaginative new vehicle for using this tools to maximum effect, Serial Mash.
It's a fruitful partnership with author Johnny Zucker that has created a charming series of highly engaging online books to get children reading and writing too. And its recent Serial Mash competition hooked pupils all over the world and sparked more than a quarter of a million reading activities.
Power of serialisation is proven – Charles Dickens used it in 1836
The Serial Mash competition exploits at least two established successful approaches. As far back as 1836 the serialisation of Charles Dickens' The Pickwick Papers hooked a generation of readers (chapters of Mash titles are, likewise, released at regular intervals). And online quizzes and activities to follow up reading are now being adopted by most quality online publishers.
The online approach of Serial Mash was a no-brainer for Cameron, the 10-year-old UK winner pictured above with his successful Year 5 colleagues at Cadoxton Primary School in Barry, south Wales. "I like reading on Serial Mash because as well as reading the books you can also do the activities and find out more information about the books," he said.
The other winners were: International, Iman, Beaconhouse School System Risalpur, Pakistan; First UK runner-up, Amy and Jimmy, All Saints Academy, England; Second UK Runner-up, Younis, Kings Monkton School, Wales; Bonus award, Vyom, St Lukes CofE School, England.
Cameron's whole school benefited from his achievement. Each child in his class received a Serial Mash author's kit complete with pencil case, notebook, pencil, rubber and bookmark. In addition, the school was awarded a £200 CPD voucher.
The lessons from Cadoxton's use of online literacy services
Visiting the winners in Barry revealed the appeal and value of online literacy work and just how important it is becoming for both learners and teachers. Year 5 teacher Deborah Forse has extensive experience in this area and also runs the school's Into Film club. Children watch movies loaned free of charge by this education charity and they stimulate a whole range of discussions and activities, including writing reviews (a former pupil just win a national film review award).
You get a sense of her creative approach from the discussion around "love's true kiss" in Disney's Maleficent (a feature that's even been analysed in The New Yorker!). "Aurora the princess is kissed by Maleficent and they said, 'Well it wasn’t a love’s true kiss because it wasn’t a prince kissing a princess.' And then the conversation went off into a different direction. It was all very motivating."
So the Serial mash competition had a high benchmark to reach. And it didn't disappoint. "The fact that the children had to wait for the next instalment made Serial Mash a cliffhanger," she said. "They had a chapter at a time, then they had to wait. It left them on the edge of their seats, and this is the sort of thing some of the children said: 'I couldn’t wait for the next chapter to see what happened next.'
'Serial Mash was available for a regular reading carousel'
"Instead of having the instant accessibility, the mere fact that they had to wait another week to find out what happened kept them enthralled and interested, and they really enjoyed the comprehension activity. It was built as a quiz but basically it was extending their understanding of what they read in a fun and enjoyable way and that went through the whole period of the competition. And of course Serial Mash was available for a weekly reading carousel."
The 'carousel' is an integrated approach to learning adopted by many schools to ensure that reading is a regular activity – Cadoxton's takes place every day after lunch. It also features Pearson's Bug Club service which Cadoxton's two Year 5 classes (55 pupils) usually use but which was suspended for the duration of the competition.
The success was also helped by the fact that Cadoxton pupils have been happy users of 2Simple's Purple Mash online service since its inception (they can use it at home too). "It’s great because you’ve got the creative templates to be able to go off and do different styles of writing related to your topic," explained Deborah Forse. "That could be history or geography. We did a lot with Year 3 doing castles and dragons. There was so much on there. There was the Diary of a Knight – they could pretend to be the knight and write about it online."
As a sample of Serial Mash the competition provided more than a flavour of what is possible – it was half a term's worth of engaging work for the Cadoxton pupils (around five weeks). "We just took part in the competition, and are not paid-up Serial Mash users," added Deborah Forse. "But having seen how successful it was in encouraging the children to use it is certainly something that is worth us looking at. The children got a lot out of it.
We were thrilled by the vast number and quality of the entries
"All the children had logins for Purple Mash so they just read the next chapter, then carried out the activity and told me what they thought of it – and we tweeted their thoughts at the end using the school’s twitter account [@CadoxtonPS]."
The success of the competition and the positive feedback from schools were gratifying for Serial Mash author Johnny Zucker and the team he works with. "Here at Serial Mash we get a real buzz out of writing, illustrating and designing the Serial Mash books and resources," he said, "so we were thrilled by the vast number and quality of the entries to our competition.
"We knew our readers were a brilliant bunch, but we never knew they were that creative and sparky. Going through all of their entries was a total pleasure, so we say a massive thank you to every single child that entered. Keep reading the Serial Mash stories, and keep being so inventive!"
2Simple celebrates Euro 2016 with new competition
2Simple has another competition launching soon, running alongside Euro 2016 (June 10-July 10), aimed at children who love football – rumour has it there are quite of few of them out there!
To enter, children just have to create a football themed resource using one of the Purple Mash creative tools. They could win a customised football kit for a national team of their choice (Wales, Northern Ireland and England represent the UK).
The competition is open to all schools worldwide and is free to enter. You can find out more here on the 2Simple Euro 2016 page.