Engaging Pupils with Spyquest Gaming and Books

Spyquest author David Goutcher with pupils from Craigbank Primary School

As a school, we currently have a huge focus on raising attainment in literacy and have been developing many approaches to support all children to fulfil their potential. The First Minister’s Reading Challenge caught the imagination of many of my Primary 7 pupils, but there was still a small group that needed more encouragement to enjoy independent reading.

Even completing reading homework was a battle at times and they would rarely pick up a book for fun. However, I knew that they were keen gamers and enjoyed the fantasy worlds created in computer software, so imagination and creativity simply needed to be unlocked.

The pupils are much more enthusiastic readers and all have made great progress in all aspects of literacy.

For the past two years, I had worked with Malcolm MacMillan, the Education Liaison Officer at Larkhall Library, on a Swords and Stories Fantasy Role Play club. This club offered reluctant readers the opportunity to create characters, settings and plots through a Dungeons and Dragons-type game.

The children had loved the activities so much that they presented their own games to the rest of the class at an event in the local library. Not only did they relish the huge sense of achievement of teaching others the skills they had learned, they were also delighted to see great progress in their literacy and problem solving skills.

Whilst planning our next partnership project with the library, Malcolm enthused over the Spyquest phenomenon that’s taking the country by storm.

There are two aspects to Spyquest: first of all there is the game, a spy-themed adventure which challenges pupils to complete tasks such as code breaking. There is also the book series which features thrilling tales of international espionage.

I had heard about Spyquest author David Goutcher's recent event at the East Kilbride Waterstones Store, where over 1100 people crowded into the small shop for the launch of his latest offering, The Cursed Diamond. We arranged for David to come in and talk to the whole school.

Spyquest author David Goutcher visiting Craigbank Primary School

Drawing on his considerable experience in the National Intelligence Service, David regaled the enthralled children with stories of his time as an under-cover agent.

He explained how this, coupled with a passion for computer gaming, led to the exciting format which so effortlessly marries technology and literacy.

The pupils, many of who were keen gamers themselves, heard how David based his first book Polybius on the urban legend that involved American children playing a rare arcade game which mysteriously disappeared, as indeed, did they. Were they recruited by the CIA? Who can say?

David made it clear to the children how skills for learning, life and work are intertwined - discussing his career, training and entrepreneurial skills. It was obvious how completely passionate he was about the Spyquest format, and how skilled he was in using the written word married with an impressive software package.

Spyquest invites readers to lose themselves in an exotic world of espionage, where they can save the world on a school night

Many of the children bought books or asked for the school to buy the books for the library. This is a rare occurrence. We have recently reorganised our school library to ensure that every child has a varied selection of texts at their ability level, you can imagine how delighted we were when the pupils actually asked us to buy books.

Malcolm MacMillan, who works closely with staff at the school to encourage and foster an enjoyment of reading, arranged for an after school SpyQuest Club to run at the library which was open to all P6/7 pupils in the area. This afforded the opportunity to improve problem solving and literacy skills, in addition to collaborative working with children from other schools, who may share the same class next year, at High School.

David Goutcher with pupils at the Spyquest club in Larkhall Library

Our small group of reluctant readers have attended every session and it’s a joy to see them so excited about the missions that they complete.

They are much more enthusiastic readers and all have made great progress in all aspects of literacy.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Spyquest.

In a world where some children have significantly more contact with a screen than a page, it offers them the opportunity to develop higher order thinking skills: to create, to evaluate, to analyse and to apply skills within an exciting context that motivates them.

When I was young, I lost myself in a book, unaware of the development of word attack skills or sentence structure. I was Nancy Drew solving crimes or exploring the grounds of Mallory Towers.

Spyquest is just that. It invites readers to lose themselves in an exotic world of espionage, where they can save the world on a school night and almost lose sight of the real skills they are developing at the same time.

Find out more about Spyquest in our article by its creator, David Goutcher! If you're interested in games-based learning, you can check out the rest of our blog posts on the subject, or have a look at our resource to help adapt Coraline into a video game.