Clearly signed paths

Nicholas Bielby

COLLINS PATHWAYS EVALUATION PACKS Stage 0 and Signposts Pounds 78.90 Stage 1 and Signposts Pounds 78.90 Stage 2 Pounds 104.30 Stage 3 Pounds 61.85 Stage 4 Pounds 91.25 Stage 5 Pounds 101.75 Stage 6 Pounds 112.50 Stage 7 Pounds 117.15

Collins Pathways claims to constitute a complete reading and language scheme for ages 4 to 11. If such a claim is, perhaps, excessive for any one scheme, Collins has, at least, satisfied the two major criteria teachers look for in a scheme - books that they think will interest and hold the children and clearly organised progression through the steps of the programme.

The high quality of the books is the first thing to emphasise. At each main stage, the first set of books are the Longdale Park stories about a group of children in a primary class. Aimed initially at slower readers, these stories have wider appeal, varying from humorous stories about a worst-joke competition and coded messages to stories with real emotional meat about falling out with friends and worries about home life. Over the years the Longdale Park children provide a thread of continuity and familiarity for the less secure readers as they grow up together.

The remaining sets at each stage contain a variety of kinds of books - novels, books of poems, folk-takes, practical and general information books, drama, biographies, history - the zany with the serious, the informative with the imaginative, so that in one set you find a very idiosyncratically told tale of a nutty button collector alongside a book about Van Gogh, ending, as his biography must, with tragic death; in another, a guide to children's authors and their novels, a history of the Irish famine and a riddling fantasy, The Tree of Dreams. Rich and challenging variety, indeed.

Additionally, Landmark ("real") books are identified at each level (support materials provided), for instance, modern classics such as The Church Mouse, and a thesaurus. Over all, then, the scheme answers requirements about range and genres and provides for imaginative response and information skills.

While the Teacher's Notes usefully discuss what the books offer and suggest teaching points and activities in line with good practice, the Workbooks are fairly run-of-the-mill, sound but not engaging. Workbooks are relatively expensive and children, sensibly, tend to treat them with the same peremptory interest their teachers give them. Wise teachers will exploit the better ideas from the Workbooks for group activities in their own ways, providing the motivation of their own commitment, rather than spend money on multiple copies.

And so to the last thing teachers tend to look at, the rationale and approach expounded in the Teacher's Notes. A shame if teachers never come to it at all, since the rationale is sound, and underpins the approach to continuous assessment which is particularly valuable at key stage 1. Assessment is supported by copy masters (for instance, for running records, record keeping) and by the diagnostic Signposts books which focus on the various contributory reading skills relating to orientation and knowledge. The Teacher's Notes not only give help in interpreting children's reading performances, but also suggest action for addressing any weaknesses. The Level O support includes simple repetitive texts, alphabet books and text-free stories for children to tell. A young teacher who felt unsure about beginning reading would not go far wrong following the approaches spelt out here.

Over all, then, Pathways is a good scheme providing valuable support for the teacher and a wide range of informative and enjoyable books for the children. Recent materials from other publishers could usefully be employed to extend provision relating to, for instance, rhyme, information skills, comprehension and language, but Pathways could constitute a rewarding foundation. There is more reality, fun, challenge, variety and joy in Pathways than in many other schemes.

Nicholas Bielby Nicholas Bielby is tutor in primary education at the University of Leeds.

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