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How to scan the small print

Laura Huxford looks at new approaches to developing children's information handling skills. THE LONGMAN BOOK PROJECT. Non-Fiction 2 Evaluation pack. Ages 8 - 12.Pounds 87.50 + VAT. - 0 582 12333 XA. Language 2 Evaluation pack. Ages 7 - 9. Pounds 22 + VAT. - 0 582 12336 4A.

Fiction 3 Evaluation pack. Ages 9 - 10 Pounds 67.50. - 0 582 12342 9A.

The Longman Book Project for key stage 2 continues to be as comprehensive as at key stage 1. The materials follow a similar format to the earlier stages. The evaluation pack for Non-fiction 2 consists of seven subjects. For each subject there is a series of four to six books, one of which is reproduced in a large format. Teaching suggestions which are contained in a single volume are supported by a pack of copymasters. Language 2 comprises two pupil textbooks, four workbooks for spelling and handwriting and a teacher's book which includes copymasters. Fiction 3 consists of 30 books in four graded sets. The teacher's volume is again supported by a pack of copymasters.

The non-fiction books illustrate the full range of non-fiction genres. The subjects cover science, history, geography, art and technology, and make a welcome addition to materials. But the books are primarily intended to be used in teaching research skills, the large format books for modelling features and processes.

Within each of the seven subjects the books have been written so that certain research skills may be addressed, although provision is made for using another subject to teach a particular skill if that is more appropriate to time-tabling. The first stage on the subject of textiles covers the research skills which were addressed in Non-fiction 1: browsing, reading covers, inside covers, headings, captions, pictures, contents, index, tiered text and so on. The next stages (Schools around the world, Art and colour, Victorians, Making your own book, Chronicles, and Science in the kitchen) include differences in layout between non-fiction and fiction texts, the processes of raising prior knowledge, asking questions, selecting books, following instructions, skimming, scanning, intensive reading, note-taking and using reference material.

The Teacher's Resource Book gives extensive guidance on using the non-fiction books to teach these skills, including instruction in the use of large format books with which key stage 2 teachers may be unfamiliar. Teachers' attention is drawn to the specific language appropriate to the different genres. Additional material includes an assessment pack for use half way through the programme, posters to illustrate processes such as note-taking, and copymasters to support many of the activities.

A strong feature of this programme is the intention to cater for the full range of needs and abilities using the same books. Each chapter contains tiered text. The first tier, brief and in large type, gives an overview of the subject. The detail is provided in the second tier of text which is in a smaller type. For those wishing to have more information there is a third tier in fairly fine print. The way in which these variations in print size occur is in line with many information books, and learning to read the first tier to establish if the subject matter is relevant is an important research skill. However, in these books the tiered text has a second function. The authors expect the "developing reader" will be able to read only the first tier, the "maturing reader", to move on to the second and the "mature reader" to take information from all three tiers. However, in some of the books, the first tier of text is unlikely to provide new information for children. As this is all some children will be able to read, methods of accessing the second tier of text are necessary, and suggestions are made in the teacher's book for methods of organisation which allow for the less skilled reader to work co-operatively with other readers for this purpose. A cassette for each book is also provided.

Language 2 covers elements of language such as sentence construction, parts of speech, punctuation, tense, different genres within fiction and non-fiction within the framework of extracts from books in the non-fiction and fiction parts of the project. The children's textbook includes explanation, examples, activities and games and is supported by some worksheets which are photocopiable from the teacher's resource book. This book also contains notes for teaching joined handwriting and spelling through the "Look, say, cover, write, check" approach. The four workbooks allow children to practise spelling and handwriting as one.

A wide range of distinguished authors and illustrators have contributed to Fiction 3, and the result is a library of superb books which should stimulate thinking, discussion, further reading, exploration and writing. Adle Geras's two books of cat poems will delight as well as stimulate children to write in a similar vein. Martin Waddell's collection of witty stories should prompt word-play. Jan Mark's clever story about friendship groups among girls goes close to the bone. There are books for children of different backgrounds, books in which the characters resemble the stereotypes of traditional children's literature and books in which the opposite image is portrayed. Children will want to share and discuss these ideas and the Teacher's Resource Book provides suggestions for organising group reading, and notes for developing a response, understanding story structure, setting characters, genre, language and so on.

The Teacher's Book also describes how to meet individual needs by providing variable levels of support. There is a section on how readers need to orchestrate a variety of strategies when reading and some ideas to help children who have developed inappropriate strategies, which includes a miscue analysis for each of the four reading bands. There is also a list of points relating to specific needs and suggestions for assessment. A section on teaching writing, organising workshops, and responding to children's writing completes a valuable resource.

Laura Huxford is a senior lecturer at Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.

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