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Journeys on the magic carpet

Jacqui Burke talks to Victoria Neumark about the literacy hour

Our best time is the reading hour on Monday morning. At 10.50am, all the children get out their handwriting books and we work for 15 minutes on writing.

Children in my class, which is the middle-ability band from Years 1 and 2, are all working on similar levels for language. For reading, that is the Ginn readers at levels 4 and 5. After the writing, the children are divided into four groups for reading. I spend 10 to 15 minutes a day with each group.

While one group sits on the carpet with me, the other three get on with other language work: comprehension, making sentences with our three key words for the day, story cards, making invitations, poems.

The other groups know that when a group is on the carpet with me, no one is to interrupt. They are very motivated to support each other and work things out, and we have a saying in our class: "The answer's in the book." They use their word book and their word bank.

I have about eight or 10 children on the carpet with me. This Monday it was the story Two Surprises!. We talk a bit about the dynamics of the book, about its title, cover, the contents list, who wrote it, the illustrator.

Today, Tracey sounded out the word "editor" - we attack everything phonically - and said, "Oh, I don't know what that means."

None of the children knew what the word meant, so we discussed it, and they thought it sounded quite an interesting job to choose the words and pictures for a children's book. I think it would be a lovely job myself but I tried to explain that for other kinds of books, maybe textbooks, it might be less interesting. That seemed to go a bit over their heads.

Then we read. We either read all together or we do a round robin. I start off and then after a while I nudge the next one and so it goes. Everyone still has to follow with their finger because they don't know when they will be nudged. So that is fun.

We talk about the story and play "magic finger" games. "Put your magic finger on the rucksack," I said, and it turned out that no one knew what a rucksack was, so that develops their language. Or I might say, "Quick, who can put their magic finger on the word 'something' on page 22," choosing one of our key words for the day. And we use flashcard games from the reading scheme to develop their confidence.

The children are very enthusiastic. Natasha said: "Oh, I really enjoyed that story. Can we read it again?" It's because they get possession of it, they feel it's theirs.

When it's 12 o'clock and the young ones have their dinner and the older ones go out to play, they don't want to go. There are always little groups finishing off because they don't want to put their folders away with work unfinished. It pays off in their foundation work in the afternoon, too. Because they are so settled and on task in their reading and writing, they can get on in their history and geography and know how to look things up.

Their parents are over the moon. When we have our half-termly assemblies for the parents and we read in a group for them, there is silence at the end. Some of the parents have tears in their eyes. They may be unconfident readers themselves but they are so proud of their children. It's a real joy to see them.

And it's a joy for me to teach like this. When I first came three years ago, I found it so hard. I could never get to hear everyone read individually in a week. But now I hear them all and they are doing so well.

Jacqui Burke is class teacher in Years 1 and 2 at Lache County Infants School in Chester. Its head, Sue Pearson, now on the Standards Task Force, was publicly congratulated by David Blunkett on her school's improved reading competence

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