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Manageable steppes

Philip Hood welcomes three new Russian GCSE textbooks and a rare piece of software. Despite the lack of large-scale, full-colour commercial publications, Russian teachers are probably better served now than for a long time.

The original Iskra was a wonderful, if often frustrating collection of various teacher-made approaches to common topics. Gradually through the various revisions it has become tighter. The new Volume 3 is the first to be produced by John Murray, and still features a broad authorship. Its approach is to take all the GCSE topics, feature more advanced vocabulary, structures and situations within them, and to revise basic items as well.

The teacher's book gives task-by-task guidance as well as useful photocopiable worksheets and grammar summary sheets, with transcripts of the accompanying tapes. The pupil's book is entirely in Russian, anticipating the new GCSE target-language rubrics.

The tasks in any given unit progress from the presentation of new material to practice and testing tasks. All four skills feature strongly - teachers could simply follow the book, although for purposes of differentiation they would want to be more selective. There is a tendency for some items to be over-practised, (mainly because they are difficult), and this can make the diet rather repetitive - teachers may be glad to have too much rather than too little!

Ruslan 1 and 2 will provide a course for GCSE which, although aimed primarily at adult learners, has already begun selling well for older beginners in schools and colleges. Its main features are a very clearly defined unit content and structure, with discrete skill tasks separated for teachers to choose what to use and when.

The audio is supplied on tape or CD, which makes finding individual units extremely fast, and offers very high sound quality. There are also disc-based practice tasks which add considerably to the scope of the book. Clearly then this is a course which independent learners could use, but which also offers many tasks intended to be completed in pairs or groups.

A sample chapter of Book 2 shows that it will contain a greater range, including some good communicative speaking tasks, short problem-solving reading tasks and simple socio-cultural information in the target language. Russian is used as the stimulus language for most of the book.

Privyet is a professionally produced piece of samizdat, originating in the Nuffield York-Sheffield Russian project which did so much to bring Russian teachers together to discuss what materials they needed. Jane Nashvili has concentrated on providing materials for core GCSE work, largely featuring speaking, listening and writing, but not without reading tasks. The cassette is of good quality and there is a transcript booklet. The book anticipated well the future direction of GCSE by including many grid based tasks and by giving target language rubric, and yet has remained very user-friendly by including brief contextual introductions to tasks in English.

The methodology behind Privyet is very good: tasks link to each other by content across the skills, and are well graded to all students to move in manageable steps along a progression of language comprehension and language use. It is also priced very reasonably for a pack of six pupil's books and tape.

Teachers should look at all three of these recent publications for GCSE - they have different strengths, and no major weaknesses. Russian teacher-authors can be proud of their continuing creativity.

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