Laura Huxford reviews a reading programme designed to encourage information skills.
Oxford Reading Tree Fact Finders are designed to bring so-called "higher order reading skills" into the experience of five to seven- years- olds. Large format books are used by the teacher to explain ways in which information is presented, and to model methods by which it can quickly and easily be extracted from the page. Regular-sized versions of the same books may be used by children, in pairs or individually, to put these methods into practice. The point of the programme is not just to find out about something interesting, but also to learn effective processes for gleaning information from text.
The resources for the Fact Finders programme consist, at present, of three units comprising six books each, and a teacher's guide. In order to carry out the programme as intended in the teacher's guide, up to six copies of each of the books is required as well as a large format version of each book. The subjects of the three units have been chosen from those most frequently found as topics of work in infant schools - Myself, Families and Houses and Homes, which encompass the curriculum areas of Science, Geography, History, Technology, RE and PSE. The teacher's guide is by Pat Mackenzie and the children's books by Roderick Hunt, Valerie Fawcett and John Foster.
Titles include Our five senses and Playing safely in Unit 1, When Gran was a child and Getting ready for Eid in Unit 2, and Houses around the world and Building a house in Unit 3. A multi-cultural perspective is achieved and the variety of roles in the books is appropriately undertaken by both males and females.
The three units are intended to be covered sequentially as they become progressively more demanding in terms of language, structure and content. The books in Units 1 and 2 have 16 pages, and in Unit 3, 24 pages. All books are the same size and shape, though in different orientation; an equal number of portrait and landscape.
Various devices for imparting the information are used: captions, cut-away pictures, diagrams, labels, insets, maps, plans, keys. There are approximately three short sentences per page; sentences lengthen slightly in the third unit. The passive voice is not used in any of the books. Words within the text may also be found on the same page as a label, or set in the familiar setting of some "Environmental print". The books are written in different genres such as descriptive, classificatory, advisory, instructive and speculative or different genres are included within a book.
The teacher's guide contains a general explanation for using the materials to teach children how to research text, and then detailed notes on each book. The familiar model of "before the eyes meet the page, while the eyes are on the page, and after the eyes leave the page" is followed. Choosing the appropriate book, use of contents page, index, headings, skimming, scanning are covered. There is a variety of photocopiable sheets for children to record their progress in learning to use these processes.
For each book there are suggested preparatory activities and purposes for the research, a list of questions and discussion points for each double-page spread and suggestions for presenting what has been learned in order to achieve the agreed purpose (including use of information technology). There are photocopiable sheets of follow-up activities for each unit; some relating to the presentation, some encouraging skills such as scanning.
The teacher's guide contains a wealth of very useful information. Perhaps, though, the guidance for teaching the skills of efficiently extracting information from a book might have been organised in a more accessible manner. Unlike the latter part of the book, this section is not totally clear. Teachers will be able to adapt this programme to fit in with their curriculum planning in science and humanities, but the programme is of equal value to the English curriculum.
Fact Finders Adoption Pack 1 includes 6 sets each of Units A, B and C pupils' books; one set each of Unit A, B, and C Big Books; and one Teacher's Guide.