Penning progress

Nicholas Bielby

HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO WRITE. by Dorothy Latham. Paul Chapman, pound;16.99.

MAKING PROGRESS IN WRITING. by Eve Bearne. Routledge Falmer, pound;19.99.

UNLOCKING WRITING. edited by Mary Williams. David Fulton, pound;16.

Three titles to help you teach writing, and so little time. How do you choose? All seem authoritative enough. They are up to date with the curriculum and the latest terminology and thinking.

The first five chapters of Dorothy Latham's book deal with the psychological processes in language and literacy learning. Even the discussion of secretarial skills, including handwriting, is more theoretical than practical. The last five chapters are more classroom-based, but still with a whiff of the lecture hall. The chapter on the Taxonomy of Writing Purposes will be useful for planning and those on extending and enhancing writing will definitely be helpful in many day-to-day situations. But overall, this book is more about theory than practice.

Eve Bearne's book is orientated much more towards the classroom. She tries to salvage the best of enlightened practice in the past and modifies it with recent thinking on the ways children learn. The work is appropriately packaged for today's prescriptive and test-oriented curriculum. She aims to give the national curriculum and the literacy hour a human face, and begins with what writing means to children, before moving on to the practicalities of planning and pedagogy.

She also offers plenty of examples, flow charts and schematic formats, and there are chapters on assessment and each of the major writing genres. It is certainly a book I'd be happy to refer to for inspiration during term-time weekends.

Unlocking Writing asserts the importance of creativity and imagination, and the important roles speaking and drama can play in developing writing. Mary Williams devotes whole chapters to handwriting, information and communications technology, English as an additional language, special educational needs, boys and able children. On the bread-and-butter issues of developing writing, she does not aim at comprehensiveness so much as stimulation or suggestive tasters - for example, on assessment and the use of writing frames. This book offers plenty of ideas and challenges you to think about your own experience, although it will not hold your hand through the basic processes of learning your trade. For this purpose, Eve Bearne's book is probably the better bet.

Nicholas Bielby is a writer and literacy consultant

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Nicholas Bielby

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