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Reading with reel children;Reviews

Learning to be Literate. Six INSET videos. Centre for Language in Primary Education pound;180 per set.

Kevin Harcombe on training tapes from a leading language centre that rival official ones

At about 40 minutes each, these videos, which document effective practice in literacy teaching, are ideal for staff meetings. They answer the question, "What does good literacy teaching look like?" All the teachers (from various London borough schools) are exemplary practitioners and elicit excellent responses from their children, who range from the highly articulate to those for whom English is a second language.

All age groups are seen working on challenging but achievable objectives. The children, regardless of ability, are nurtured as confident, thoughtful and reflective readers and writers through a range of stimulating activities, skilled questioning and peer support.

The teachers are shown conferring with individual children and parents, and also talking straight to camera about their methods and aims. Their explanation of shared writing and the use of open structures is particularly good, as is their skill in using the children's own experiences - including placing a high value on cultural traditions, such as oral storytelling. And for the staffroom cynic, let me bear witness to the fact that these are real children in genuine, mixed-ability classes of 30 or so (the uncertain mumbling response of the less able when reading aloud a difficult, whole-class text is very true to life). The production values are comparable to the national literacy strategy video material and helpfully include text on the screen to accompany the children's reading of their own work.

The least useful of the six videos is the one aimed at parents. The soporific voice and use of technical language (will the average parent understand "decoding" in relation to reading?) make it not particularly parent-friendly unless mediated by explanation from a teacher with pause button in hand.

"How to..." videos, from Kama Sutra to car maintenance (don't confuse the two), are a boon to distance learning. There are few better ways to improve technique than by observing someone else doing it well. If you cannot see this "live" (easier with literacy and car maintenance than Kama Sutra) then a video is a useful alternative.

Then again, if you do have one or two excellent teachers in your school, why not dust down the camcorder and enter the market yourself? "Ready when you are, Mr De Mille!" Kevin Harcombe is the headteacher at Orchard Lea primary school, Fareham, Hampshire

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