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Reality check

Moving stories about working-class life are explored in a resource that's designed to develop thinking skills. Carolyn O'Grady reports

English is well positioned as a subject to advance thinking skills, says the key stage 3 national strategy.

Mrs Ockleton's Rainbow Kite and Other Tales (Thinking Through Literature Teacher Resource Book) is built around short stories by Garry Burnett (author and advanced skills teacher at Malet Lambert School in Hull) and is closely aligned to the strategy's Leading in Learning approach.

The stories, together with assignments and activities, are designed to contribute to meeting English targets, and also to help students develop important thinking skills. Clearly, any such approach must rely, to a great extent, on the quality of the stories at its heart, and these are tightly woven, unsentimental and often deeply touching pictures of working-class life.

Short stories can sometimes hold a students' concentration better than a complete book, and can be contained in one or two lessons. Most of these are seen from the perspective of a child, which will also, hopefully, draw students in. They often touch on the day to day cruelties of school and family life, and the illusions that people use to sustain their lives.

Burnett sensitively captures the pain of a boy mocked for crying during a film; a boy's embarrassment at the antics and put-downs of his Uncle Kevin, a serial loser with an formidable talent for self-delusion; and the pathos of a boy called Dog, with a false eye and many missing teeth, who acts out his dream of pretending to be a bus.

One quibble with the stories is that there are very few girls or women portrayed, though whether this is an intentional gambit to attract boy readers is not clear. The exception in terms of gender and subject matter is Mrs Ockleton's Rainbow Kite, a moving, poetical account of an old woman's death, although we don't know that until the end. Notes on dealing with difficult emotional issues raised by the story are included.

There is a wide variety of assignments (writing, drawing and drama activities) involving many learning styles. Included are other extracts from different authors with related activities.

The CD contains all the stories in the resource, as well as some others, all vividly narrated by the author and some to haunting music by Gordon Giltrap. An anthology is available separately.

* Garry Burnett will be reading from the anthology at the Education Show on Friday March 10 at 3pm, accompanied by Gordon Giltrap.

Mrs Ockleton's Rainbow Kite and Other Tales Thinking Through Literature -JTeacher Resource Book, pound;29.99; Anthology, pound;4.99; CD, Pounds 9.99

* Crown House Publishing Stand PZ-K50

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