A story that is still unfolding

26th May 2000 at 01:00
TEACHING FICTION IN THE PRIMARY SCHOOL. By Dennis Carter. David Fulton, pound;14. THE ART OF STORYTELLING FOR TEACHERS AND PUPILS. By Elizabeth Grugeon and Paul Gardner. David Fulton, pound;13.

Once upon a time there was a land full of stories, where children, reared on dreams and age-old wisdom, grew and flourished in the sunshine. But then a monster invaded this land - its name was NLS. People said the monster would banish stories and force-feed children with word, sentence and text-level objectives. Then along came a man with a cunning plan. He took some stories and festooned them with objectives so the monster would not see. And, cautiously, he crept towards the children . . .

Dennis Carter's book, Teaching Fiction in the Primary School, may not be a story but it is a darned good read. The first part is full of passionate invective against the National Literacy Strategy: those who agree are in for a satisfying wallow; those who do not can shriek insults ("Has the man never heard of phonemic awareness?" "Oh no - of all Frank Smith quotes that has to be the crassest!") and bask in disgust.

But agree or disagree, when you get to the heart of the book - "Ways of Working with Fiction", including literacy strategy lessons on stories from the oral tradition, classic texts and modern children's literature - you are likely to be thrilled. Carter provides a splendid selection of stories (one for each term of each year, covering the major elements required in the literacy strategy framework), along with a wealth of ideas for exploring them. Although many of the word and sentence objectives accompanying the stories are fairly superficial (teachers would do better to refer diectly to the literacy strategy framework), his suggestions for linking literacy hour work to dance, drama, music and art are exciting and creative.

In The Art of Storytelling for Teachers and Pupils, Elizabeth Grugeon and Paul Gardner home in on the particular - and manifold - benefits of oral storytelling.

This is another book full of excellent practical suggestions, including ways of using stories to enhance teaching across the curriculum, to develop children's language and literacy skills, help them make sense of and reflect on their experience, and deal with moral and social dilemmas.

It also deals with Dennis Carter's perceived educational dilemma: "During periods of rapid educational change, teachers have to meet many challenges and adapt to new ways of working ... While there is always a case to be made for developing new and effective ways of teaching and learning, there is a danger that we may discard what has already proven to be effective. We have made a case for retaining story at the heart of primary practice."And a very good case it is ...

So now many people were creeping though the land, bringing stories to the children. The flowers began to open again, the birds burst once more into song. Perched high among the rocky crags, the NLS monster watched and smiled. "Hmm," it muttered. "If they can get the balance right between covering my objectives and revelling in the stories, then perhaps we can all live happily ever after."

Sue Palmer is a writer and literacy INSET providerSue Palmer's 'A Little Alphabet Book' (OUP pound;4.99) is free with the June issue of 'TES Primary', in newsagents now or on subscription, tel: 01858 438805

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