A word in your ear about conversation

1st March 1996 at 00:00
SPEAKING AND LISTENING ACTIVITIES FOR STUDENTS AT KEY STAGE 3. A4 folder of photocopiable sheets with tape cassette By Alison Kirkpatrick. Pounds 45. Framework Press Parkfield, Greaves Road Lancaster LA1 4TZ.

KEY STAGE 3 ASSESSING SPEAKING AND LISTENING. Videotape and accompanying booklet. Berkshire English Advisory Team. Pounds 30. From Ginny Foley Education Department Shire Hall, Shinfield Park Reading RG2 9XE. Age range 11 - 14

Dennis Hamley assesses resources geared to key stage 3 speaking and listening activities and assessment. Both these productions are welcome. Speaking and listening at key stage 3 can be a nightmare to organise, especially for inexperienced teachers, and is in danger of being reduced to a few stereotyped activities.

Alison Kirkpatrick's work is detailed and based on wide experience. There is little that the experienced English teacher will not know or practise: its strength is that it is all presented in meticulous, step-by-step order.

The introduction sets the tone by outlining any teacher's main task - speaking and listening are nothing if not motivated and need varied activities based on literature and the media as well as the pupils' own experience. Listening skills, often neglected, are rightly stressed.

There is good advice on classroom organisation - how to keep noise down, how to sort out groups and pairs which will curb the over dominant and encourage the diffident.

There are six units, dealing respectively with audience, receiving and giving information, speaking in groups, giving talks.

The instructions on setting up and taking part in these activities are detailed and comprehensive but unobtrusive.

The whole is bound together by a set of symbols which give the nature of each activity at a glance: there are model talks and conversations which can be followed from the tape and give, not ideals to aspire to, but notions of what might be appropriate. Each unit is completed by skills reviews and self-assessment tasks.

The Framework Press prides itself on meeting teacher's needs directly, practically and relevantly. This publication is fully in that tradition.

The training video and booklet brought out by the Berkshire English advisory team can be seen as a valuable complement. Here, on a half-hour video, are four key stage 3 pupils from Theale Park School in Reading: Pyra, Rosy, Ben and Chris.

They share seven speaking and listening activities - monologue, role play, discussing a poem (Elizabeth Jennings' "My Grandmother"), comparing photographs, discussing a video and pamphlet on drinking and driving, hot-seating (Pyra is Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream) and then self-evaluation. The students are pleasant, engaging and collaborative - super kids. The video is lovely to watch in its own right.

In the accompanying leaflet there are commentaries on each activity as a whole, then separation out into commentaries on each pupil. These are detailed, very perceptive and a good guide to what to look for. In the appendices are the poem, the photographs and the speaking and listening level descriptions, then, crucially, come estimates of best fit levels for the four pupils and why.

This constitutes an excellent training package. The authors state it is meant to complement the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's speaking and listening exemplification materials. It will certainly fulfil its main aim - to help teachers to recognise achievement and describe performance, especially when used on in-service training days and in department meetings.

Classroom practice, methodology and assessment are constituents of a whole. These productions together know that, are complementary and are equally valuable.

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