A multi-ethnic primary school tried out a reading scheme from New Zealand. Gerald Haigh reports on their findings
Among the latest literacy resources to cross the boundless main from the far Antipodes (I like to imagine Reading Scheme clippers riding the Southern Trades to Cape Horn) is Nelson's Ready to Read, well established in New Zealand, and now revised and adapted for UK schools.
The general structure is by now familiar. There are three levels - Emergent, Early and Fluent. The approach is through guided and shared reading, in support of which there are short pupil books for shared reading - 32 titles at each level, in four graded sets (A to D) of eight. Twelve titles are repeated as "big books". For the teacher there is a Resource Book for each of the three levels, and a Skills and Strategies planning guide which covers the whole scheme.
For a classroom opinion of Ready to Read, I went to Moseley Primary, a multi-ethnic school in Coventry, where it was used and evaluated in Reception and Years 1 and 2.
Moseley teachers were overwhelmingly approving - pupils enjoyed the books, and if a major objective is simply to persuade children that books are there to be enjoyed, then there is no doubt that this is achieved. Reception teacher Margaret Oakley, who is half way through a one-year exchange from Australia, found the approach of Ready to Read, though not the scheme itself, to be very recognisable. "It follows a familiar format, and it's the sort of thing I'm used to using back home."
She praised the short reading books - "The contents are of high interest for the children, and they can't wait to take them home." Her children also enjoyed the fact that even "emergent" readers could find books on similar topics. "They were saying, 'This has a mouse on it and so has that'."
Year 2 teacher Alison Hart found that her pupils were keen on the factual books. "They could relate them to things we'd been doing in class, and use them to find out things for themselves."
Marie Willis, a Year 1 teacher, noted that the reading books are very short - eight pages at Emergent A, 16 at Fluent D. "My first impression was that they might be too short, but then I found that if I used them correctly, according to the Teacher's Book, they were quite long enough."
The Big Books were popular too, according to Alison Hart: "I've always seen the value of this kind of work - bringing the children's attention to detail. It's helpful for them to see good layout and presentation."
All were impressed by the teacher material. Marie Willis, relatively inexperienced, made heavy use of the Teacher's Resource Book. "They've covered every aspect of the teaching of reading. It's all here, and I can't think of anything that I'd want to add."
The Resource Books have lesson plans for every book, which Marie Willis made full use of. "I particularly liked the section called "Reading the Text" - that was very helpful, and it led me to think of other ideas for myself."
Margaret Oakley agreed. "I like the assessment guides and checklists, and I especially like the section which groups the titles under themes such as animals, food, weather - that's the way I like to work, selecting reading materials around a theme."
There were very few quibbles. Margaret Oakley pointed out that literacy-hour lessons will increasingly bring educational support assistants and parent volunteers on board, and that it would be good to see some classroom guidance material for them, less detailed than the Teacher's Resource Books.
She also feels that there is an additional place for smaller Big Books - "perhaps half this size, and cheaper, to use with small groups." Everyone, though, generally approved of the size of the Big Books, which are smaller than some others on the market and fit into school resource boxes. Marie Willis's only problem was to wish that her Resource Book was more robust. "I use mine all the time, and it's coming apart."
This scheme has fewer additional components than do some of its competitors - there are no photocopiable support materials, for example, which some teachers find useful in the context of the grouped classroom. However, 12 audio cassette tapes will be available later this year, one for eachBig Book, with notes for the teacher. Each cassette will have two versions of the story, one narrated with background music, one read more slowly without music. Other "extras" are under consideration, as the publisher develops the programme and listens to teachers.