Around the world in 80 pages

16th October 1998 at 01:00
Sally Ramsden looks at how the literacy hour can acquire an international perspective

We think the story is amazing. We learned about new words and the differences between life in two countries. We learned a lot about life in India. We could read it over and over again."

This is what 11-year-old twins Emma and Katherine Hindley, from South Hampstead primary school in London wrote about a book called Jazeera in the Sun when they reviewed it for a guide to international children's fiction put together by British charity ActionAid.

The national literacy strategy guidelines repeat, at least seven times, the requirement to use novels, stories and poems "from a range of cultures", leaving little doubt that multicultural texts play an important part in the literacy hour. And as ActionAid's work with schoolchildren shows, there is already a wealth of fiction from other cultures available in British bookshops which can be used in the middle of the literacy hour "sandwich" - the 20 minutes of guided group and independent work.

It's in the opening 15-minute shared reading session that teachers are having difficulties matching resources to requirements. Taahra Gazi, ActionAid's education project manager, says: "Out of a list of 44 big books advertised for infant schools by one commercial publisher, only three had any connection with life outside Britain. And at a literacy book fair we visited recently there was only one set of texts dealing with global matters."

Many educators agree that in the rush to bring out big books for the literacy hour the wider world perspective has been left out. And the hard sell behind big story books masks the fact that 50 per cent of the literacy hour requirements involve non-fiction, including "information texts" and "non-chronological reports" such as lists, tables and instructions.

So far, mainstream publishing has produced few suitable non-fiction texts beyond rather hefty reference books. But this doesn't necessarily have to be a problem, points out Rob Cornford of Oxfam Publishing. Most schools already have development education resource packs which they can adapt or supplement to meet the non-fiction requirements. They can also use many of these materials for non-book based group activities in the middle part of the hour.

He says: "Pictures, charts, wall maps, graphs, tables to fill, games and role play exercises are all a standard part of the development education approach. And photographs can be used for a wide range of activities relevant to the literacy hour, such as writing captions, speech bubbles and before and after scenarios, to name a few."

Rachel Sutherland is national literacy strategy consultant for the London Borough of Greenwich. She believes development education methodologies and materials lend themselves to differentiating between fact and opinion and presenting an argument, among other things.

"You need some real life issues and context for this kind of work or it can all become too theoretical," she says. "And you don't always have to start from text. Discussion, drama, story- telling and using video are all possibles. Once teachers get to grips with the literacy framework, they find that it's flexible and that they can be creative and make it their own."

So if a wider world approach can help bring literacy work alive, what can literacy do for development education? Bernie Ashmore, curriculum adviser for humanities at the London borough of Enfield, has worked on the national pilot. He argues that while development education has traditionally been very strong on oral skills, visual literacy and inquiry, schools have tended not to get past the "let's-talk-about-it stage".

"The literacy hour provides a framework for moving to the writing stage, for consolidating and seeing what has been learned," he says. "What the national strategy is saying is that a lot of children don't have the complexity of language and concepts that they need today. Language and literacy must be at the heart of development education if students are to understand the complexity of the world and their place in it."


* Development Education Association: a 'Global Literacy' leaflet looking at opportunities for introducing a global dimension into the literacy hour, what can be learned from literacy programmes in developing countries and where to go for resources. Tel: 0171 490 8108 * UNICEF: 'Global Topics for the Literacy Hour' resource pack with poster-sized laminated photographs featuringinformation text on the flip side, plus activity sheets and teacher notes on Colombia, Indonesia and Tanzania for key stage 1. It will be available early next year. Tel: 01245 476315 * Oxfam: 'W is for World,' a round the world ABC with photos for key stage 1. Tel: 01202 715555 * ActionAid: 'Searching Stories,' a CD-rom with video clips of children aged 7-11 reviewing 150 world literature books, and 'Hadithi Nzuri, a good story' - a teachers' guide to children's literature from Africa, Asia and Latin America, including stories, poems and songs. Early next year a fiction big book on an Indian village and a non-fiction book on Bangladesh will be available. Tel: 01460 62972

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