Paul Noble finds that the non-fiction package, Discovery World, fits well with the National Literacy Project's new strategy for language. Below,Nicholas Bielby looks at how the rest of the Storyworlds scheme is shaping up
Sixty minutes of literacy instruction is to be introduced into primary schools in the autumn term 1998. With this "Blunkett hour" the Government will break new ground, for not only will schools be told what to teach, they will also be told how to teach it and for how long.
Cynics have long argued that it would only be a matter of time before one government or another moved from the realm of content into that of method. It will now only be a matter of time before commercial material starts to appear targeted at literacy hour.
With Discovery World Heinemann has inadvertently started the race before the other teams have entered the stadium, for there is such a strong didactic drive in the scheme that it will fit perfectly into this new world of literacy instruction.
Discovery World consists of pupil books that are exclusively non-fiction and a teaching package in which non-fiction skills are identified, listed, taught and assessed. These can be ticked off on the impressively dense grids provided as photocopiable masters in the Skills Development and Assessment Guide. Non-fiction skills are a "complete literacy process", we are told in the guide and Discovery World is the best way to teach them.
In the pack there are two literacy lesson books, one supporting the pupils' books stages A to D (roughly ages 4 to 6) and one supporting stages E and F (for 6 to 7-year-olds). One great advantage of these sturdy ring-bound big books is that they can be used without ploughing through a weighty teacher's manual first.
Pick up a lesson book, choose a skill (understanding front covers, lesson 5, for example), open the page and off you go. On one side of the flip-over page is a large reprint of the front cover of one of the Discovery World books (in this case Shopping). As teachers show this to the class they are faced with an instruction page that tells them exactly what to say and do. For example: "Hold up a copy of Shopping. Do you know what this part of the book is called? (In case you don't know, Heinemann tell you.) Front cover - where a book starts. "
Painting by numbers is more difficult than this. But few teachers will use the big books in such a mechanistic way and they do contain excellent focus material for those Blunkett hours just around the corner. Alongside the instructions are listed pupil activities and teachers are also directed to some photocopiable sheets in the guide.
At the heart of the pack are some very good pupil books that fit alongside those from Storyworlds as the non-fiction strand in a comprehensive reading programme. But Discovery World is not so much a strand, more a substantial knotted rope. In it, firmly entwined together, are a range of subjects and a variety of topics over six reading levels.
On the back of each pupil book the level, subject and topic focus are stated to help teachers searching for an appropriate book. "Every subject I usually talk about at my fingertips", was the comment of one reception teacher who gave the books a trial for a couple of weeks.
There are some good ideas. In Just Add Water, each double-page spread shows before and after. For example: "Here is some flour. Here is some dough. " Linking the two pages is an arrow with the words "Add water". Simple science at a stroke.
Sometimes the design does become a little muddled, as with the busy pages of Seasons, but on the other hand there are many books, such as Which is Alive?, that are supremely effective in their directness and clarity.
Discovery World is aggressively priced at under Pounds 100 (the pupil books alone are worth more than that). Its big selling points are likely to be the quality of the non-fiction books (especially as they are for an age group still under-resourced in non-fiction), ease of use and its suitability for those direct teaching periods that will become as much part of the educational landscape as national curriculum tests and special educational needs coordinators.