Build a stairway to the SATs

21st September 2001 at 01:00

CORNERSTONES FOR WRITING. By Alison Green, Jill Hurlstone and Diane Skipper. Cambridge University Press. Teacher's Books pound;35.95. Pupil Books pound;5.95. OHT Pack pound;44.95 +VAT

There are, according to this series, five steps to writing - two more than get you to heaven, according to Eddie Cochran - but teachers have always known that would be a breeze compared to teaching writing to reluctant boys.

The five steps are: modelling, planning, drafting, revisingediting and publishing. (The DFEE's Grammar for Writing reckons there are six, but that's civil servants for you.) Given there is broad agreement over the steps, how well does Cornerstones help you climb them to achieve heavenly writing?

nModelling: model texts are supplied on overhead transparency or poster with wipe-off acetate cover. They are either written for the series or taken from published works, including Harry Potter books. The teacher's books offer detailed notes on "how" to model the texts.

Planning: highlights the importance of purpose and audience as well as deciding at the outset on the intended method of publication (booklets, displays, letters, assembly reading, and so on).

Drafting: Cornerstones suggests examining drafts alongside finished text to show the "evolution" of a piece of writing. But, "drafting may sometimes be slow to gain momentum", the authors warn, in a masterpiece of understatement.

Revisingediting: this step is accompanied by a caution: "Sometimes a class will stoutly deny that there are any improvements to be made." Revision should be clearly focused on purpose and audience. The scheme crucially underlines the importance of reading aloud in evaluating and amending written work: "verbalising thoughts can help the writing process and deters the children from making assumptions".

Publishing: children should evaluate the intended impact on the audience, discuss text layout and consider illustrations.

These steps are followed in the teachers' books, detailing how the work can be advanced, session by session. There are child-friendly self-assessment sheets and a series of copymasters. Advice on plenaries is a little prosaic - but then the plenary is so dependent on the professionalism of the teacher in responding to outcomes in the course of the lesson.

The posters and OHTs are well chosen and fairly robust for regular use. The pupil books are attractive, using a colour-coding system to differentiate at three levels. Photographs and drawings match writing genres in style. Crucially, the links between reading and writing are made explicit.

The series expects additional time beyond the literacy hour to be devoted to extended writing, echoing government advice and reflecting the reality in schools where writing is already successful.

There are six units per year (two weeks at a time) with one main fiction and non-fiction focus per term. Again, this limited focus is already being pursued at the chalkface and this series could be an invaluable resource in helping children jump through the hoops set up for them at SATs time.

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