Card-carrying members of the reading classes
One of the main findings of the Assessment of Performance Unit was that high scorers in reading tests at the age of 11 were able to answer from the text, whereas low scorers looked to life experiences for their responses. Clearly, focused comprehension work is important in the junior years.
Reading Workshop 1 provides a graded card-based reading comprehension programme for lower junior years. The cards, which are four-sided and open like greeting cards, are organised into four groups: contemporary and classical poetry, traditional fiction, contemporary fiction, information and non-fiction.
The 20 cards are further differentiated into three levels of difficulty. The teachers' guide contains supporting notes, photocopiable masters and pro-forma for record-keeping. An audio-cassette extends the tasks with material to help develop listening comprehension skills.
The authors claim that often the problem with getting children to read is the initial one of engaging their interest; they say that the cards are invaluable in this respect because they provide a condensed version of a story. Surely the popularity of books such as The Iron Man, Mr Gumpy's Outing, Emily's Legs and Dogger challenges these assumptions. nevertheless these cards could be a valuable resource.
But careful thought needs to be given to how they are used. The for poetry and information are the most successful. A poem is self-contained; a few words can remain in our thoughts for a lifetime. Any teacher knows that a haiku set out beautifully on an illustrated page can give great satisfaction to the author. The poetry cards not only enable children to focus on difficult words, they also encourage them to write their own poems and present them to the same high standard.
The information and non-fiction cards are an excellent initial stimulus for further work. They cover themes as varied as book contents, indexes, dictionaries, road maps, timelines, bar graphs, family trees, road maps, rain forests, snakes, etc, using attractive photographs and illustrations. Here, it makes sense to start with a condensed piece of information and work outwards to discover answers in dictionaries, information books, and so on.
By contrast, I would want to use the fiction and traditional tale cards after reading the book (as a class, group or individual activity) and with the book at hand for reference.
The traditional tale cards run into the problem that by the age of seven, most children are familiar with tales such as "The Hare and the Tortoise" in book form and it seems unnecessary to restrict them to a shortened text with directed questions.
The modern fiction cards might be most valuable as part of a home-reading programme. The questions and activities provided by the cards will give parents a strong framework within which to discuss a book with their child, and show something of what work in school is all about.