Children seen and heard

10th July 1998 at 01:00
THE INVISIBLE CHILD By Jeff Lee, David Buckland and Glenis Shaw. Pounds 5.95.

PATHFINDER 33 - Stimulating Grammatical Awareness. By Heather Rendall. Pounds 8.

PATHFINDER 32 - Foreign Language Assistants, a Guide to Good Practice. By David Rowles, Marian Carty and Anneli McLachlan. Pounds 8.

Centre for Information on Language Teaching, 20 Bedfordbury, London WC2N 4LB. Tel: 0171 379 5101.

The Invisible Child contains the results of a survey into the attitudes of middle-ability children towards foreign language learning. The findings come from 62 pupils in eight schools in Barking and Dagenham, Essex, in 1997. Such a small sample might, at first, seem to hold little relevance for the rest of us. Why would anyone else be interested in this information, still less want to buy a copy of it?

In fact, the report makes fascinating reading, and the authors have done a skilful job in highlighting trends, spotting patterns and adding thought-provoking interpretations.

These pupils (it's nice to see that word again rather than the ubiquitous "students") don't clamour for attention, don't excel, aren't disruptive, and are easily overlooked - hence the book's title. But they are remarkably perceptive, and unearth some interesting truths.

Much will be familiar - that girls do better than boys, for example. On the other hand, no respondent regarded languages as a "girls' subject", contrary to many teachers' preconceptions. There are interesting disparities between pupils' enjoyment and perceived usefulness of certain classroom activities. When these figures are in turn compared with the frequency with which certain learning activities occur, the findings are revealing.

Pathfinder 33 - Stimulating Grammatical Awareness has the sort of title likely to appeal to education lecturers and other theorists, but to be shunned by teachers. This is a pity as it provides stimulating ideas for those who take the trouble to look.

Several orthodoxies are challenged. Those of us who were taught never to put incorrect spellings before pupils in case they pick up bad habits are made to think again. The book contains creative ideas for using mis-spelling to reinforce orthographic accuracy. It also has games and activities - mostly simple and quick to set up - to promote grammatical awareness and stimulate the language learning process.

Pathfinder 32 - Foreign Language Assistants is a no-nonsense guide to all aspects of using a foreign language assistant. Whether you are looking for a code of conduct for assis-tants, advice on conditions of employment, choice of classes, team teaching, use of target language, or relations with older pupils, this is the book to turn to.

* Richard Marsden is head of languages at the Minster School, Southwell, Nottinghamshire

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