25th May 2001 at 01:00
TEACHING ENGLISH, LANGUAGE AND LITERACY. By Dominic Wyse and Russell Jones. Routledge.Falmer. pound;15.99 TES pound;13.99.

"Are you looking for one book that covers every aspect of the teaching of English at primary level?", asks the blurb. Of course we are! After a century of controversy over the teaching of literacy skills, and a decade of government intervention in classroom practice, everyone in primary education - especially student teachers - would love that. Now the attention of the national literacy strategy has turned to key stage 3, it's an ideal time to reflect on where we've been, where we are, and where we 're going.

Dominic Wyse and Russell Jones have made a gallant stab at doing just that. They've divided 300 pages into five parts: an introduction covering the history of literacy teaching and major theories of learning; sections on reading, writing, and speaking and listening; and a "general" section on planning, home-school links, ICT, English as an additional language, poetry and media literacy. By the end of the boo, one is in no doubt about the centrality of language and literacy to the primary curriculum, and the manifold complexities of teaching it. But one is doubtful that a single book, by two authors, can satisfactorily cover the territory.

To describe clearly, and set in context, the practice, theory and research in each of the sections requires a host of authors. Wyse and Jones are knowledgeable in many areas, but their coverage of others is sketchy. They have also published too early to be truly comprehensive about the NLS's contribution: books on grammar, spelling and phonics, which have had considerable impact on practice nationally, are not mentioned.

Further problems result from the tension between the style of a comprehensive review and that of a critical commentary. Students and teachers require greater clarity and detail, and more carefully argued discussion of contentious issues.

Perhaps, at the moment, one book is not enough.

Sue Palmer is a freelance writer and Inset providerl Literacy and ICT:

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