The BBC has a proud education record and its educational websites are an excellent extension to this. Jack Kenny looks at its literacy site and analyses why it is such a favourite of primary school teachers
The teaching of reading inspires as many zealots as fringe religions. Those who just want to get on with the job of improving literacy will value the resources that the BBC Education Unit is providing. The BBC is frequently criticised, but when high quality online resources such as those they have provided for the National Literacy Strategy are published for free, then it is difficult to be critical.
Many primary school teachers have already found their way to the site and, says Lakshmi Hughes, manager of Online Schools Education, the feedback has been encouraging. The statistics of users of all the education websites is impressive: 20 per cent of primary teachers have visited the BBC sites and the audience has doubled in the past year.
This is surely due to the quality of the material there. Considering the constraints that developers are under - they have to ensure schools using older browsers will obtain a worthwhile experience - the sites are dynamic and attractive.
The literacy site is called Word and Pictures. Those who have been drawn to the Living Books CD-Roms by Br?derbund will recognise a similar design style. The graphics were done by painters from the Slade.
At the moment the concentration is on long vowel sounds, but the site will be enhanced in September with short vowel sounds, and in January with consonant clusters. At the core is the concentration on aspects of reading; the concentration on long vowel sounds is intense without being oppressive. The site is interactive: children can enter a response and receive feedback.
Kate Vahl, the site producer, is particularly pleased with the extensive teachers' notes. The lesson plans are extremely detailed and this level of work will be greatly appreciated by busy teachers. All the plans can be downloaded and used as they are. The notes then take teachers through the lesson minute by minute. For those feeling hesitant, uninspired or tired, these resources are a boon.
Kate Vahl says: "We are trying to cut straight through to the centre of the classroom. We had a lot of feedback which said that teachers could find lots of good US websites but that they had to do a lot of work to make the material usable in their classrooms.
"The literacy hour has to be didactic and tailored. We do a lot of work for the teacher. When they come to the site, all that they have to do is to print the stuff off and they have a lesson. There are also big book style printoffs.
"Of all the sites that I have been involved with, I am most proud of Words and Pictures. It is focused, the navigation is clear and the activities are balanced between off-screen and on-screen work. The activities and animation can make the site dance.
"We break down the information to communicate it in an interesting way - people tell us that is where our sites score. We don't have reams of text spanning pages, but little chunks of information with something to liven it up."
The education background of most of the BBC staff helps them to sympathise with the difficulties teachers face in using the Internet in teaching. Alan Lambert, the commissioning executive for primary programming, feels that TV and radio is a whole-class medium whereas online is more individualised. He argues that the BBC is uniquely well placed to offer an integration of resources and is sure that online is going to be a way forward for the BBC Education Unit.
If they can produce work of this quality for the curriculum, then all teachers will be in their debt.
* A typical lesson on the Word and Pictures site
Objectives: Literacy Strategy, Year 1, term 3 Text level: Reading comprehension 1 To reinforce and apply word-level skills through shared and guided reading 2 To use poems or parts of poems as models for own writing Sentence level: grammar and punctuation 3 To read texts aloud with pace and expression - pausing at full stops Word level: 1 The spelling pattern of the long vowel phoneme -ee- 2 To read on sight high frequency words Shared text: Meet the Creeps by Sue Palmer Preparation: Print and enlarge Meet the Creeps for whole class reading Print A4 copies of the poem for use in independent work Print the 'Write your own -ee- poem' worksheet for use in independent work. Go through the suggested on-screen activities from this website for independent work Other resources (optional): Copies of additional rhymes featuring -ee-: 'Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat'; 'This Old Man'; 'Lavender's Blue'; 'Spring is showery, flowery, bowery'; 'Sneezles' by AA Milne; 'Rich Man' by Eleanor Farjeon Useful -ee- words: Lee, cheese, queen, breeze, seen, sweets, feet, meet, street, sneeze, sweep, sleep, asleep, sheep, knee, bee, weed, seed, beetle, screen, greedy, week, green, tree, free, see High frequency words: seen, tree