Growing forest of titles;Primary;Literacy

1st May 1998 at 01:00
OXFORD READING TREE. TreeTops books Stages 10, 12 pound;15.30. Stage 13 pound;16. Teacher's Guide 3 pound;17. Topic Starters pupil books pound;8.40. Big Books pound;30.50. Teacher's Guide. pound;17.99 (ORT Teacher Supported Stage 1, Independent Reading Stage 3)

Some children progress quickly from simple to more demanding books, becoming what we call "free readers" with a minimum of direct intervention. Others need the support of a reading programme.

James Driver, in the industrious Teacher's Guide that accompanies these new additions to the upper branches of the Oxford Reading Tree, argues that TreeTops are appropriate to a range of readers. Do you have fluent readers in your Year 1 class who are ready for material with a higher interest level? At Year 3 are there readers who have reached the end of whatever structured reading programme the school has in place but would benefit from continued built-in progression? At Year 5 do your special needs pupils still struggle to find easy reading material that is lively enough to hold their interest?

The new Stage 10 titles contain coloured illustrations. The two books by Susan Gates - Stupid Trousers and Jellyfish Shoes - are exemplary. Divided into four chapters, and sprinkled with realistic dialogue, these would be worth acquiring on their own merit. Inside, colour disappears at Stage 12 and the books begin to have the feel of proper chapter books. Familiar and experienced first reader authors, such as Tessa Krailing, Michaela Morgan and Pippa Goodhart, have been used. Morgan got the idea for her third Clive title - Cool Clive and the Little Pest - from an illustration in an earlier book about Clive. She tells us this in an "About the author" page at the back of the book, which is a common feature of all these TreeTops books. With a photograph of the author and about 75 words of text, the back-pages are important components of each title, and it is somewhat surprising that the Teacher's Guide makes no mention or use of them.

Paul Shipton has written three of the six new Stage 13 titles, which remain highlyillustrated but have a higher proportion of text to picture. Shipton's The Monster in the Wardrobe has good boy-appeal, and is wittily written. Other titles are of similar quality, confirming James Driver's claim that the books are capable of beguiling nine and 10-year-olds.

The bulk of Driver's Teacher's Guide consists of worksheets to accompany each chapter of each TreeTops title. One shudders to think how long it would take a child to work their way through the books in this way, and it must be hoped that no teacher would dream of using the material as a necessary accompaniment to the books. But even Year 6 teachers, preparing children for the key stage 2 Reading Test, will find that Driver's questions are well-judged to encourage children to cite evidence for their answers. Children do need more consistent practice in this during earlier years and, used with restraint, Driver's Guide fits the bill. All the worksheets include the answers and a summary of the reading skills (extending to Level 4) developed.

The Oxford Reading Tree has also increased the girth of its trunk, with a set of Topic Starters pupil books and Big Books, clearly designed to satisfy the literacy hour's requirement to share texts with the whole class.

These are actually not big but medium or midi-sized books, but none the worse for that. They have been well-produced, with clear illustrations and sharp photography. Each title has a contents page and an index. The page format is the same throughout. A single line of text (a question), with captioned illustrations offering possible answers. The slimline books, which include Our School and Our Clothes, are glossy and contemporary, which cannot be said for the activity sheets in the Teacher's Guide, the illustrations for which are in a heavy blackline 50s colouring-book style which is an instant turn-off.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham

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