22nd September 2000 at 01:00
UNDERSTANDING THE LITERACY HOUR. Edited by Ros Fisher and Helen Arnold. UKRA publications pound;10. Tel: 01763 241188

This little book stems from a series of United Kingdom Reading Association conferences held in the run-up to the national literacy strategy two years ago. It contains a wide range of papers, from an explanation of the strategy's rationale by its director, John Stannard, and notes on how progression is informed bySAT results by Sue Horner,principal English officer at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to in-depth considerations of the place of poetry, ICT and non-fiction in theliteracy hour, written by avariety of experts from outside the NLS.

The two-year time lag leads to occasional misleading statements such as the charge that the NLS gives little guidance on how to teach non-fiction reading skills, presumably written before the appearance of the inservice training box, o which Reading and Writing for Information was possibly the best section. But most of the commentary is still relevant, and now is a good time to revisit key issues.

The book also helps with certain aspects of teaching which, for many schools, weren't satisfactorily covered during that hectic period of dissemination - guided reading, for instance. Even though the NLS has moved on slightly, the papers on this subject by New Zealand expert Shirley Bickler and Sheffield literacy consultant Chris Plant (and a fascinating anecdote from Ros Fisher) would clear up many of the queries teachers voice in inservice sessions.

This book is worth reading for its commentary and informed criticism. But it's also interesting as a record of a momentous change in English educational practice - andfor its many reminders thatthe most significant factorsof successful practice never change.

Sue Palmer

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