22nd September 2000 at 01:00
LITERACY AND LEARNING THROUGH TALK: strategies for the primary classroom. By Roy Corden. Open University Press pound;15.99

Literacy and Learning through Talk is one of the most intelligent contributions to the debate about the literacy hour, providing teachers with an opportunity to understand how to make the best use of the demands of the literacy framework by exploring the neglected role of spoken communication skills in the classroom.

Roy Corden's book is based on the premise that language is not only a means of communication, but the key to learning itself. While much of the literature surrounding the literacy hour concentrates on the classroom management issues involved in breaking up the hour into whole-class and group-work activities, Corden examines what pupils might learn. He suggests they work on their own too often during group work, and that during whole-class work many teachers simply "transmit" facts without encouraging understanding. These, he believes, are wasted opportunities.

Corden provides a readable summary of the theory underpinning his position, including the work of Jerome Bruner, the research of the psychologist Vygotsky and later interpreters of his work such as Dorothy and Douglas Barnes. In doing so, he challenges teachers to consider how they might lan for talk in their classroom and support pupils in their learning.

But he doesn't leave it there. The book is littered with examples of schemes of work gleaned from Corden's own research. Combining some of the best practice of the national oracy and writing projects as well as more recent examples from the literacy hour, he shows how group work and whole-class teaching can become more than just their seating arrangements.

Corden provides many practical examples, through case studies, of the ways pupil talk can be used to enhance their understanding and literacy skills. But particularly helpful is the way in which he puts flesh on the bones of these plans, demonstrating why they are so effective and how the pupils were able to learn from them.

While the book is aimed at the primary sector, secondary English departments would do well to read it. As the literacy hour moves into key stage 3, Roy Corden's work provides an important reminder that teaching literacy skills is not simply about providing worksheets but about the dynamic relationship between reading, writing, speaking and listening. Anyone reading this book will feel inspired to teach English with a renewed understanding of how children learn.

Bethan Marshall is a lecturer at King's College London.

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