The long road to freedom;Reviews;Subject of the week;History;Primary

5th November 1999 at 00:00
HARRIET TUBMAN RESOURCE PACK. by Jennifer Bax and Elaine Sturman. Ealing Education Services pound;30. Tel: 0181 579 2424.

WRITING OUR PAST: A literacy resource for Key Stage 2. By Alison Graham and Ben Balin. Development Education Centre (Birmingham) pound;6.50 + pound;1.30 p amp; p. Tel: 0121 472 3255.

Grassroots publications are rarer due to an increasingly prescriptive curriculum and, of course, teacher workload. But these two innovative resources show what can be achieved when local effort and imagination are harnessed by a support organisation, an LEA and a Development Education Centre.

Much has been written about the opportunities that exist for history in the literacy hour, but practical help is more difficult to find. These publications respond in different ways. The Harriet Tubman pack provides enough material for about two weeks of literacy hour time, and aims to fulfil the requirements of the literacy strategy by engaging the children's interest in an important historical figure. Writing Our Past, which originated in a project to promote achievement by African-Caribbean children, provides practical suggestions for developing language and writing skills across the curriculum.

The Harriet Tubman pack meets the need for high quality biographical material to support the key stage 1 programme of study. Using two biographies in the pack, the authors give guidance on how to develop skills such as sequencing events and writing character profiles.

Anne Benjamin's Young Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter provides an accessible and straightforward account of her life and introduces the idea of the "underground railroad" which is the inspiration for the second book, Faith Ringgold's Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. In this poignant, superbly illustrated story, Cassie follows her brother Be Be on the trail to the north and freedom, guided by the spirit of Aunt Harriet. The effective interplay of illustration and evocative writing makes this book highly suitable either as a Big Book or for guided reading.

In many primary schools, the range of writing in history can be very restricted. The Birmingham project, which was firmly school-based, shows how children can develop learning skills, confidence and self-esteem through a range of strategies.

These include the use of supports such as writing frames and grids to help children discover new genres. Imaginative use is made of hotseating, with children using their research in order to play a role or to interview a visitor.

Teachers in multicultural settings will welcome the international biographies and the address lists, but teachers in all primary schools will benefit from this sharing of good practice.

Mark Williamson is general adviser for humanities and RE in the London Borough of Hounslow.

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