Materials to give children a dose of the 'write stuff';Curriculum materials;Books

17th September 1999 at 01:00
EARLY INTERVENTION. Phonological Awareness; Emergent and Early Writing. Complete set of six booklets plus video costs pound;150. North Lanarkshire Dept Education.

WRITING IT RIGHT - Children. Writing 3-8. By Anne Hughes and Sue Ellis, pound;3.

LEARNING TO WRITE - Writing to Learn. By Sue Ellis and Gill Friel, pound;7. Set of three booklets. Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum

Fiona Harrison reviews several new attempts to improve the level of basic word skills in Scottish children and finds pros as well as cons

We are now in the third year of the Government's early intervention initiative in Scotland, and despite the variety of approaches by local authorities, most now have staff development as a key and integral part of their programme.

North Lanarkshire has produced a boxed set of six booklets and a video for teachers entitled Early Intervention, which covers reading and writing, two of which were received for review.

Phonological Awareness and Emergent and Early Writing are both laid out clearly and practically. The background information is well presented and the development activities are generally easy to follow.

Each contains a section specifically looking at the implications for bilingual learners and the writing booklet has useful ideas for parental involvement in their children's writing.

Teachers might be concerned about a few points in Phonological Awareness. For example, the section on phonemes is weak, given that one of the traditional strengths of early language teaching in Scotland has been our refusal to give up specific phonemic instruction. And the observation checklist included would be very time-consuming as an individual assessment of one specific strategy.

In Early Writing, I particularly like the section linking play and writing and the very useful classroom practice sheet. However, there does seem to be a confusing message in encouraging the philosophy of emergent writing but also advocating "scribing" in the support strategies.

There is very little mention of the importance of modelling writing for the children, or of having shared writing sessions.

The disadvantage of having separate booklets on phonological awareness and emergent writing is that each strand of early literacy development can be viewed as distinct and separate, whereas in reality they are inextricably linked and must be seen not in isolation. However, the booklets are on the whole informative and helpful.

Writing has been identified by HM inspectors as an area of weakness in Scottish schools, so a very welcome arrival recently has been the Scottish CCC booklets, Writing it Right - Children Writing 3-8, by Anne Hughes and Sue Ellis, and Learning to Write - Writing to Learn by Sue Ellis and Gill Friel.

When I asked a straw poll of early years teachers for their views on Writing it Right, I elicited responses like "positive", "helpful", "accessible", "practical and relevant", "recognisable situations" and "well presented".

This is a document which is informed by theory but is not dense. It addresses issues that practitioners face and places the child firmly in the centre of the learning process. It is certainly valuable for stimulating and encouraging enthusiasm and confidence in young writers at these early stages.

Learning to Write - Writing to Learn is a series of three booklets written under the same three broad writing types as 5-14, ie personal, functional and imaginative. It aims to provide a "broad and coherent view of the teacher knowledge base required to underpin an effective writing curriculum for English language 5-14". The series goes a long way to help fill the gaps in the teaching content in 5-14. It is written in clear, user-friendly language and presented practically and accessibly at the same time.

It gives teachers more specific guidance on what they should be teaching, and emphasises the need to teach and not just facilitate by providing contexts.

It gives guidance in overcoming the main difficulties children encounter when writing under the three types, and stresses the need for a clear purpose, and where possible, a real audience for the budding authors to ensure that children really care and are enthusiastic about their writing.

The main problem is that the series, which is excellent and certainly goes a long way to addressing many of the current weaknesses in the teaching of writing, does not explicitly sit beside the 5-14 guidelines.

It takes a rather different "genre-led" approach in line with recent research and thinking in the area of children's writing, rather than the format approach detailed in the 5-14 documents. This may make it confusing for teachers to implement and forward plan. It does not give an indication of progression through 5-14 levels, and the assessment section is general, not specifically addressing 5-14 criteria.

However, the booklets do look at the big issues in teaching writing. They point out to teachers what the content of writing actually is, which is not well defined in the 5-14 document.

They offer many suggestions and practical examples of how to build children's confidence as writers, and how to allow them to enjoy being real writers as we expect them to enjoy being real readers. They will also ensure children have a versatile set of skills that they can transfer across the curriculum to all areas of writing.

Until now the only criteria teachers have had to work with have been national test criteria which are evaluative, not teaching points. This excellent resource should go a long way to restoring their confidence in their own professionalism.

Glasgow last week launched its "New Horizons in Writing" initiative with the educational author Sue Ellis as the keynote speaker, and these documents will now be used as the main backbone for our educational approach to writing. The challenge for us will be to take what is best in this approach, and make it manageable for classroom teachers within the 5-14 framework.

The address for contacting the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum is Gardyne Road, Dundee DD5 1NY.Fiona Harrison is literacy co-ordinator for Glasgow

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