One task too many?

30th June 1995 at 01:00
ALL ABOARD STAGES 9 and 10 Evaluation pack Pounds 25. - 602 265351 Ziggy Zoom.Pounds 11.85. - 602 26125 2. (pack of 8 books) STAGE 1. SAM AND ROSIE - 602 26507 X.

PATTERN AND RHYME.

- 602 26514 2.

NON-FICTION.

- 602 265215. Three packs of 6 books. Pounds 10.75 each.

Ginn Nicholas Bielby looks at new reading materials for key stage 2.

The current anxiety about reading in key stage 2 makes the publication of junior stages 9 and 10 of All Aboard (aimed at Years 3 and 4) very timely. So far, the package provides novels, books of short stories, poetry anthologies, plays and non-fiction by people of the quality of Catherine Storr and Morag Styles, together with a Teachers' Resource Book. Other support materials will follow. The Resource Book is up-to-date with its references to the revised Orders and is largely devoted to detailed teaching activities related to the different texts, aimed at promoting higher reading skills. There is also a substantial section on assessment.

The poetry anthologies are the best I have come across in a reading scheme. The activities relating to the anthologies are perhaps not so satisfactory. My first doubts were raised by the glossary, which is shoddy on terms relating to poetry. For example, under "rhythmic form" it describes rhyme schemes and says nothing about rhythm at all. Later, children are asked to describe the rhyming pattern of a poem and to discuss its "rhythmic form". Are they supposed to be discussing rhythm or rhyme? Too often the poems are used as occasions for superficial "skim reading", information retrieval and grammar study. It is as if no-one knows what to do with the poetry of poems - the very thing most teachers need help with. Only very occasionally is an emotional response suggested.

Response depends on relating the text to one's own sense of self. Typically at this stage, response to literature most clearly reveals itself in imitation. Yet many of the writing tasks suggested are deadly - "Write a description of the early morning scene", "Prepare a character web of (some minor characters)", "Make a shopping list for the cat" (about a delightfully funny poem).

The plays and short stories offer some structural variety to examine and the two novels explore inwardness and feelings in an engaging way. But only one or two of the activities are concerned with inference or empathy.

In reading the stories, children are constantly being asked to "predict". This task involves second-guessing the text. But in general "prediction" is a misconceived notion. Frank Smith (1985) confusingly uses it to mean "asking questions". What we should be teaching children is to be alert to the questions the text invites and seek answers to them, not to try to second-guess it. The comprehension activities relating to the varied non-fiction books are more imaginative, being concerned with re-presenting information in different forms. Yet, despite my gripes about its limited conception of higher reading skills, teachers will find much that is stimulating in the Resources book. Stages 9 and 10 are well worth getting aboard.

A new set of eight books (Years 2 to 4) features Ziggy Zoom, a superboy from the future. These stories are awful and sufficiently like comics for me to believe that they could be successful with reluctant readers. Their pandering to hack revenge, success and gluttony fantasies is perhaps balanced by their pc inclusions!

Provision at the ReceptionYear 1 level is substantially supplemented with 18 new books. The six Sam and Rosie stories are inevitably formulaic but enjoyable enough. The amusing Pattern and Rhyme books are designed to develop "phonic knowledge", with the reader anticipating the rhyme over the page. Perhaps the greatest variety (though least reading) is to be found in the non-fiction books. They offer themselves as useful focuses for discussion about language and life before children explore them for themselves.

Overall, these new publications fill out the All Aboard scheme substantially, making it a strong contender in the field.

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