Oxford literacy web

21st July 2000 at 01:00
ANTHOLOGY 3: Creatures, Kings and Scary Things. ANTHOLOGY 4: Wolves, Eyesand Stormy Skies. Plus teacher's guides andposter packs. OXFORD LITERACY WEB VARIETY STORIES: Stages 6 and 7. Pack (six books, one of each) pound;13.50; Classpack (36 books, six of each) pound;77. Oxford Literacy Web Non-Fiction: Weather Oxford Literacy Web Non-Fiction: Celebrations Series editor: David Wray. pound;13.50pound;77 (as above)Oxford University Press.

Early on in my examination of these new Oxford literacy web materials, my heart warmed to the two compilers, Elspeth Graham and Mal Peet. Their opening comment in unit 4 of the teacher's guide to Anthology 3, apropos Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian - "A great opening to a great book" - won me over with its refreshing enthusiasm.

The sequence of selections in each anthology corresponds with the kinds of writing specified in the NLS framework. But our two lively compilers are not afraid to do some creative re-jigging. "The NLS frameworks locate the role of the narrator and fiction genre in term two, but since these issues are far more relevant to novels than to myths and legends, we have brought them forward." And a very sensible move it is too.

The commentaries on the extracts are phrased in such a way that teachers will be able to start lessons armed with both a searching set of questions and the means to draw out responses based on close readings. This is particularly true of the poetry units. Norman MacCaig is a matchless poet, but notwithstanding the fact that "he was a primary school teacher for 40 years; an achievement that would seem to require an empathy with children", it is not every Y6 teacher who would consider poems such as "By the Canal, Early March" accessible to 10-year-olds. In 10 bullet-pointed observations of the poem, the teacher's guide shows exactly how to bring it alive.

Nit-pickers might see something woolly about the terms "shared reading" nd "shared writing" as used in the commentaries, particularly with reference to the latter. The "guided" form of each is never mentioned, but many of the suggested writing activities would lend themselves more readily to guided rather than shared writing.

Oxford continue their practice of using a host of different illustrators and in this case the anthologies are not only let down by uneven and sometimes lacklustre artwork; the pictures often seem to have been drawn for an inappropriately young audience. But don't let this put you off. These are imaginative materials that have been assembled by a pair with a genuine love of literature.

The Variety Stories packs and Non-Fiction packs seem disconcertingly intent on presenting reading as something of an assault course. Does it matter that new packs of Variety fiction for stages 6 to 9 are divided into "Consolidation" and "Extension" titles? "Predictable structures and patterned language" are evident in Wes Magee's verse tales about The Fantastic Four, and the companion stories by Geraldine McCaughrean at stage 6 do show a clear step-up in reading complexity. But the distinction is not discernible when comparing Frances Usher's Moneypenny stories with Anne Adeny's supposedly more complex Una the Unicorn books at stage 8.

A range of themed non-fiction readers on weather and celebrations includes several splendid individual titles, as you would expect from series editor David Wray. A Day In The Life Of A Storm Chaser by Pierce Feirtear, for example, is a thrilling read.

A pity then that the information on the back cover, telling us that the book can be used as shared reading from stage 4, guided reading from stage 10, independent reading from Stage 11, and that its text type is "record" has to be so prominently displayed.

Michael Thorn

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex


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