Pass the manual, please
Faced with a sea of primary pupils eager to read, how do you begin? A new literacy programme can help, writes Lynn Nisbet
Have you ever wished that someone would just give you a script? Something you could read to your pupils and be assured that someone else has done all the thinking for you?
Juggling the quantity of advice and strategies can leave you floundering over where to start and which approach to choose. Well, for Primary 1 teachers facing a class full of eager youngsters waiting to learn to read and write, help may be at hand. The City of Edinburgh Council has produced a comprehensive language programme for P1 and it comes close to telling you exactly what to say.
Achievement in Literacy is designed to be taught to a whole class using a direct interactive teaching approach. The programme aims to equip children with the concepts and skills they need to understand the language system, combining the teaching of phonics with writing and reading.
These aspects are taught simultaneously and are linked in terms of content, so children encounter familiar sounds and words in all aspects of their language programme. This will have huge appeal for many teachers trying to balance a phonics programme with an unrelated reading scheme and also teach early writing skills in a meaningful context.
The programme is divided into four blocks, one for each part of the school year. Each block comprises a teacher's book, copymaster book and set of six children's reading books. The programme is divided into weeks, with five daily lessons per week. The lessons are then broken down into a repeated sequence of clearly described and controlled activities.
The teacher's book gives guidance for every lesson. In contrast to many of the glossy teachers' manuals available, these are somewhat visually uninviting, though the format and language are easy to follow and understand.
The reading books are designed to reinforce and practise the phonics being taught. There are obvious benefits in this but, as with all text aiming to provide phonics practice, there is some contrivance in the storylines:
"Fran was very glum. Could she mend her skirt, or should she get a new one? Should she steal Brad's kilt?" However, the tales are much more meaningful than many others, with clear progression.
As with the teachers' manuals, some of the children's books appear rather dated in style, which some may find off-putting.
Much use is made of teacher modelling to demonstrate specific skills, such as segmenting, word building and blending, with clear instructions on how to do this. Dictation and handwriting are included from an early stage, as are homework activities. Sentence construction with punctuation and early verb recognition are all included, along with initial training in prediction and hypothesising texts.
It would be hard to think of a resource that is not included in this material, right down to leaflets for parents on how best to help their child at home.
It is reassuring to find that, although teaching methods morph continually, there will always be some constants in teaching the English language. For words that defy phonetic analysis, the advice for children struggling to make sense of them is: "These are tricky words, you'll just have to learn them."
For many years there have been debates and reams of research justifying why one method of teaching reading is better than another. Many will welcome a system which merges these methods and aims to provide balance and variety in one programme.
Lynn Nisbet is a principal teacher at Crookfur Primary, East Renfrewshire