17th March 2000 at 00:00
TEACHING READING AT KEY STAGE 2. By Nicholas Bielby. Stanley Thornes "Teaching Primary English" series pound;15

YOUNG RESEARCHERS: informational reading and writing in the early and primary years. By Margaret Mallett. Routledge pound;13.99

In most primary schools structured teaching of reading stopped abruptly at the end of key stage 1, and junior pupils were expected simply to get on with it. Reading-teaching was conducted almost entirely through the medium of fiction. Children might have met plenty of non-fiction as they ploughed their way through the national curriculum, but most teachers had neither the time nor expertise to teach them how to use it.

The national literacy strategy has changed all that. Within 18 months of its introduction, the explicit teaching of reading has assumed high priority throughout all seven years of primary schooling. As for informational reading, there can't be a teacher in the land who isn't now familiar with the strategy's six "non-fiction genres" and the reading skills they entail.

However, the NLS framework - while exhaustive - is necessarily brief. It gives no practical details or theoretical underpinning, so books like these two from acknowledged experts in their fields provide important support. But perhaps even more important, they provide opportunities for constructive criticism. In a period where teaching content and methodology is prescribed from the centre to an unprecedented extent, we desperately need books that make us think critically about the NLS, question its orthodoxies and look beyond the confines of the literacy hour to the teachingpossibilities of the future.

Nicholas Bielby is well-known for his clear-sightedness and academic rigour. He describes the NLS as "a brave attempt to systematise teaching objectives", but one which should be treated "as a basis for critical discussion, development and exploitation, and not as a Bible for fundamentalists".

This thoroughly-researched book covers the reading process, higher order reading skills, fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and assessment and intervention. It should help many key stage 2 teachers develop the knowledge and self-confidence to use the NLS constructively, bearing in mind Bielby's maxim that "we do not help children to read to do the national literacy strategy. We do the national literacy strategy in order to help children read".

Margaret Mallett's book, with its many practical suggestions and case studies, also reminds us of the importance of keeping our eye on the ball:

"We do not want children trapped in tightly structured and essentially sterile learning processes... (but) avid and curious readers, intent on finding out, and confident writers, practised in communicating understanding and meaning."

She takes a developmental approach (very refreshing in these standards-driven times), with chapters devoted to key stage 1, seven to nine-year-olds, nine to 11-year-olds, special needs and assessment. There is also a particularly useful and exciting chapter on informational literacy in the pre-school and nursery years, and excellent advice on the applications of ICT.

Sue Palmer Sue Palmer is a freelance writer and Inset provider

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