Primary literacy

21st January 2000 at 00:00
LANGUAGE KNOWLEDGE FOR PRIMARY TEACHERS: A Guide to Textual, Grammatical and Lexical Study. By Angela Wilson. David Fulton pound;14

A brave enterprise, to tackle this tricky area. Angela Wilson starts - and I started reading her - with high hopes. But I was disappointed.

Wilson complains at the beginning that the initial teacher training national curriculum, which specifies the language knowledge required by student teachers, doesn't provide "any accompanying rationale for how they are to make use of it in the classroom". But then, neither does she. She quotes a student after a lecture: "I now know what a finite verb is, but I have nowhere to put it in my head." I fear that after reading this book the student might say: "I now know what a finite verb is, but I still don't know what to do with it in my teaching."

She distinguishes between process and product, and between implicit and explicit knowledge about lanuage, but she doesn't use these distinctions to clarify her argument. Indeed, in the main body of the book, she ends the chapters without discussion or conclusions. She simply elicits examples from texts. I kept wanting to ask, "so?" Where she really comes alive is in side-tracking herself into critical commentaries.

The text is marked by too many promising sub-headings where the content does not address the issue, by verbal slips - for example, elision for ellipsis (p84), non-fiction for non-narrative (p124) and transparent where she means neutral (p130) - and by typographical errors.

A student could learn much about grammar and language from this book, and my disappointment results mostly from unfulfilled promises. But, as Wilson remarks, finding the right ways to pass the know-ledge on to pupils is another, much more difficult task.

Nicholas Bielby is a freelance writer and English consultant

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