Read between the lines
These two Teacher's Resource Books accompany the Red (7-9 years) and Blue (9-11 years) Literacy Centres already published by Scholastic. The Literacy Centres themselves are based on sound principles. Children approaching key stage 2 do benefit from sharing some of their reading in small literacy circles where they can explore a stimulating text together. But how structured and prescriptive should that experience of sharing be?
Scholastic's selection of eight sets of four titles is good, with works from authors such as Robert Swindells, J R R Tolkien, Anne Fine and Ted Hughes, and the books pitched at different levels of difficulty. However teachers are capable of making their own choices of small sets of fiction for the classroom, so what do the Resource Books add?
The idea is that these materials will support and extend children's reading, promoting both fluency and reading aloud, and response and interpretation. Some of the exercises in the book are photocopiable worksheets, presumably so that small groups can tackle them on their own, while other pages offer the teacher guidance on every stage of pre-reading preparation and post-reading development. Teachers are told how to introduce stories, and what to talk about when the children first encounter the cover of the book. Right from the start there do seem to be more teacher's questions than children's questions.
Reading through the materials on Grace Hallworth's A Web of Stories (a delightful collection of folk-tales from around the world) I found nowhere any notion of what different pupils would bring to this text, nor did I think the follow-up worksheets would help young readers gain a sense of the diversity of the cultures the stories draw on. "Questions to consider" after reading are mainly the comprehension type; to extend the children's reading fully the teacher would need to make links with other books and poems and add other imaginative ideas.
Worksheets are fairly ubiquitous in primary reading programmes. Their limitations are all present here: principally that it is less interesting to fill in spaces on an A4 page, than to do some drama or write an imaginative reconstruction of part of the text.
The fact that all the reading "skills" named and assessed in the national curriculum are included, from reading between the lines and skim reading to exploring vocabulary and studying figurative language, may give teachers the sense that all has been covered, a worrying aspect of many English courses. Small groups could really enjoy these first-class stories and benefit from exploring them in depth, but the Resource Book activities would not necessarily increase the kind of motivation shown by children who are hooked on books. I would advise teachers to use them selectively.