Read between the lines

6th June 2003 at 01:00
TOTAL COMPREHENSION. Lower junior starter pack, Years 3 amp; 4 Teaching texts, interactive teaching packs, and six copies each of pupil anthology. A similar pack is available for upper juniors (Years 5 amp; 6). Heinemann pound;190. Tel: 01865 888020

With Total Comprehension Heinemann's editors have taken immense pains to ensure that classroom teachers have more resources than they could easily assemble unaided. With 12 substantial units of work for each year group, this pack provides various opportunities for children to revisit the skills they have been taught in the literacy hour.

Focusing variously on the literal, deductive, inferential and evaluative aspects of reading, the resource often encourages students to take the initiative for their own learning.

Year 3 readers will meet many authors already familiar to them. Penelope Lively's timid Martian, Jan Mark's mischievous little boy and Helen Dunmore's war victims are set beside a poem by James Reeves and a retelling of Aesop's Fables by Malorie Blackman.

There's a playscript, a rap, a letter and a set of instructions. The related activities invite children to work with partners to pick out words that evoke sensory experience, to consider why ancient fables are still worth reading or to unpick the puns used by a duck detective.

The Year 4 anthology introduces Michael Foreman reliving Columbus's voyage, Terry Jones's comic fantasy about a stegosaurus, Anne Fine's imaginative attack on battery farming and Ifeoma Onyefulu's account of her extended family in eastern Nigeria, complete with attractive photographs.

Pupils' work includes the decoding of chronology, examining the effect of single words in a James Berry poem and exploring the complex relationships between demonstrable facts and authors' attitudes.

The teaching packs provide what amounts to four-page scripts for working through each selected passage, showing how to highlight texts for specific purposes.

There are dozens of pages that can be photocopied too. Templates for book reviews, diagrams for character analysis, flow charts and time lines abound. Interactive CD-Roms allow you to display and annotate pages or edit the photocopy masters. Big Books offer significant chunks of the passages in the children's anthologies.

And yet, with all these resources, it's hard not to feel that so much expert and helpful planning and provision sometimes go beyond common sense.

The printed assurance that "okay" means "all right" isn't one many teachers should need. More seriously, telling teachers which are the essential words in a poem or turning metaphors and allusions into flat expository prose can actually stop them doing the essential reading for themselves.

Comprehension should sometimes mean allowing writers to tell their own truths in their own words.

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