Seeing the woods and the trees

16th February 1996 at 00:00
OXFORD READING TREE. Treetops series Three packs of six stories.

Pounds 13.90 each Age range 7-11 FACT FINDERS 2 SERIES. Packs of six books.

Unit D Food. Pounds 12.

Unit E Where People Live. Pounds 14.70. Unit F Our Environment. Pounds 14.70 Teacher's Guide 2 Pounds 18 Age range 7-11 Oxford University Press

Nicholas Bielby welcomes two new series of fact and fiction to develop young reading skills

Treetops and Fact Finders are the latest additions to the Oxford Reading Tree which, in the light of the revised Order for English, is expanding the spread of its canopy. They both can be used as additional resources, whether or not the Reading Tree is already in use in a school. Treetops consists of 18 books for 7-11 year-olds, together with a teacher's guide with photocopiable worksheets relating to the stories. It aims to provide enjoyable top quality fiction that progressively challenges readers in terms of language, literary sophistication and imaginative response.

The guide emphasises the importance of children increasingly taking charge of their own decisions about reading including whether to read all the books and do all the worksheets. Many of the stories would earn their place in any classroom library, and the worksheets are imaginatively engaging and will give the child a genuine sense of achievement.

If the national curriculum is incomprehensive when dealing with the key skills of reading fiction, some of the worksheets show what could be attempted in encouraging children to consider motives or compare their own experiences with what they have been reading about. For example, "If he didn't want the pear drops, why did he ask for them?" requires inference based closely on the text, whereas "Here is the poster Shanaz and Mandy made for their stall. Fill in the gaps . . ." requires children to make inventive use of their own experiences. One hopes they won't look back for a mention of the poster in the story.

Fact Finders 2 provides a systematic "reading to learn" programme for early key stage 2.

It consists of a teacher's guide and information books organised thematically into six-book units of progressive difficulty on Our Environment, Where People Live and Food. The books have common formats with clear contents and index pages (and sometimes glossaries), prolific use of sub-headings and clear, attractive illustrations - drawings or photographs as appropriate. The texts are simple and each book starts with an introductory chapter to whet the children's curiosity.

However, not everything that might interest a child is covered for example, yaks are mentioned but not illustrated. A section on pygmies never mentions that they are small. The issue of poverty is ignored when talking about people living in rubbish dumps the emphasis falls more on recycling. Living in a nuclear submarine is described without any indication of what nuclear submarines are for. And the "facts" too often are wrong. For example "People did not have concrete . . . long ago" so what about the Colosseum and the Parthenon? Hull is marked on a map as a fishing port when Peterhead isn't. Writing simply for children should not lead to misinformation. And there is more to the environment than pollution. However, some of the books like Playground Detectives are inspiring and others like A Day in the Life of a School Cook open up new areas of perception, .

The teacher's guide offers a really useful general introduction to the problems and principles of developing information skills. It gives detailed suggestions, supported by photocopiable sheets, for helping children to organise their own study strategies. They are encouraged to research in groups, for example, taking different responsibilities in working towards various forms of presentation. More than half of the guide is devoted to detailed notes and photocopiable sheets relating to the individual books in the programme.

Altogether, the teacher's guide constitutes a thorough, valuable and practical approach to teaching information skills. I would recommend Fact Finders wholeheartedly if the information books themselves were completely satisfactory.

Nicholas Bielby is a lecturer in the University of Leeds School of Education

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