The time factor

14th November 1997 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh reviews a scheme which is helping teachers cope with literacy hour.


consists of many components, which can be bought individually. Teacher's Guides Pounds 17.95 eachBig Books Pounds 16.95 eachComplete modules of materials sold at 20 per cent discount:Emergent level Pounds 213.94 (Pounds 267.43)Early level Pounds 234.74 (Pounds 293.43)Fluent level Pounds 239. 58 (Pounds 299.48)Complete set of all 12 modules Pounds 2753.09 with discount (Pounds 3441.36)

Key stage 1 teachers, urged on by the guidelines for the Literacy Project,are required to teach reading in a very positive way, as opposed to just hearing readers in the context of a traditional reading scheme. The classroom repertoire now has to extend well beyond the basic interaction of child, teacher and book to include such techniques as shared reading, group reading and guided reading.

To do this properly teachers need a wider range of resources than is available in many traditional reading schemes. Books, certainly, will always remain at the core - lots of short, interesting books (in sets for group reading) at different levels, fact and fiction, appealing to widely differing interests. In addition, though, teachers need materials to share with groups of children - posters, "big books" and a good range of supporting cards and booklets to encourage writing.

Most importantly of all, though, the materials should be supported by detailed guidance on how to use them, because the stark fact, attested by infant heads across the country, is that too few teachers are sufficiently independently skilled in the teaching of reading.

The new emphasis on basic literacy has come as something of a vindication for publishers Kings-court, who have for some years been promoting many of the same ideas through their Literacy Links materials. Now, with Literacy Links Plus they offer what claims to be "a balanced and comprehensive literacy programme for the first three years of school".

The programme is constructed in 12 modules: the suggestion is that each module lasts eight weeks, though teachers may want to use them differently.The modules grow gradually more challenging, and progress from Emergent level through Early to Fluent.

A module typically contains a boxed set of up to 96 guided reading books,three big books with two sets of six small books and two audio tapes, a set of eight phonic foldouts, eight topic books and a teacher's guide. Each phonic foldout has a series of pictures with a simple story running underneath. On the reverse is a picture story and space for the children's own writing.

All of the materials are lively, enjoyable and well produced. The teacher's notes offer close guidance - each day's work is separately described, using headings such as Discussion, Independent Writing, Guided Reading.

Thus, the first day of Let's Get Together, which is the first module of the second year, presents teachers with such detailed instructions as "Display the poster 'Let's Get Together' and discuss the various activities that are taking place in the photograph. Identify who the people might be in the picture . . ." And "Tell the children that they will each be making a 'Let's Get Together' scrapbook journal . . ."

Each teacher's guide also contains reading records, checklists, assessment charts, guidance for parents and helpers and a range of photocopiable sheets for the classroom and individuals.

Teachers at Four Dwellings infants school in Birmingham have been using Literacy Links as the core of their teaching of reading for some time, and have now embraced Literacy Links Plus with enthusiasm. What they like particularly is that it goes a long way towards solving the problem of how to plan and run the recommended Literacy Hour, day in and day out through the year.

Language coordinator Pat Jackson says: "The Literacy Hour means that you have to do im-mense planning. In the teacher's guide it's all done for you step by step, and that's good if you are not confident.

"If you have never done it before, you can use it as a bible. On the other hand, if you are confident and experienced, then the range is limitless. "

Reception teacher Helen Davies also appreciates the programme's detailed support. "It's good to have something there for you. Maths is stronger for me than literacy, so it's really good to have the prompts. The children love the materials, too."

This was borne out by the way the children were tackling them. I watched five-year-old Emily Wallin as she finished off her work on "I am" sentences by making her own concertina book with her own pictures and sentences. She read it to me with great pleasure and satisfaction: "I am sitting", "I am hopping", "I am jumping", "I am running".

All of the materials are praised. Particular mention, though, was made of the big books, and of the "concertina cards" or phonic foldouts, which Pat Jackson describes as "fabulous".

Clare Williams, acting head of Four Dwellings, also admires the detail of the teacher's guide, but points out that some experienced teachers will want to make their own way through the programme. "It gives you the content, and that's what takes the time if you have to put it together yourself."

Literacy Links Plus, she believes, fits in very well with the school's philosophy of helping children to achieve independence through effective classroom management. "This programme gives you the resources to do that. "

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