Time to plan;Reviews;English;Books

12th June 1998 at 01:00
CO-ORDINATING PRIMARY LANGUAGE AND LITERACY. By Guy Merchant and Jackie Marsh. Paul Chapman. pound;14.95 MAKING PROGRESS IN ENGLISH. By Eve Bearne. Routledge. pound;25.

The publication of these books at much the same time as the National Literacy Strategy's Framework for Teaching accords with the spirit of the times. Planning is properly one of the buzzwords of the moment. Both these hand-books take account of the framework and offer ways forward with planning and organisation.

It may also be significant that both volumes are written by academics rather than current classroom teachers. The pressures of the classroom leave few teachers with the time to contemplate a publication that is both rooted in practice and hitched to a framework of recent research. It is in this spirit that Guy Merchant and Jackie Marsh offer a subject leader's handbook that is wide in its sweep, while Eve Bearne looks in detail at classroom practice and how to move it forward.

The best of Merchant and Marsh is their advice on con-structing a scheme of work and a school language policy. Their volume offers a distillation of received wisdom that draws evidence from research, from observed practice from OFSTED. The suggestions they offer neatly set out principles that apply almost as much at secondary as primary level. These are materials that will be useful both for school-based in-service training and to the newly appointed subject co-ordinator.

But their advice on getting appointed in the first place is a good deal less attractive. If still involved with appointments, I should look for greater finesse than the blunt and over-thrust-ing letter of application they offer as a model. Nonetheless, this is a helpful book, though its heavy-going style places it firmly on the reference shelf.

Eve Bearne's is a manual that teachers might want to pull down from the shelf several times a day. It not only wears its learning lightly but manages to be practical and stimulating at the same time. Assessment and record-keeping are part of the burden of paperwork that many teachers find almost overwhelming. The most vital point about assessment is not that a record should be made for the sake of permanence or accountability, but that it should influence the teaching that follows.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this volume is Bearne's practical advice on the assessment of progress in the major language modes. A further strength is that, because it is always exemplified by the recent work of the teachers and children she has worked with, all the courses of action towards which Bearne points suggest that good practice is achievable.

Bearne's manual is full of suggestions, demonstrations, examples of children's work, borrowable formats for record keeping, ideas for writing frames, materials, ideas and techniques to use with classes. However, the temptation to rush in and use them on Monday should be resisted. I've often seen good ideas adopted, abandoned and discredited because, in a haste for action, the reasons for their use had been insufficiently considered. As a consequence they were neither absorbed nor adapted to the needs of different classes.

Fortunately, Bearne's text conveys the arguments for her approaches with enviable clarity: they are worth heeding. Her compendium deserves a place beside Australia's First Steps materials - in my terms, a high compliment.

Graham Frater Graham Frater is an independent adviser and former HMI

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