Use with caution

30th January 1998 at 00:00
PRIMARY GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION 1, 2, 3 and 4. Louis Fidge. Collins Pounds 3.99 and Pounds 4.75. Teacher's Guide Pounds 14.99.

PRIMARY COMPREHENSION 1, 2, 3 and 4. John Jackman. Collins Pounds 3.99 and Pounds 4.75 each. Teacher's Guide Pounds 14.99.

Primary Grammar and Punctuation is designed as a structured course, placed firmly in the context of the national curriculum and Scot-tish 5-14 guidelines. However, its major provenance comes in the teacher's book's discussion of the National Literacy Project and the statement "grammar is not systematically taught in most primary schools, yet it is essential to the understanding of reading and writing".

Such systematic teaching has travelled some way since the days of whole-class, one-paced, decontextualised exercises. These books are recursive as well as sequential in design: they allow for group as well as individual work. Much is done to cater for pupils working at different speeds: the scope and sequence of skills are carefully attended to and there are regular practice exercises and progress tests. All answersare given.

Any child who works through these four books at key stage 2 should experience every practical feature of standard English. But the questions remain: will they be truly learnt and become part of the child's mental furniture? Will they be carried over into talk and writingunconnected with doing the exercises?

Primary Comprehension is a companion publication in the same style and following a similar plan. The model for comprehension is relatively sophisticated, focusing on national curriculum reading requirements. The questions on the passages move pro-gressively, from literal understanding to deduction, prediction and empathy. This is well done. But often I found firm answers given to questions which by nature are shifting and not always certain.

Non-specialist primary teachers will certainly be drawn to these courses, but to take highly structured materials like these and use them uncritically can be dangerous for they devalue the teacher. Much worthwhile poetry and many extracts from other cultures and good children's novelists are used. But there seems no idea that the books will be encountered as something more than extracts. So use these resources critically.

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