Welcome to the four worlds
Heinemann aims, with Storyworlds, to be a main player in the world of reading schemes. Stages 7-9 complete the main provision of story materials for key stage 1, non-fiction reading skills are addressed in Discovery World, and phonics in Rhyme World. Storyworlds for 7 to 11-year-olds is coming out to complete the overall coverage. But how is it going so far?
The approach at key stage 1 emphasises a controlled sight vocabulary. In the early stages the shared reading texts follow a unique and imaginative pattern. Repetition of words and wordings is a feature of the texts throughout, though even in the Word Practice Books the stories told in the pictures make the repetitive texts engaging.
In the later stages development is encouraged through a growing alertness to phonological spelling patterns and comprehension through re-reading for fluency.
Though a phonics element is promised for next year, the overall programme will not provide the systematic phonics that is now demanded. The success of phonics approaches depends heavily on the reading practice closely meshing with the teaching, and Storyworlds is not designed for this purpose.
Teachers tend mostly to look at schemes, not in terms of how they approach the teaching of reading, but in terms of whether the stories will grab the children. Another requirement is that there should be a sufficient number of books at each level to provide adequate reinforcement.The 144 titles in this scheme so far would seem to answer this requirement.
Storyworlds achieves variety at each of the nine key stage 1 stages, with four stories from each of the four "worlds": the everyday world, animal stories, fantasy adventures and traditional tales from a variety of cultures.
The four-story clusters, except for the traditional tales, have common settings, characters, thematic and linguistic links, so that linguistic repetition and inter-book reinforcement occur naturally. The scheme goes a long way towards satisfying the national curriculum requirements on range and genres.
The quality of the writers has ensured that the stories are fun to read - they are varied, well-shaped and, in Our World stories, address real emotional and moral themes. The child characters often get cross and stroppy before experience teaches them to reassess their responses. The resolutions are sometimes a bit easy but, personally, I chuckled quite often while reading them. The "other worlds" are also satisfying, with Finn and Cuchulain rubbing shoulders with Hansel and Gretel and a globe-trotting cat and a magic carpet opening up geographical interest.
The least used element of reading schemes tends to be the manual. But it would be a pity to miss out on some of the suggestions in the teaching guide. One basic approach involves a sophisticated use of group reading to develop fluency and understanding. Activity suggestions are tailored to each book, with the emphasis falling largely on comprehension - literal, inferential, empathic and ethical - such as discussing the rights and wrongs of possible actions.
There are spelling and phonological awareness activities, but the links between them are not made clear. The activities are supported by adequate but unexciting photocopiable masters. Assessment as an issue is tucked in at the end, and it is not made clear how assessment should lead into planning for teaching. Properly, assessment is where we start from, not where we end up.
Overall, Storyworlds shows a lot of promise in the quality and range of its texts and in many of its approaches to teaching. Teachers may feel anxious that it doesn't support systematic phonic approaches. But I hope the publication of Rhyme Worlds next year will in part answer this shortfall.