This will make you think

12th September 2003 at 01:00
Stories for Assembly and the Classroom: Active Learning at Key Stages 1 and 2. By Mal Leicester. RoutledgeFalmer pound;22.50.

I once met a head who showed me a shelf full of battered exercise books. They contained all the assembly stories and themes he had used for the past 30 years in school. I urged him to publish them, but the stories were lost after his death.

This book preserves 15 original stories for use in assembly, with activities designed to develop values and skills. Most centre on everyday events that children will easily respond to, such as the story of Pippa, a victim of name-calling, who decides to change her name; Ranjit, who finds his grandmother collapsed on the floor; and Jade, who finds awe and wonder in an aquarium.

The stories seem better suited to KS1 than to KS2. Each is linked to a theme such as independence or sharing. A vocabulary list of random difficult words is given for each story (one includes "slam" - defined as "bang" - but ignores "relentlessly"). The advice "use your usual methods for introducing new words" may seem superfluous.

Some stories cause unease, for example a story about Divali refers to (and illustrates) elves, wizards and a white unicorn. What have these to do with Divali? In another, a boy decides to tell the truth when a magician appears in a mirror to offer him a reward. Does this really illustrate "the value of honesty"?

The book claims to be a time-saving resource, suitable for teachers when they have not had time to prepare material of their own, but what they will need is a teacher to creatively develop each theme, story and discussion.

REthinking, Books 1-3

By Margaret Cooling, pound;10.95 each

Available from The Stapleford Centre, Frederick Road, Stapleford, Nottingham NG9 8FN or www.stapleford-centre.org

HMI reports have criticised RE as being a "low challenge" subject, demanding little of pupils intellectually or emotionally. What RE teaching needs, argues Cooling, are thinking-skills approaches which increase this challenge.

The 32-page books are not all-inclusive accounts of religious education, nor worksheet packs, but seek to provide some informative and practical ideas for "good thinking" in both primary and secondary classrooms. Book 1 is about encouraging thinking in RE. Helpful advice is given about creating a thinking environment. Techniques such as "community of enquiry" and other thinking activities are introduced. Book 2 is about "brain-based" learning, and explores some implications of "accelerated learning" and "multiple intelligence" theory to RE teaching.

Book 3 shows how stories and poetry can stimulate thinking in RE, and includes a "question bank" for creating discussion plans and questionnaires. Each book concludes with a useful list of resources and websites. The value of these books is that they present an easily digested summary and introduction to thinking skills theories.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University

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