Word play

6th July 2001 at 01:00
IMPROVING LITERACY SKILLS FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS. By Heather Duncan and Sarah Parkhouse. RoutledgeFalmer pound;19.99. TES Direct pound;19.49

Many teachers feel they need help in meeting children's special needs within the literacy hour. Heather Duncan's and Sarah Parkhouse's pack aims to offer teachers just this kind of practical support.

The book covers early skills, reading, graphemephoneme, phonological awareness, writing, spelling and handwriting. Each section contains an assessment framework as well as helpful suggestions for activities to support pupils' development. There are also formats for Individual Education Plans, IEP reviews, and for setting pupils' own targets.

The section on reading skills draws on Marie Clay's approaches to the assessment of a child's print awareness and reading strategies. The sections on phonics are supported by suggestions for games and activities, but there is too little reference to word play and songs, and the role which rhyming and patterned texts can play in persuading an inexperienced reader that reading just might be possible.

The pack has an extended section on learning to read and spell high-frequency words, drawn from the National Literacy Strategy lists, which the authors have reordered. While the aim of the authors - to link with the strategy framework - is understood, I am slightly concerned that, for children with literacy difficulties, the word lists are accorded such importance. We would all agree that eventually all children should be able to read words such as "that", "help" "before" and "other" and that the acquisition of a core of known words is an important sign of early reading development, but I do advocate caution in relation to teaching key words lists.

Words which children remember at the early stages are much more likely to be linked to books they are reading and rereading and to their personal interests, rather than to an arbitrary list.

There is also the question of how much precious reading and teaching time should be spent learning words by heart, separate from the reading process.

Olivia O'Sullivan is assistant director at the Centre for Language in Primary Education, south-east London

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