Words in the right order;Books

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
A BLUEPRINT FOR LITERACY SUCCESS. By Sandra Iversen pound;13.95.

LITERACY LINKS ADD ON PACKS. Friends and Friendship. Action and Adventure. Another Time, Another Place. Confidence and CourageWild and Wonderful. All The World's a Stage. Something Strange. When Things Go Wrong Kingscourt pound;29.95 each.

Nicholas Bielby welcomes advice and helpful packs on teaching reading.

More goodies from New Zealand! First, A Blueprint for Literacy Success by Sandra Iversen. The term "blueprint" makes it sound remote and abstract, but this is a cheerful, accessible and attractively produced ring-back book of practical ideas, advice and copiable materials for key stage 1 teachers. Iversen is an international academic and co-author of some impressive reading research. Yet she has been a teacher and reading recovery tutor as well as a professor and she knows the score.

She explains the concepts of current research-talk in brief, clear paragraphs and takes us through the strategies of teaching early reading in meaty, bite-size bits. For example, she talks about "heavy-duty letters", the consonants that begin most of the words the child is likely to use, and reckons it will not be necessary to teach any other letters explicitly. Thus, while her confidence-building approach relieves the teacher of some anxieties, it doesn't answer others - her approach takes little account of our nationally imposed emphasis on systematic phonic knowledge.

Apart from this, it is amazing how comprehensive her coverage is in what is a very brief text. She often makes her points succinctly by illustrating what a teacher might say to children - "What letter will I need to start writing bring?", "I liked the way you managed to match your finger and your voice". What the book lacks in length (you could easily buy many more words for your money) it makes up for in user-friendliness and every-day usefulness. You would have loved it on your first teaching practice.

Next, the Add on Packs for the Literacy Links scheme - not that you would know, since the name Literacy Links isn't to be seen on them. Neither do they show what ages they are for. Nor do the books indicate which pack or module they belong to. Keeping them organised in the classroom might be a problem.

There are eight six-book modules, each with its own teacher's guide. While the modules are thematic, the themes are so general ("Action and Adventure", "When things go wrong",and so on) that they hardly count - you could hardly have adventure without things going wrong, or stories at all without "The Wild and the Wonderful" and "Friends and Friendship".

While predominantly novels, the booksare mixed - novels, stories, including a pick-a-plot variation on Jack and the Beanstalk, traditional tales from around the world, jokes, general information, how-to books and drama scripts, but no poetry.

I was grabbed by The Journal: Dear Future II, from "Another Time Another Place", about a girl in 2198 discovering a 1998 time capsule. It trails a lot of ideas for discussing things we take for granted. There are books about women achievers, for instance, the aviator Amelia Earhart. In the same module, another book about the early years of flying refers to a New Zealander who built and flew an aircraft about the same time as the Wright brothers - and then, infuriatingly tells us no more about him. Curiously, "All the World's a Stage" tells us everything about putting on a play (from blocking to "Break a leg!") without discussing the need to tell a story, improvisation or choosingwriting a script. Overall, though, the quality and range would make these books a useful addition to classroom resources.

The guides (themselves not easy to find your way around because the page headings are not helpful) suggest ways of using the books. Notes for teaching sessions are provided, with differentiation allowed for. The lower level activities are run-of-the-mill, for instance, reading passages aloud and asking children to predict what might happen next - a rather pointless exercise, as you find out by reading on. Some of the higher level work, for instance, discussion about intelligence and communication in animals after reading about Koko, the signing gorilla, engages the reader's comprehension more challengingly and would be stimulating for all the children.

But since you would want to select from the activities suggested, there are enough interesting ones for most purposes. To plough religiously through such guides would be to kill reading dead.

Nicholas Bielby is a tutor in primary education at the University of Leeds

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