Primary English: Teaching Theory and Practice, 4th Edition

Series Achieving QTS: Meeting the Professional Standards Framework
Author(s) Jane Medwell, David Wray, Hilary Minns, Elizabeth Coates, Vivienne Griffiths
Publisher Learning Matters Ltd.
Published 2009
Pages 200
Price £17.00
ISBN 9781844452750
Reviewed by Mrs Tracy Wallis
University of Wolverhampton
Review published 5 February 2010

This book, in its previous editions has long been a core text for trainee teachers and one which I refer to constantly when teaching my trainees on the GRTP (Graduate and Registered Teacher Programme) route. It follows the familiar structure of the “Achieving QTS” series with each chapter, except for the first, beginning with an overview of the relevant QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) standards. Each chapter then contains case studies, research summaries and practical tasks for readers to engage in and further their knowledge. At the end of each chapter there is also a summary of key points, a further reading and reference list as well as a short paragraph entitled “Moving on” where the authors recommend further engagement with the subject of the chapter through practical ideas or research for NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers) to carry out during their first year of teaching. On the GRTP route these have proved to be worthwhile for the trainees to engage in during their time in school.

The first chapter gives a practical account of Primary English, its basic structure and the key documentation related to it. The aims and structure of this book is also made clear here with explicit connections to the Professional Standards for QTS. This has a strong focus on the third section of standards – Professional Skills.
The second chapter on Learning English, opened up a fascinating discussion on how children learn language for reading, writing and speaking and its function and purpose through all of these. There are references here to Halliday’s (1978) work on the functions of language and children’s first experiences of language. It is vital that trainee teachers have this knowledge and understand how children make meaning. The authors also discuss here, the interactive nature of language and how this is the same for literacy as it is for oracy and that children are surrounded by written language from an early age. Therefore, they learn to “read” this and imitate literacy behaviours with adults responding appropriately by giving feedback. There is reference again here to Halliday’s 3 aspects of language learning and how teachers can plan to provide these. Part of my role is also to teach trainees how to teach Primary Languages and there were strong parallels here that I could use in such sessions when considering how children learn a new language. In terms of my English teaching sessions I drew upon Cambourne’s (1988) work with toddlers and their language learning with the trainees. We drew out the key principles for early literacy teaching in the classroom with an evaluation of the literacy learning environments that the trainees had so far experienced.

Chapter three moves on to looking at how some of these key principles can be interpreted into important strategies for teaching English in the primary school and recognises how this might be different in each key stage. The authors stress the importance of frequent demonstrations in reading and writing such as modelling reading and writing, what the text is about, responses and editing as well as suitable use of Standard English when doing so. The authors reinforce here that by talking about language choices and their effects, children can become better at using them. They also discuss the use of meta-language to do this and how this can be done from a very early age although it needs to be done in context. What I found useful to highlight to the trainees with this chapter was how the learning goals need to be clear through effective lesson planning and how objective sharing is only useful if the children can read it or have it read to them and understand the objectives. This will then be effective in terms of traffic lighting, self assessing against them and also thinking about how this learning might be useful again.
  Chapter four looks at the role of talk and how to develop speaking and listening to support writing in particular. After outlining what the key documents say, the authors look at talk in the Early Years and talk at home. They provide very useful ideas for sensory play and imaginative play in order to encourage children’s talk using specific vocabulary. It includes a useful discussion on how teachers in Key Stage 1 classrooms in particular have developed the use of storytelling into drama activities. Again I have used the examples here with my trainees, in particular those based in Key Stage 2, to encourage them to think about how to use drama and storytelling not only in their literacy lessons but across the curriculum in order to enhance the quality of children’s writing.

It was at this point that I started to read the chapters out of order, not because I felt that the book was not written in a useful structure but because of the way I planned to look at reading and writing with my trainees and how I would use the book. Therefore I looked at chapters 5, 6 and 9 in that order so that I could get a holistic view of how the teaching of reading progresses from early years to the end of key stage 2. These chapters included a really clear outline of the Rose Report on early reading as well as what successful readers look like – the cues that they use when reading. These chapters were full of incredibly useful ideas for tasks. One of these tasks that I used included engaging the trainees in critiquing texts for shared and guided reading with children in Key Stage 1. Interestingly, I also found the lesson plan on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to be a perfect way of showing how teaching word level work in Early Years mirrors practice in teaching Primary Languages! In looking at reading at key stage 2, I found that this really gave clear ideas to trainees about what shared and guided reading for this phase looks like. This included restructuring texts, text marking and cloze procedure – all of which I encourage trainees to do in session before they plan to do them with children back in school.

In looking at writing I looked at chapters 7, 8 and 10, in that order. Again, these chapters usefully defined for trainees the differences between guided, shared and independent writing, highlighting the crucial role of modelling writing behaviours to children. The subject knowledge in these chapters was useful for trainees and certainly in terms of the EBITT (Employment Based Initial Teacher Training) route trainees was reinforced by such innovations as Ros Wilson’s and Alan Peat’s work as well as visual literacy. The chapters on writing reinforced the links with reading – familiarising children with text types; as well as with speaking and listening – the talk that needs to happen before children begin to write. In a future session I intend to use David Wray’s model for teaching writing so that we can reflect on how we might use this in classrooms to develop children’s writing.

Overall I found this book extremely worthwhile and I have used many of the ideas with my GTP trainees to great effect. To that end I would continue to recommend this as a core text for trainees whose knowledge needs consolidating as well as for those trainees who are interested in further researching the development of literacy – as so many seem to be. My only criticism would be that there perhaps needs to be a little more on the value of teaching, reading and writing poetry with children; in particular how this reinforces what we can teach in terms of speaking and listening, word level work and children’s literary prose.