Teaching and Learning in the Early Years

By David Whitebread | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

‘Penguins never meet polar bears’

READING FOR INFORMATION IN THE EARLY YEARS

Helen Arnold

Reading in some form is part of everyday life for nearly all adults. Many find satisfaction in reading fiction, but far more read for information, so frequently that they are unaware of it. They scan newspapers, absorb advertisements, signs, instructions and warnings. Car drivers do not always realise what skilful readers they must be.

It seems strange, therefore, that children have traditionally learnt to read almost exclusively from narrative texts. This is justified by the belief that response to story is inbuilt, that stories tell about events within children’s experience, and that sequential (chronological) text is easier to predict and recall than non-sequential. Non-fiction elements were introduced in the higher levels of traditional reading schemes in the 1960s and 1970s, often called ‘supplementary readers’. Even then, these tended to be written chronologically, as history or geography or nature ‘stories’.

The assessment of such reading was invariably in the form of comprehension exercises. At upper primary levels ‘higher order reading skills’ were introduced; until one had mastered ‘literal’ reading, one could not go on to reading for ‘inference’ or ‘appreciation’. The main purpose of training in higher order reading skills was to prepare pupils for reading in the subject areas when they reached secondary school.

The idea of this hierarchical progression from fiction to non-fiction reading no longer holds. The national curriculum recognises the need to introduce children to reading for information at Key Stage 1. Publishers are now including non-fiction strands from the earliest stages, and there is a growing number of individually published texts in the best traditions of the ‘picture book’. Unfortunately many of these texts start with the wrong premiss, assuming that the function of this sort of reading is to include as many

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