As a primary teacher in Wales, and consultant with schools from across the UK, I am delighted to write in praise of Bob Cox and his Opening Doors series.
Bob Cox's Opening Doors series is a great way into classical literature that many primary teachers would feel uncomfortable in engaging with. This series has come at a time when teachers are struggling to make sense of the new curriculum (which refers to the need to teach heritage texts) in England and are faced with greater demands to stretch and challenge in Wales. With his easy-to-follow strategies and simple way of turning a tricky text into an exciting learning journey, I have seen schools across England and Wales rethinking their literacy teaching: reigniting passion for literacy in teachers, and engaging and enthusing learners.
Without doubt, this series of books provides teachers with a 'one-stop shop' on how to teach classical prose and poetry - even for the non-literacy specialist. From working in classrooms and with groups of learners I can say that the reaction to the resources is always extremely positive. For the busy teacher these handy-sized books are simply laid out, with top tips along the way. A CD-ROM provides all of the extracts and original illustrations (so teachers save time with preparation).The series also gives really useful background information with contextualises authors in the bigger picture, and gives links to further reading, interesting clips and films to watch, as well as support in differentiation. If that weren't enough, there is now the development of an online resource where teachers and pupils can view other children's work from the units. This is fantastic in that it provides real examples to consider, unpick and celebrate - as well as offering children a purpose for writing.
Some schools have used the series as part of their -˜More Able and Talented' programme - using units to really stretch their more able pupils. I have had the opportunity of running such sessions for schools in Bristol where ten-year-olds have gone on to read Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White in full as a result of the work - not the usual reading material for this age group!
Whether with a mixed-ability class, or a discrete group of learners, the books lead to inspiring learning opportunities.
In combination, the Opening Doors series provide 30 units of work for 6'¬-13 year olds. As a consultant I am now seeing whole schools taking on this resource as the basis of their literacy lessons - and, as a result, finding that children are able to go deeper in comprehension and writing skills than previous attainment showed. With easy-to-follow advice and ideas, as well as fantastic links to learning and paths to follow, extend and embed intertextual understandings, whole cross-curricular projects can be created. By way of example, I recently assisted with the preparation for Estyn inspection in a school in Pembrokeshire where the Year Five class took the Dracula unit as their inspiration. They wrapped the extract from Bram Stoker's gothic novel into their art, numeracy, design technology and geography subjects. Teacher, children and inspectors were all delighted by the high challenge and enjoyable work that was going on as a result of using the Opening Doors resource.
To be cost-effective today, schools need to see outcomes from every penny they spend and with each book priced at '£12.99 the series is not going to break the bank. However, that is not where the real gains from this series lie. As previously mentioned, it is packed full of ideas and resources that can be used immediately in the classroom. Perhaps most importantly it will, and is going to, sustain high quality literacy by providing teachers with ongoing CPD by stealth. You see, what Bob Cox does is provide an easily transferable model for teaching quality texts: a model which can be repeated in new texts that the individual teacher feels appropriate to their setting. So, once teachers have devoured the units that have been written, they are then encouraged to create their own. Brilliant! Ongoing, high quality literacy is then embedded with teachers more confident in their subject knowledge and pedagogy.