Historically, there has been a bit of argy-bargy about the merits of reading scheme books vs. ‘real’ books. In the past, reading provision for most schools involved using a core scheme arranged into levels of difficulty, which children ploughed through in sequence until they were allowed to choose their own reading book. A criticism of these books was that they were written by consultants who, under commercial time-constraints, had to churn texts out using highly controlled vocabulary. Fortunately, the newest schemes have been written with a bit more nous by real authors who write for children rather than at them.
The PM series from Nelson Thornes contains a stable of reassuringly real authors who know their audience. This well-stocked reading scheme contains over 800 sensibly levelled fiction and non-fiction titles for whole class, guided or independent reading and is used widely for Wave 3 reading interventions such as the Fischer Family Trust literacy programme, Reading Recovery and Every Child a Reader.
Sitting alongside this plethora of books is the new PM Benchmark Kit, a reading assessment tool that dovetails with book bands for guided reading and is designed to provide reliable levelling information from emergent levels through to reading age 12. It is a well-heeled resource with plenty of features to get excited about, justifying its handsome £229.99 price tag. You get a cracking 46 books in the kit with a pupil record for each text, and there is a healthy mixture of fiction and non-fiction resources to stimulate some of the 100 billion brain cells at a child’s disposal. The books benefit from carefully crafted words and sentences with clear, well-spaced type and meaningful illustrations and photographs. Some of the pictures are better than others though.
The text itself is expertly written and has been levelled very carefully following lengthy analysis, which is explained in the excellent Teachers’ Resource Book and CD. It’s refreshing to see a resource book of such good quality. It contains specific information on how to use each component and is packed with top tips and guidelines for assessing children’s fluency, judging their retelling strategies and for gauging their understanding - including whether the finer points of a passage are recognised and appreciated.
For me, the student proformas are the most useful part of the resource, combined with the examples of completed assessment records. These might embarrassingly highlight what you haven’t been doing all these years when it comes to accurately assessing children’s reading. With continued use, they will certainly make you a better teacher and assessor of reading.
The Procedures Cards that come with the kit are handy summaries of what to do when taking a reading assessment, and contain reading level tables and formulas for self-correction and accuracy rates. After a while, you will also find it useful to dip into the DVD as this contains frequently asked questions and professional development videos perfect for your own personal development, or for wider INSET purposes.
The new PM Benchmark Kit is a quality and comprehensive assessment resource that will provide valuable and accurate insights into the skills and needs of children, allowing teachers to chart growth and tailor reading instruction to strengths and weaknesses. This fine resource has children’s best interests at heart and plays a centre-forward role in helping children enjoy success, enjoyment and understanding. Back of the net.