English departments wishing to purchase good off-the-shelf schemes of work will find Key Stage 3 English Units a comprehensive solution. There is enough material here for 70 weeks, covering all major aspects of the post-Dearing programmes of study. Each unit uses a range of learning strategies and adopts an integrated approach to the teaching of reading, writing, speaking and listening.
Each scheme has an introductory section for teachers, giving advice on differentiation and an indication of the assessment opportunities which, in turn, are referenced to the national curriculum. The bulk of each section is devoted to photocopiable pupil resource sheets, although some photographs will challenge all but the best photocopiers.
Shakespeare, pre-20th-century literature, language study, media study and a range of reading genres and writing forms are all covered. Julius Caesar is addressed in a four-week unit which combines active drama methodology with pertinent textual analysis. There are also worthwhile sections on shared reading, offering excellent advice in an area which teachers can find difficult to manage. The selected texts are explored through pre-reading tasks and engaging pupil resource sheets which extend critical reading skills.
The media assignments include simulations on advertising and magazine production. They don't provide the full answer to media education at this age level, but they are accessible to both teachers and pupils. "A Personal Language History", "Talk at Work" and "Proper English?" provide good routes into the standard English and language study aspects of the national curriculum. Overall, well worth the relatively high price.
English Language: A Blueprint for Key Stage 3 is much duller fare. Aimed at supporting writing for lower and middle-ability pupils in the level 3 to 6 range, it might at first sight seem to encompass a developmental model of writing.The package professes to encourage self-critical writers. Laudable though such sentiments are, the worksheets fall very short of the mark in supporting them. Pupils are offered tedious fragments of writing and asked to re-jig them or write in response to them. Tasks like completing a poem which runs "The white washing leaping in the wind Is a ....." seem to hark back to an earlier model of English where teachers doled out-of-context fragments to pupils and kept their fingers crossed something might rub off.
It's just possible that in the hands of a good support teacher, a few of the sheets might provide the starting point for discussion of key principles. "Story plots", "Climaxes" and "Story and Confrontations" could be a visual prompt to narrative structure and a couple of the self-assessment sheets offer a framework for personal response. Most of the rest is slow death by worksheet.
Martin Phillips is English and media adviser in Devon