One of the difficulties facing writers of English textbooks for the new National Qualifications is the continuously changing ground in terms of the course structures and assessment regimes in operation.
Several changes were enacted during the last session as a result of the review led by Ken Cunningham, headteacher of Hillhead High in Glasgow, with further significant alterations agreed for next year. Against this background, material focused on course requirements rather than generic skills can quickly become out of date.
Higher Results in Textual Analysis is one of the books which may suffer from the restructuring, which has seen the removal of textual analysis from the Higher English exam paper, although it remains a compulsory unit assessment.
The book is 218 pages long and covers Intermediate 2 and Higher in two sections, with each level treated fairly independently. There is a wealth of good material, focusing on texts that will be familiar to Scottish teachers. Nonetheless, it is somewhat dense with a certain level of repetition. The absence of colour and limited graphic illustrations add to this impression and it is unlikely to be a book which appeals to students. Teachers may find the material interesting and informative without being convinced of its user-friendliness in the classroom.
The writer's approach is to formulate a series of building blocks to both understanding and analysis and evaluation. These are linked for each of the genres - prose, poetry and drama - to the stages of learning, developing and demonstrating.
Much of the exemplar material demonstrates very effectively the link between textual analysis and the skills required for successful critical essay writing. The thoroughness of some units, however, may prove to be time-consuming and it would have been beneficial to package the practice texts in the format used by the Scottish Quanlifications Authority rather than the more open-ended assignments that are included.
An almost complete contrast in style and tone is offered in Higher English: The Student Guide. This is an informative and effectively written book which aims to simplify the SQA's arrangements and clearly targets the pupil cohort. Students are addressed directly and there is an early exhortation to work hard.
Although the guide includes one specimen paper (the one with McIlvanney reminiscing about his Kilmarnock childhood) there are no other practical exercises offered. This perhaps reflects the writer's repeated assertion about the importance of interaction between the teacher and student if success is to be achieved.
Its major weakness is that it has already become dated, for the reasons referred to already. The text carries a prominent warning about potential changes to the courses and assessment procedures and while it correctly surmises that there would be no increase in assessment, the changes which have occurred leave sections of the book redundant, the oral communication unit being a prime example. (Within this section, critical listening received less than a page of coverage, which was surprising as it seemed to be a popular option in schools.) The advice offered in relation to the skills necessary in areas such as critical essays, specialist study, and textual analysis remains relevant but the packaging of that advice will need to be updated.
Students who bought the book in advance of the 2002 examination will have been well served by its content but an early redraft may be required for this session.
Larry Flanagan is principal teacher of English at Hillhead High, Glasgow