Driven by experts

1st March 1996 at 00:00
NEW OXFORD ENGLISH. Students' Book 1 Pounds 7.50 Teacher's Book 1 Pounds 15 Video 1 Pounds 25 + VAT Oxford University Press Age range 11 - 12

Teachers apprehensive about 'accountability' may be reassured by the OUP's new course for key stage 3. My hunch is that the current obsession with instantly identifiable "accountability" will bring an upsurge in English departments returning to commercially produced programmes of study for key stage 3, such as this New Oxford English. You can understand why. The declared purpose of this course is to provide clearly-structured, appropriately-demanding activities and assessment opportunities to ensure that students experience fully the revised curriculum. The echoes of OFSTED-speak are inescapable. So as teacher-apprehensions proliferate, here is the shield of legitimacy: trialled mat-erials, written by experts, with reassuring grids and coverage charts.

Real accountability, of course, rests with the enduring value of the students' book and the supporting video. Book 1 is structured around four genre-based modules - narrative, poetry, non-fiction, drama - with editorial claims of "a rich and varied diet". A cliche, maybe, not an idle boast. Take the poetry module as an example. Divided into four sections (poem as story, picture, sound, pattern) it contains 26 poems, from the likes of Judith Nicholls, John Mole, Gareth Owen and Roger McGough, and Shakespeare and Southey. Plenty of choice, in a palatable menu.

So, also, with the video (if a tad expensive). Eleven clips represent "a range of forms and purposes and different structural and presentational devices" across the media. Among them a filmed extract from Alan Garner's Elidor, a Lenny Henry commercial and a sparkling interview with Liz Lochhead about her poem "George Square".

The poetry module clearly illustrates the editorial pursuit of differentiation by outcome. The content-range offers equal entitlement to texts and activities of comparable value and interest. This is apparent, for instance, in the imaginative use of "shape" poems, not least via IT links and the possibilities for creatively presenting text.

Such creativity enhances each page of the students' book. Print-size, layout, use of colour, and varied illustrations and photographs are attractively purposeful, with due recognition of gender and cultural balance.

Each module concludes with a Language Study section, built on the preceding pages with a genuine concern for integration within the overall structure. Thus the power of descriptive adjectives emerges through Michael Buerk's account of experiences in Ethiopia; persuasive adjectives by means of a travel brochure and Body Shop leaflet. The juxtaposition is poignant.

Interpreting other teachers' strategies can be alienating. The 120 pages of the teacher's book, however, need not preclude individual initiative (it protests otherwise) or spontaneity, while offering the security of further ideas and resources to support classroom activities. Likewise, the material on assessment and recording, photocopiable activities etc should prove helpful, yet underwhelming, for those in need.

Coursebooks are a contentious topic. Not least, accountability involves accounts and since 1989 much departmental dosh will have sunk in the shifting sands of national curriculum needs. Departments might profitably consider the chapters on Curriculum Planning and Teaching Materials in The English Department Book (English and Media Centre) in their decision making. If they invest in a ready-made programme, New Oxford English is an admirable option.

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