7th September 2001 at 01:00
BETTER WRITERS. By Debra Myhill. Courseware Publications pound;16.95. TESDirect pound;16.45.

What would be of use to secondary English teachers now? A book that explains the latest thinking on how to improve writing with practical suggestions on how to relate this to the national literacy strategy's new English framework objectives. Debra Myhill's Better Writers does just that.

In 1996, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority commissioned an investigation into writing in GCSE English examinations which was published in 1999 as Technical Accuracy in writing in GCSE English: research findings. Myhill was co-director.

Better Writing adds to these findings a clear, brief analysis of the massive changes in the expectations placed on English teachers and their students over the past five years. It summarises the principal progression criteria for improving writing in terms of linguistic competence and points out that these have not been the focus of teaching and learning in the past.

Myhill provides useful practical suggestions to help students improve the quality of their writing. Chapter 13 deals with genre and includes a summary of the difference between the NLS and QCA approaches. It identifies the features that lead to success when writing in these genres. The sections on openings and endings in narrative are useful.

Myhill writes: "Attention to linguistic features is a natural complement to current best practice and enables teachers to be more focused in how they teach writing. We often talk about helping the child find a voice. Perhaps in the past we have recognised neither the extent to which a child's voice can be lost or suffocated by poor understanding of how to craft and express ideas, nor the extent to which form and meaning are intrinsically interrelated."

Better Writing includes a timely section on using ICT to improve writing and how to use word processing to help students analyse text.

If you know this, Better Writing will deepen your knowledge and make your understanding more secure but, if you are not sure, it provides the right mix of theory and practice to help you plan an effective way forward.

Julia Strong is deputy director of the National Literacy Trust

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