16th June 2000 at 01:00
Teaching Reading in the Secondary School. By Geoff Dean. David Fulton pound;15.

This book will provide many an uncomfortable moment for the average secondary school English teacher. The first half examines practices that all of us have either encountered or carried out ourselves. These include the occasional pointless comprehension exercise that demonstrates little else but that pupils can find the key word in the text and rearrange the phrasing of the question, or the well intentioned silent reading lesson, where pupils thumb idly through a book discarded as soon as the bell has sounded.

Part of the purpose of Geoff Dean's book is to make English teachers reappraise their practice in the light of the literacy hour, which is coming the secondary school's way. But it is also clear that English teachers need to know more about how to encourage progression in reading.

Dean asks us all to consider how we can bring this about - a question well worth asking, and in chapter five he provides some examples of what we might do. The fact that these practical solutions come so far into the book, however, is its one wekness. While it is always salutary to reflect on where we have gone wrong, the length of the critique lends the book a somewhat negative tone. I think I learn better from being confronted with original and innovative practice rather than a litany of mistakes. True, we all have to recognise where we went wrong, but too much criticism is perhaps not the best way to achieve constructive change.

Indeed, many of the schools that I worked with as an advisory teacher in the London Borough of Ealing five or six years ago were questioning the practices that Dean now criticises. Those schools had begun to ask how best to teach reading and the borough initiated a whole-school reading policy before the liter-acy hour was ever thought of.

Still, there is much that is helpful about Geoff Dean's book. The style is readable and he introduces many of the concepts underpinning the literacy hour, suggesting ways in which English teachers, who already use many of them unknowingly, might capitalise on their practice with a bit more knowledge of the theory.

Bethan Marshall is a lecturer at King's College London

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