Minding the gap years

15th September 2000 at 01:00
INTERMEDIATE MODERN STUDIES: Social Issues in the UK. Intermediate Modern Studies: International Issues by Allan Grieve and John McTaggart pound;7.99 each. Hodder and Stoughton, tel: 020 7873 6000

At last a publisher has produced textbooks on social and international issues at Intermediate level, writes Gavin Clark.

Mind the gap. Hodder and Stoughton, underground for so long in the world of Secondary 56 modern studies publishing, has seen the gap, emerged into the light, and filled it.

What gap? Social and International Issues courses at these levels have been well resourced by the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and the Higher Still Development Unit support materials, but lack the credibility that a textbook brings. What has filled it? These ambitious texts cover all of the available options in both areas and boast a number of pleasing features, some of which are common to both texts.

Activities appear alongside the text and will prepare students thoroughly for the outcome 1 and 2 questions which they will face in National Assessment Bank and external assessments.

Both authors have extensive Scottish Qualifications Authority experience, and so it is no surprise to find a systematic content which closely mirrors the Arrangements document - candidates will be well prepared.

Chapters open with a list of key points, and the case study approach, now used extensively in most modern studies textbooks, is applied to good effect.

The ICT revolution gathers momentum and these texts' weblinks are often integrated into meaningful and manageable student activities. However, the publisher's claim that "valuable Internet resources are extensively referred to throughout" stands up more obviously for the social issues text than for its international stablemate.

The social issues text offers some interesting new approaches to teaching and learning. The Hamburger Essay is an attempt to develop student skills in extended writing. Vegetarians who are appalled at an analogy which casts the core of an essay as the meat and the introduction and conclusion as the bread roll can presumably insert a beanburger into their students' notes.

Throughout the text, potential areas of debate are highlighted, and the "rules of engagement" section at the beginning will enable less-confident students to take part properly. Investigative tasks, such as looking atequality in the workplace, recommend good sources such as recent BBC productions and give clear guidance on layout. Pleasingly, the activities often allow students to relate their personal experiences to complex issues and interesting, up-to-date exemplification is used throughout.

This last plus point also applies to the international issues text which is in many ways more ambitious, covering four different topics. The EU coverage is particularly good, offering excellent textual and ICT sources for comparing the countries of Europe.

The section on the institutions of the EU inevitably fails to bring them alive - but has any modern studies teacher in Scotland achieved this? Answers on a postcard please.

Chapters on Brazil, China and South Africa, while not quite matching the quality of the EU section, will considerably enhance classroom use of support materials. It seems odd, however, that some of the positive features of the social issues text (Hamburger, anyone?) are not used in both books. Perhaps a McDonalds-inspired essay would be too meaty for a study of Brazil.

Now for the bad news. While other publishers steam towards a place where the graphics are snappy, the pictures are plentiful and the use of colour is positively alarming for the over-18s, the tame black-and-whiteness of these books stands out.

The publisher may see this as a tentative first step into the market which did not merit grade 1 funding, but whatever the reason a second edition will hopefully remedy this problem. The quality of the information deserves better presentation.

Support materials for these levels have all failed to answer one key question. How on earth do you target appropriate activities at students with greatly diverse abilities?

These books still do not provide an answer. In a market which cannot sustain texts aimed at individual levels, publishers should consider separate, differentiated activities based around core source materials.

So should you buy them? Yes, because your students deserve a textbook just like their pals next door in the Higher class, and the positive aspects of these books far outweigh their problems. Underground, overground, nothing is free. The authors of Issues books, write thoroughly.


Gavin Clark is principal teacher of modern studies and history at Dunbar Grammar and chair of the Modern Studies Association

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