One step ahead;Secondary;Reviews;English;Books
Faced with increasing constraints on their independence, says the introduction to this set of eight essays, teachers need "to beat the curriculum at its own game".
Most English teachers are well aware of the contradictions built into their situation. External pressures to pursue utilitarian goals and teach a heritage of canonical texts are manifest in the imposed curriculum, whereas the needs of students exposed to a vast range of media seem to demand methodologies other than those officially approved.
All the contributors attempt to help teachers use the English curriculum to defeat its restrictive features. But like so many enterprises of this kind, the book is better at documenting problems than finding answers.
Two essays stand out. Vaughan Prain's "Picture Books in Secondary English" is a genuinely original and beautifully argued enquiry into a neglected area which has huge potential for effective teaching. Unlike some other contributors, Vaughan Prain is as strong on practice as on theory, and his ideas are readily adaptable.
Don Zancanella's "Inside the Literature Curriculum" is an exemplary piece of small-scale research into the politics of English departments, and the competing claims of exams and learning, and of co-existent languages and cultures.
Other chapters, on topics such as television adaptations, classic fiction, and the teaching of poetry, have something of the pot-boiler about them. They often draw on previous work, not least the writers' own, only to tell English teachers what most know all too well already.
Peter Hollindale is a reader in English and educational studies at the University of York