Prepare for the best

31st October 1997 at 00:00
HODDER ENGLISH 4. By Sue Hackman, Alan Howe and Patrick Scott Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 8.50


JANE EYRE. By Jo Shackleton.



MACBETH. By Jean Moore and John Catron.

THE CRUCIBLE. By Jonathan Stewart.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS. By Perdita Davidson.

LORD OF THE FLIES. By Jean Moore and John Catron. Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 3.99 each.

NEW OXFORD ENGLISH. By Anne Powling, John O'Connor, and Geoff Barton. Students' Book 3 Pounds 8 Students' Book 4 Pounds 9 Teacher's Book 3 Pounds 18 Teacher's Book 4 Pounds 18 Video 3 Pounds 30 + VAT Video 4 Pounds 30 + VAT

Dennis Hamley recommends two schemes for studying English

While every major publisher still wants to produce its own up-to-date and comprehensive key stages 3 and 4 English scheme, interpretations of the task seem to be diverging. One change over the years, however, seems common to all. Gone - or cut to a bare minimum - are the elaborate recording and assessment sheets of earlier national curriculum-inspired schemes: as the introduction to the Hodder scheme reasonably says: "you will most likely have already developed a worthwhile system."

However, the two schemes reviewed here illustrate the main tendencies. Hodder English (like Longman Reflections) does not claim to be all-inclusive. There is no separate language study: the compilers see their scheme as a supplement to other school programmes. Oxford (like Heinemann), offers a more heavily structured and comprehensive scheme addressing specifically every aspect of the national curriculum, with videos and detailed teacher's books.

Each approach, of course, has its virtues. But the main, confidence-giving virtue of both schemes lies in the names of their compilers - people of reputation and achievement in English teaching.

Hodder English 4 consists of a course book and a developing series of literature study books - Jane Eyre, Three Contemporary Poets (the interesting choice of Glyn Wright, Grace Nichols and U A Fanthorpe), Victorian Poetry (Christina Rossetti, Tennyson and Hardy), Macbeth, The Crucible, Great Expectations and Lord of the Flies.

The course book contains eight major units of work and a final section on preparing for examinations. Among these, "Talking Heads" looks at structuring argument through talk; "Serial Killer" considers constructing storylines; "The reading odyssey" shows writers exploring the nature of islands (a favourite teaching image since the days of Caldwell Cook); and "Witch Hunt" investigates the use of documentary materials with special reference to the study books on Macbeth and The Crucible .

This array of topics may seem arbitrary, but there is a strong underlying unity and full national curriculum coverage. Besides, this serendipity enables material of enlivening originality. The fragment of graphic novel which provides the peg for consideration of news presentation, for example,is well done in its own right: the selection of materials for cliffhangers in Unit 4 - from urban legends to Pat Barker's The Ghost Road is in itself a hook to further reading. There's entertainment as well as good practice in this course book.

Oxford English, significantly, comes with teacher's books at each key stage. These offer far more detailed comment on national curriculum criteria with charts to indicate the scheme's coverage - as well as recording sheets for students' oral work, full commentaries on each unit in the course books, photocopiable resource sheets and assignments. The videos are of high quality and well worth having. For instance, seeing and hearing Judith Nicholls on drafting "The Arrival of the Envelopes" and Ian Targett on acting in The Woman in Black are excellent experiences for anyone.

The course books follow similar patterns, emphasising the recursive nature of all good English courses - four major modules on narrative, poetry, non-fiction and drama. In Book 3, Narrative looks at stories from different cultures, the short story, graphic novels and crime stories. In Book 4, the equivalent module reinforces many of the ideas, with stories through time, character, starting points, a section called "Reader, I married him" which not only contains a lovely parody by Susan Harr but elicits excellent writing opportunities, and a short but effective look at Jane Austen. Both modules - like all the others - have language study sections which spring naturally from what has gone before.

This progress in complexity continues in Poetry: Judith Nicholls on drafting in Book 3 is succeeded in Book 4 by consideration of poems by Vernon Scannell, Seamus Heaney, Roger McGough and Jackie Kaye and an extensive consideration of poetic technique as well as meaning.

There is, by the way, an interesting comparison between the extended treatment given to Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" here and to the same poem in Hodder's Victorian Poetry. While in Hodder, the treatment emphasises what the poem shows about the view of women in Victorian England, Oxford is more interested in Tennyson's use of language. In the Oxford Drama modules The Woman in Black and Blackadder (for suspense on television) in Book 3 are succeeded by interpreting Shakespeare and the build up of irony in An Inspector Calls.

All in all, then, two schemes to consider very carefully. Both reach high levels of competence in content and presentation, both embody much good practice. But they seem to set out with different aims and the particular needs of your department will determine your preference.

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