Scenic routes to English

4th November 1994 at 00:00
English literature a-level, Edited by Ros McCulloch. Pounds 38. 1 85749 130 0.

Pearson Publishing, Chesterton Mill, French's Road, Cambridge CB4 3NP. The cover of this pack, developed by English teachers, shows a picture of some solitary mountains with a lonely road winding through them. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the way an English teacher feels when faced with larger student groups of mixed ability, grappling with the demands of A-level English literature.

The materials, tested through the Centre for English at Leicester University, have involved A-level students, students in training, practising teachers and tutors in English.

There are two sections, an introduction to the skills of literary analysis, and text-specific activities which include units on "Romanticism in England" and "The background to Victorian Literature".

The transition from GCSE to A- level is always difficult and the first unit on literary skills makes explicit the differences and expectations that this level of study demands. Students are asked to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and identify personal goals for the first term of the course. Other units in this section include Working with Poems, Studying Character and Writing Coursework.

A number of the text-based activities in section 2 are based on works by some of the writers most often used for A-level study, including Shakespeare, Chaucer and the Victorian poets.

Each unit has clear aims, allowing the students to develop a sense of their own development. There are several clearly-explained activities in each unit, giving suggestions for work as a class, in small groups or individually. Resources are listed, referring to other units within the pack, or to related books, films, software or places to visit.

English Literature A-level encourages a collaborative approach and reflects some of the best practice for mixed-ability teaching. While it would need to be adapted for particular classes, it is flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways or adapted to different works.

The pack is rather dense, containing almost 200 photocopiable pages. The pages are loose and it is easy to get them muddled and it is difficult to see where one unit starts and another ends. However, I can envisage students slotting a four-page photocopied unit into their own folders.

Some of the work involves filling in spaces in headed charts and it would have been useful to have photocopiable blanks of these to produce for students. There is considerable use of charts and tables in the activities and perhaps more encouragement to use computers, with outliners, desktop publishers or databases would help a class to record and share their responses more effectively.

Despite these minor criticisms, this is an excellent pack of materials which would be valuable for A-level English teachers seeking reliable materials. A pass through metaphorical mountains, rather than a long and winding road.

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