Shock absorbers

6th October 2000 at 01:00
AS ENGLISH LANGUAGE FOR AQA B. By Ron Norman and Anne Watkiss

AS ENGLISH LITERATURE FOR AQA B. By Tony Childs and Jackie Moore. Heinemann pound;7.50 each

LIVING LITERATURE. By Frank Msyzor and Jackie Baker

LIVING LANGUAGE. By George Keith and John Shuttleworth

LIVING LANGUAGE AND LITERARTURE. By George Keith and John Shuttleworth. Hodder amp; Stoughton pound;12.99 each

LITERATURE CRITICISM AND STYLE. By Steven Croft and Helen Cross. Oxford University Press pound;11

EXPLORING LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE. By Steven Croft and Robert Myers. Oxford University Press pound;11

For many years A-level courses seemed to be exempt from the change which has characterised the English curriculum for the past decade: a reliable stalwart, reassuringly familiar, posing the teacher with no problem more taxing than which set texts to choose each year. Now of course, all that has changed and publishers have stepped in quickly to try to absorb the shock.

Accessibility to the student who may not continue to the second year of a full A-level course is the strength of Heinemann's A-level English books for AQA. Each text is divided into three modules, reflecting the syllabus structure. Headings and instructions are straightforward and unambiguous. There is a clear focus on meeting assessment objectives and "how to earn maximum marks" in the exams. Activities draw examples, where possible, from students' own reading experiences, but the writers do not shy away from including more demanding texts and technical terminology. The Language text, in particular, takes account of different learning styles in directing students to complete charts and spider diagrams.

In each, there are commentaries on how students may have responded to selected texts, but these are not over-prescriptive or discouraging to independent thinking.

Hodder's Living Language, Living Literature and Living Language and Literature, at twice the length of their Heinemann equivalents, are denser, mre thorough texts. Designed to fulfil the assessment objectives for all examining boards, they include extracts from an impressive range of texts.

Activities encourage class analysis and are followed by commentaries pinpointing key features of the texts. They are rather scholarly in tone: many newcomers to A-level may find these demanding books daunting, but they would undoubtedly challenge and stimulate able Year 12s or those in the second year of their course.

Literature, Criticism and Style from OUP is divided into three sections: Encountering Literature, which devotes a chapter to each of five genres, Developing your Language of Criticism including a sub-section on comparing texts, and Approaching Revision and Assessment.

In this revised edition, activities are now more closely based on exam board set text lists. Each section concludes with a helpful summary of key points and vocabulary. What distinguishes this text is its Special Features on key authors, Romantic Poetry and First World War Literature. Its comprehensive, clearly organised, no-frills approach with self-contained sections for dipping into will appeal to new converts and those already familiar with the publication in its earlier incarnation, whatever exam board is being taken.

Exploring Language and Literature for AQA Specification A is divided into two sections, one for AS the other for A2, though the difference is evident in content rather than approach. Like the Hodder texts, academic in tone, it seamlessly interweaves exploration of language and literature by including a broad range of contemporary and traditional texts and analytical tasks which develop the linguistic skills necessary for both disciplines.

With such a wealth of high quality support material on offer, changes to the specifications might even stimulate a fresh approach to A-level teaching.

Mandy Watts is deputy head at the Cavendish school in Hertfordshire and a former head of English

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