Solutions for the perfect partnership
The initials "JS" seem to loom large at the moment over English in secondary schools. As Jim Sweetman and John Seely and their teams move from publisher to publisher - the former from Collins to Longman, the latter from OUP to Heinemann - there must be a large proportion of English departments coming directly under the influence of one or the other. In their interpretations of the latest manifestation of the national curriculum in English, both provide acceptable and satisfying models, fully in the spirit of Cox, which maintain a welcome continuity of philosophy and practice.
English Solutions when complete will cover key stages 3 and 4. The key stage 3 segment comprises three course books and a teacher's guide. There is no attempt at all-inclusive completeness: 32 units in three books are not intended to provide a comprehensive key stage 3 course. The purpose of the series is not to "replace the teacher", as the teacher's guide makes clear. The overall aims are "to support teachers in their work I bring variety to the classroom I assist with the development of programmes of studyI". However, certain units are designed to stand alone, to provide, if necessary, work for cover lessons where teacher mediation is not so essential, both for a whole week and for single lessons.
The teacher's guide explains the rationale of the series clearly. Many teachers will find useful the charts itemising the key skills and the classroom activities which further them. However, this is no box-ticking exercise: the teacher's guide is at pains to emphasise - and the structure of the course reflects - not only progression but the essential recursiveness of the English curriculum. The key skills in Speaking and Listening, Reading and Writing are constantly revisited and reinforced, treated inter-dependently and appear in a variety of guises with whole-class, small group and individual work and much scope for effective teacher mediation.
Each unit, whatever its length and scope, follows the same pattern. The teacher's guide contains advice on additional resources, key skills, progression and use in the classroom for each unit, together with copymasters specific to the activities in the units. The units have widely differing central activities, though each involves combinations of the language modes.
In Book 1, the first unit, My Top Ten, is a simple collaborative "ice-breaking" activity ideal for new pupils. This is succeeded by a fine unit on Creation Myths with complete stories by Frances Halton and Geraldine McCaughrean. Body Rhythms next is an effective introduction to poetry. Also notable in Book 1 is Dear Diary in which not only is there the expected Anne Frank but also searing entries from Zlata's Diary from Sarajevo.
This leads on to further exploration of narrative with the working out of adventure games in Tomb of the last Pharoah and in turn to the beginning of the strong knowledge about language strand which runs through all three books with an exploration of different uses of language in Turned on its Head, an introduction to how to be funny in writing and Getting into Print, a look at different styles and first steps in word-processing and desk-top publishing.
Books 3 and 4 follow this wide-ranging but focused approach. I was particularly impressed by the use of a sensitively abridged version of Janni Howker's The Egg-man with a well-judged prediction exercise leading to insights into the presentation of character and, in Book 4, an original use of Warner Law's short story "The Harry Hastings Method" to look at style and an introduction to crime and detective stories. But wherever you look in this series, you will find activities imbued with enterprise and interest.
Dennis Hamley is a children's author and former English adviser for Hertforshire.