Teaching Secondary English

Author(s) Pike, Mark A
Publisher London: Paul Chapman Publishing
Price 17.99
ISBN 0761941649
Reviewed by Joy Alexander
Queen's University Belfast
Review published 1 December 2004

This book is, exactly as its title suggests, a handbook on teaching English. Its realistic and practical tone derives from the author's years of classroom experience and his current role in training secondary English teachers.

Mark Pike draws on a very wide range of literature relating to every aspect of English and provides useful guidance on further reading. His book fits in to a line of recent books about English teaching to which he makes due reference - Teaching English (S Brindley, 1994), Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School (J Davison and J Dowson, 1998), English Teaching in the Secondary School (M Fleming and D Stevens, 1998). What has his book to offer to distinguish it from those which are already available? The two-fold answer is that it has its own distinct flavour both at the theoretical and philosophical level as it considers the nature of English and at the down-to-earth level of classroom realities in its advice on how to teach the subject.

Pike reminds the reader of the role of education in promoting pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and he focuses especially on how English can contribute to the first two, perhaps somewhat neglected, areas of spiritual and moral growth. He sets the 'spiritual' and 'aesthetic' against the 'rational' and 'methodological' and uses them as the foundation on which the basic principles of English are built. This leads to a particular way of conceiving of English as a subject, for its centre is elsewhere than in knowledge. It also leads to a particular emphasis in teaching it, namely, on responding to pupils' experience. Pike rightly acknowledges that this perspective tends to run against some of the current officially sanctioned versions of English teaching. English teachers may incline to resist a role "as poet, prophet and priest", but it is nonetheless invigorating to follow a route into the subject from a different angle and there is a pleasing coherence to the many different facets of the subject as Pike applies the rationale he has so clearly established.

A strong case is made for incorporating media, drama and ICT into English. They are all shown to involve both creative and critical thinking and are concerned with the exchange of meaning and hence with interpretation. There is a helpful chapter on differentiation, where the relational character of English is shown to impinge on how gender and ethnicity are handled in a classroom context.

Teaching Secondary English is a how-to manual. It is grounded in lived classroom experience and in pupil comment. It describes ways of teaching actual texts - 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' at KS3, the innovative treatment of selected extracts from the Authorised Version of the Bible, John Donne at 'A' level. Unfortunately the guidance given on literacy, on KS3 assessment, and on the GCSE or 'A' level syllabus (specifically AQA) will date with the speed of curricular change and reorganisation nowadays.

The book is very much pitched at the beginning teacher. There is, for example, sensible advice on lesson planning. It will be of less value to experienced teachers, who may well feel that they have got the T-shirt for most of the topics that Pike addresses. His enthusiasm for his subject and his reliable and detailed suggestions for delivering it, however, make it an ideal book to direct PGCE students to at an early stage of their training, as it will certainly help them to find their footing and take their first steps in the profession.