Learning To Teach English In The Secondary School: A Companion To School Experience

Author(s) Davison, Jon and Dowson, Jane
Publisher London, RoutledgeFalmer
ISBN 0415306760
Reviewed by Andrew Humphries
Senior Lecturer in Education, Canterbury Christ Church University College
Review published 1 December 2004

This useful companion to the successful Learning to Teach in the Secondary School Series provides trainee teachers with a practical and challenging insight into the range of skills and standards required for a range of English teaching experiences at secondary level. Recently updated to include coverage of the National Literacy Strategy, Media and ICT, this volume does justice to the complexities of teaching everything from general disciplines like Reading or Speaking and Listening which are central to all key stages to the more specific requirements of the curriculum such as Approaching Shakespeare and Post-16 English Language and Literature. The book also aims to provide trainee and new teachers with a consideration of the nature of teacher education in the 21st century, aiming to establish its identity amidst the ever-increasing demands of literacy and assessment. We are reminded that English is a creative, fulfilling and exploratory discipline and not merely a government tool. I fully approve of this tone as an introduction to the next generation of teachers.

The book is usefully structured in 14 chapters, each dealing with a different issue but following a helpful and logical reading order starting with a look at the nature of English as a subject in a political and educational context and asking the student to begin by considering where they stand in relation to recent historical curriculum developments. I felt this chapter Which English by John Moss sets the right tone and sense of challenge before the reader is expected to move on to the more skills- specific scrutiny of later chapters on things like Literacy, Media or ICT. This leads nicely into a fascinating survey in chapter 2 Battles for English of the place of English in the curriculum from 1900 onwards compiled by the editor Jon Davison and exemplifying immediately one of the books strengths, its concise accessibility making difficult and overwhelming information not only readable for students but retainable. Having invited PGCE English students to study this chapter I was impressed by the grasp they had of this difficult area in such a short space of time. Another strength of this book is that it is consistent in format from chapter to chapter so students can quickly get the hang of how it should be used. It also calls upon a range of expertise which keeps certain freshness in the same way a change of speaker would do at a conference. The detailed biographies of each contributor before the chapters begin is reassuring in itself for its range of expertise and experience.

The tone achieved is one of familiarity, as if the reader were being addressed directly, 'As you begin your secondary English ITE course, you will bring…..' and yet there is equally a formality achieved by the depth of detail provided, the discursive nature of the prose, as if the contributors were asking you as reader to consider and reply to points throughout.

This I like and feel a necessary quality to enable student teachers to see English, Drama or Media as a cue for the pleasurable sharing of knowledge and ideas rather than a ploughing through of information. It is nice to see chapter headings like 'Possibilities with Poetry' (Chapter 12), for example. Do we still talk about possibilities in English? It makes a change in these times of objective-driven thinking and learning to remind ourselves that this is a stimulating creative and pleasurable subject and, alongside its responsibility to be accurate and inform, this book by and large retains that sense of exploration in approach.

So how useful would this be for PGCE tutors and students? Well, it is, as I have said, logically ordered in chapters to mirror student development through lectures and school practice. Coverage threatens at times to become lengthy but is generally well-paced in its division of reading sections, task boxes, tables and key point boxes and the sub-headings are regular and usefully worded to divide up areas of focus neatly. The tasks are varied according to subject discussed and range from the practical to the theoretical in a way which encourages the reader to see these aspects as entirely integrated in an English teacher's thinking. As a book which offers virtually everything you need to know to survive but also has opinions and invites debate beyond the latest government expectations, I would highly recommend this to students and practitioners alike. It puts into perspective things as a teacher you always knew you were doing but were not aware how it fitted into the whole.

However, a more recent publication 'The Complete Guide to Becoming an English Teacher' (2004) by Clarke, Dickinson and Westbrook, while perhaps being less discursive and more practically focused in its aims, nevertheless has usefully cross-referenced and linked all activities and reading sections to QTS Student Teacher Standards and that is something very useful from a tutor or mentor point of view which Davison and Dowson might consider in the next edition.

An essential part of the student English teacher's repertoire, however, Learning to Teach English in the Secondary School is definitely recommended, especially now updated.