Teaching English 3-11

Author(s) Myers J. & Burnett C.
Publisher Continuum
Published 2004
Price 16.99
ISBN 0826470076
Reviewed by Professor David Wray
University of Warwick
Review published 13 March 2006

Books about literacy and language teaching serve many different purposes. Some present original research into an aspect of teaching and learning; some focus on a particular issue; others attempt to summarise what is currently known in this field, drawing out the major implications for teachers and teachers in training. Books of the latter type are difficult to write well, demanding as they do an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of this vast area and it is perhaps not surprising that a few such books come to dominate reading lists for long periods. During the 1980s the key book of this type was Diana Hutchcroft’s “Making Language Work”, but in the 1990s our own “Literacy and Language in the Primary Years” largely replaced this as the standard text.

There is some fairly stiff competition to produce the standard text for the 2000s and the current front-runner is probably “Teaching English, Language and Literacy”, by Dominic Wyse and Russell Jones. In producing “Teaching English 3-11”, Cathy Burnett and Julia Myers presumably have their eyes on the huge teacher training market. After all, any primary teacher training student will need a book similar to this one to help them understand the complexities of such an important area of their teaching.

So, how does one judge such a book? There are certainly some readily available criteria. Such a book should be comprehensive, up-to-date, critical and authoritative. It should also, above all, be well written, that is with a style which engages its readers, many of whom may well need drawing gently into its content. Nowadays, of course, it also has to fulfil several stringent requirements which were not there in such a form in the 1990s. These are the requirements for the award of Qualified Teacher Status, which have dominated the teacher training landscape for some time now.

How does this book match up? First and foremost, its style is certainly readable. I have to confess to a preference in books of this nature for the direct addressing of an audience. So where the book has, “When planning for collaborative work, careful thought must be given to group size and composition” (p.31), I think I would have written this as “When you are planning for collaborative work, you will need to give careful thought to …”. This is a preference born from lots of discussion with potential readers of such a book - teacher training students, but, I admit, it is simply a matter of personal preference. The book’s style, although opting for the passive mode as above, is never confusing or obfuscating, and the layout of its material makes the book approachable and reader friendly.

Secondly, the book is fairly comprehensive, although I was disappointed to find so little reference to the role of ICT in developing language and literacy. In this regard, of course, the book follows the mistake made in the National Literacy Strategy Framework for Teaching, which it inevitably follows quite closely. Things have moved on, however, and a book about teaching English published in 2004 looks a little odd when it pays so little attention to the increasing influence of technology on the content and means of that teaching.

It also makes no reference to the on-going debate about phonics teaching. Synthetic and analytic phonics do not feature in its index and the section on phonics teaching has a very dated feel to it, with the latest reference being 1996.

So, will I be recommending this book to my own teacher training students? The answer is probably “Yes”, although I have to admit to preferring the Wyse and Jones competing title, which manages to be comprehensive as well as adopting a strong critical stance throughout. Critique in teacher education is hard to come by at the moment and I think that my students need not just “comprehensive information on how to meet the standards for effective teaching” (book back cover blurb) but also to be equipped to be critical, and innovative thinkers about literacy education.