Authors: Sandra Duncanson, Rebecca Swain and Elizabeth Tulloh
Publisher: Insight Publications, 2015
The layout and approach taken by this book would largely be familiar to teachers who have made use of Insight textbooks in the past. Overall, it offers a systematic approach to its selected content and a useful attention paid to conceptual explanations, and definitions, how to tackle learning and understanding about content and skills, and offering annotated samples of written work.
The book is divided into two main sections, 'Understanding Texts' and 'Creating Texts'. The first of these is organized around a safe while familiar layout, each chapter deal with familiar text headings – novels, short fiction, poetry and lyrics, plays, persuasive texts, informative non-fiction, film and television and speeches and presentations. As well as these, the section begins with useful material about reading for analysis and the essentials of text analysis.
The writers begin their book with, among other things, the observation that the '…point of English as a subject is for you to learn how language creates meaning.' They go on to say, 'In Senior English you will analyse texts to evaluate how all of the parts work together to produce particular effects on readers.' All of this, of course, is both relevant and correct but it is disappointing that an opportunity was lost here to suggest other important aspects of learning in English such as reading for enjoyment and aesthetic experience.
Each of the chapters in the book’s 'Understanding Texts' section takes a methodical approach to guiding students’ learning about its chosen theme. Chapter 1, for example, systematically unpacks the reading process, focusing on how to be an active reader, offering useful 'dos' and 'don’ts'. The chapters' layout is friendly and the inclusion of helpfully coloured annotated sample writing is an attractive feature. The chapters’ content is appropriately detailed but there is no sense of clutter; both teacher and student should feel comfortable working with the way the book’s material is presented. As well as this, a common feature throughout the chapters in this first section is the imperative to encourage and show how a student may write about what he/she has read/seen/heard.
Section 2, 'Creating Texts', begins sensibly with a chapter headed 'Sharing Ideas', a useful way of positioning a student as he/she starts to think about his/her own writing. Teachers (and students if the material is used properly) will find Chapter 12 on responding to texts very supportive. It deals with staple student writing about text but as well as the familiar analytical essay, the chapter also unpacks writing a comparative essay, a passage analysis and responding creatively to texts. Once again, systematic approaches to each as well as useful sample essays are provided.
Other chapters in this section consider imaginative, reflective, and persuasive as well as informative writing. Each chapter focuses on a somewhat conservative while sensible and systematic how-to-go-about-it approach to its theme. The writers should be congratulated for the inclusion of these later chapters on broader approaches to writing at a time when so much student writing is often steered in the direction of responding to set texts.
In summary, the book offers a safe yet thorough contribution to guiding students into senior English. Like most textbooks, teachers looking to show their students how they might go about making the most of their school’s rich and creative curriculum should use it in selective ways. The writers have chosen not to emphasise to any great extent what might be happening to the idea of 'text' – reading and writing – in the online age. Students’ online viewing, exposure to 'reality' and other T.V. choices as well as what they are choosing to read themselves may have been given a more substantial nod, given the times in which we live. The book does finish with a helpful chapter on speaking, useful appendices offering grammar and punctuation guides and a smart glossary to encourage students to engage with useful metalanguage.
Reviewed by Paul Martin, Life member and member of VATE Council.