HomeIDIOM back issue reviewsPearson English Skills Book VCE Units 1-4

Pearson English Skills Book VCE Units 1-4

Authors: Leanne Matheson and Mark Stracey
Publisher: Pearson, 2015, 289 pages
RRP: $51.95

Is it possible to give students too much information?

The trick in making a VCE textbook is that much of the material will be irrelevant given a school’s particular booklist. This is even more of a problem in this present moment as we eagerly await the VCAA text list for 2017. Pearson have addressed this problem by building the text book around skills required of students rather than around specific texts. This has the advantage of making it possible to sell the textbook to multiple schools along with the disadvantage of not perfectly suiting any particular school. But such is the nature of the task.

The book is split into two main sections. Section 1 looks at the 5 key skills required from students presenting SACs in the VCE course. Section 2 includes optional chapters on analysing film and graphic novels, a breakdown of key features of different text types and a chapter on generic essay writing.

The most useful things in the text are the detailed breakdowns of student writing with colour coding and marginal notes indicating the strengths and weakness of sample responses. However, students will get most from these when they are familiar with the text being discussed, and it is the nature of a mass-market textbook that this will only occur occasionally.

The book also has much of the standard sort of advice around essay structure. In the section on comparative writing this advice starts from a very basic level (would anyone like to compare apples to oranges?) which seems more appropriate for Year 9 or 10. Because good teaching of writing structure must be tailored to students’ current understanding these sections might confuse students or, God forbid, contradict the advice from their teachers.

In the sections on using language to persuade, Pearson include the expected persuasive devices and their definitions. There are also detailed breakdowns of both arguments and analyses of arguments. The detailed structural advice for language analysis might lead to a ‘colour by numbers’ approach to writing which the very best students should have outgrown by the time they sit exams.

This text might be a useful resource for teachers new to VCE English. It is not a world-beater on the aspects of the study design that are new for 2016. As a text for all students it is likely to be a little confusing with some advice that will diverge from the assessment programs of individual schools and some material that will not be relevant to students. Particularly sharp students might find it a useful way to fact check their teachers’ advice on writing. The text contains no advice for exams, but this can be forgiven as this is still a mystery for the future.

Reviewed by Dan Sullivan, Victoria University Secondary College.