Textbooks have been in the news this past academic year. We’ve been told by Nick Gibb to shed our “anti-textbook ethos”, whilst U.S. education advisor Richard Culatta has said that British schools should scrap textbooks because they “are outdated, they are in a format that it’s not adaptable, and for students learning in other languages, they can’t press the word and get a definition.”
I’m more inclined to side with Gibb than Culatta on this one. It’s not my intention in this post to reason why, so I’ll point you in the direction of Tim Oates’ paper ‘Why textbooks count’, as well as David James‘ excellent response to Richard Culatta.
Saving those arguments for another blog, this post is merely an attempt to share with you one of a set of excellent English language and literature textbooks that I have come across this year (all done with a deferential nod to Bodil Isaksen, whose excellent blog on Singaporean Maths textbooks I aim to imitate here).
I have been looking for good English textbooks for a while and earlier this year I came across this set published by Mcdougall Littel (click ‘High School/Language Arts’ > ‘International’ if the link takes you to the homepage):
There are 13 books according to the website linked above, and they concentrate on either English language or literature. They are incredibly comprehensive books. The ‘Language Network‘ book (targeted at Grade 10 pupils in the U.S.) in the left of the picture is 704 pages long and covers the following areas over 32 chapters:
The content of the language books is excellent, however it isn’t these that I wish to write about today. Rather it is the mammoth literature textbooks that I want to share.
‘The Language of Literature: British Literature‘ is an incredible piece of work. It is 1,470 pages long for a start! But I think that the quality matches the quantity. However, rather than listening to me eulogise, I’m going to show you its contents, and let you tell me what you think. Here’s the cover:
Each period covers various authors and gives a range of texts (poems, short stories or extracts from novels) from each. Here are the contents of the first two units, on The Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Periods and The English Renaissance:There are also other features in the book, including language features on vocabulary building and sentence construction:
With each text, there is a bit of background as well as suggestions to focus pupils’ reading. There’s support with notes on the language throughout and, post-reading, there are questions for comprehension and critical thinking, and a variety of tasks for extension, vocabulary, exploration and writing responses:
Some of the sections are incredibly in depth. The 9-page author study on William Shakespeare brings is followed by a focus on Macbeth which is over 100 pages in length, and is mostly made up of scenes from the play with supporting materials:
The final 100-or-so pages focuses on support for English language, with sections on reading, writing, communication, grammar, as well as a glossary of literary terms and a vocabulary builder (presumably the use of Spanish here is due large number of Spanish speakers in some U.S. states):As you can see, at nearly 1500 pages this book is incredibly comprehensive. It covers the history of British literature largely through texts, and the editors have selected those texts judiciously. The fact that the book is so heavy on content – poems, short stories and extracts from longer pieces – is a real winner for me.
At some point, I’ll blog about some of the other titles in the range – which are all equally as comprehensive – but I’d be interested as to what other English teachers make of this book.
They can be picked up from auction sites or Amazon Marketplace for fairly reasonable prices. Most of these I got for less than £10 plus P+P – some I managed to get for just a few quid including postage. I wouldn’t advise spending too much over the odds for them – be wary of shipping costs from the States.
If anyone has used these or manages to get hold of one, I’d be interested to know what you think? Or even your impressions based on the tiny peak I have shared here?
Edit: a quick Google search can turn up PDF versions of some of these books. Here’s the one literature one I’ve just discussed.