Tag Archives: textbooks

Are these the best English subject textbooks you’ve ever seen?

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whilst U.S. education advisor Richard Culatta has said that British schools should scrap textbooks because they “are outdated, they are in a format that it’s not adaptable, and for students learning in other languages, they can’t press the word and get a definition.”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):

booksThere 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:

boookNot only that, it also includes 100 pages of exercises, model writing, etc.1111

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:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.28.53

The book is a chronological presentation of British literature from 495AD to the present day, giving between 250-300 pages to each of the seven periods it covers:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.07.14

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:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.07.21Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.07.25Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.07.28There are also other features in the book, including language features on vocabulary building and sentence construction:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.08.16

Every unit begins with a timeline of the period, as well as a few pages on the historical background, which includes how language developed as well as the literary history:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.11.02Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.11.05Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.11.08

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:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.12.10 Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.12.36 Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.12.45 Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.13.00

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:Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.14.05

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):Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.07.57Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.24.48Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.25.55Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.26.42Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.27.01Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.27.51Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 16.28.13As 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.

I ❤ January 2015

When TV shows run out of ideas, they fall back on that old faithful: the clip show compiling all of the ‘best bits’.

And when they run out of their own TV shows, there are always clip shows made up of the best bits of other people’s shows: the I ❤ 1984 (etc.) model, featuring talking heads from D-list celebrities reminiscing about the time that dog said “sausages” on That’s Life.

As a D-list blogger myself (what do you mean I’m getting above my station?), this regurgitation of other people’s brilliance is the perfect model for me to reminisce on the best blog posts of each month (with the added implication that I’ve run out of ideas).

(In all seriousness, I got to the end of 2014 and realised I’d read so many great blogs but not really collected them anywhere. So this monthly blog is a way for me to compile an anthology of some of the best reading in one place and be able to access it when I want to call upon it again.)

So without further ado, this is my ‘clip show’ of the blogposts that I read and enjoyed the most in January…

  • The nonsense of the grade descriptors by @chrishildrew: Chris went down the rabbit hole of grade descriptors and has exposed us to the mad tea party. As Alice said, “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.”
  • Why I Hate Highlighters! by @HuntingEnglish: I like this because Alex confirms what I think I might have always feared, but never quite confronted: highlighters often put a garish neon gloss over a lack of actual learning. Rumours are unconfirmed that this is the first in a series of ‘Why I Hate…’ blogs, which will feature other such objects of Alex’s anathema as children and Maths teachers. (For balance, and because I like him, this is highlighter advocate @jon_brunskill‘s rebuttal.)
  •  Some Problems With “Action Research” by @Bio_Joe: Thanks to this brilliant post by Joe, I’ve now added the word significant to my list of words-that-are-used-in-a-way-which-often-leaves-their-actual-meaning-behind-in-order-to-promote-a-pedagogy (see impact, evidence, research, etc.) The “study” Joe picks apart here comes from a website riddled with spurious arguments and “research” in the name of “evidence”. Which is a shame because it is an area I’d like to see some reasoned thought around.
  • Can we teach students to make inferences? by @atharby: Andy precisely and eloquently pinpoints the very reasons why teaching thinking skills is largely unhelpful, and why building student knowledge is a much more effective approach. I wish I’d had this to hand when I sat through a cognitive acceleration training course that promoted thinking skills in English recently.
  • How do we get them reading? by @katie_s_ashford: Katie generously shares the fruits of her scrutiny on the research and approaches to solving “the problem of reading”. These systematic and practical ideas are absolute gold – send this to your literacy coordinators/English department/SLT/everyone now.
  • Undermining teachers is easy by @LearningSpy: The blogdaddy David Didau reiterates the necessity for schools to master behaviour as requisite for learning, and decries the damaging line of thought (avowed in this instance by a school inspector, no less) that states that good behaviour is merely a product of good teaching.
  • A lesson is the wrong unit of time by @BodilUK: A second blog from Bodil, in which she questions why our discourse and measurement always revolves around ‘the lesson’ as a unit, when the reality of learning expands way beyond that unit’s boundaries. She’s absolutely right, as usual.
  • I Did Not Speak Out by @SurrealAnarchy: Martin’s writing always provokes deep thought, and this clever channelling of Pastor Niemöller is a stirring illustration of the constantly shifting focuses and measurements in schools (and the impact of these on pupils and teachers).