Wednesday, August 21, 2019

For English Teachers


We are in a golden age of writing about teaching, much of which (though not all) has been prompted by online connections and blogs. Here is a small selection of books aimed at English teaching, or which will be of interest to English teachers. It will be added to gradually.


  • The Book Whisperer: awakening the inner reader in every child by Donalyn Miller is now ten years old (it started as an online advice column), but still fresh and inspiring: Miller's relentless focus is on promoting independent reading and individual choice.
  • Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley (2018) might well be the single most useful and important recently-published book for English teachers. Rooted in research, it addresses this fundamental matter, giving lots of practical ideas on how to develop 'word-rich' pupils. "The future success of all of our students rests predominantly on their ability to become proficient and fluent readers. Their capacity to learn, and enjoy learning, is bound inexorably to their reading skill." Alex will be giving a talk on this at researchED Dublin in October.
  • Reading for Pleasure: a passport to everywhere. Kenny Pieper's beautifully-written short book echoes much in Donalyn Miller's. "We need to step up and be their reading mentors, getting involved in their lives, or at least be the ones who will properly encourage them to turn the key. It won’t happen by accident."
  • How to Teach English: novels, non-fiction and their artful imagination by Chris Curtis is brand-new, and packed full of good sense and ideas and how these can work in the classroom. "Simplicity in writing is not encouraged in schools. There are writers whose work is seemingly effortless and beautiful, with very few unwieldy words or obvious techniques, and they are the ones we should be including in lessons. For me, these include Patricia Highsmith, Angela Carter, John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury, Ian Banks, Stephen King, Saki, George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway."
  • Maryanne Wolf's Reader, Come Home: the reading brain in a digital world should be read by all English teachers (lots of others, too, of course). "The transition from a literacy-based culture to a digital one differs radically from previous transitions from one form of communication to another." And here are Doug Lemov's pessimistic thoughts in his review: "It is true that schools are one of the few places that could ensure time and space for deep reading, sustained and meditative. But this would require a changed vision: school as a place apart as much as a place connected; school as bastion against technology as much as acolyte; school as a place that shapes rather than merely accepts social norms. Not easy work, in other words, nor work most schools seem willing to do."
  • The Enchanted Hour: the miraculous power of reading aloud in the age of distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon follows on from Wolf's in many ways. It's for everyone, not just teachers, and of course parents are the first and most important readers out loud. The author's case for reading out loud is completely convincing (and reminds those of us who are teachers not to stop as our pupils get into the final years of their schooling).
  • How to Teach English Literature: overcoming cultural poverty by Jennifer Webb also came out this year. It's directed partly at GCSE study in England, but will still be found useful by teachers in Ireland and beyond. Again, this is a rich resource. "To create brilliant literature critics, you need teachers who are: a) Experts: both in their subject and in pedagogy, who continue to learn; b) Happy: fulfilled, well-rested, valued, and trusted."
  • Making Every English Lesson Count: six principles to support great reading and writing by Andy Tharby (2017) has lots of practical guidance. "When employed without subtlety, however, some teaching strategies can imply a distrust of literature. Even though games, role plays and flashy slideshows all have their place, trying to engage students through these alone can be a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. A battered, dog-eared copy of Frankenstein is an extraordinary tool for teaching and engagement. Use it."
  • England: Poems from a School edited by Kate Clanchy isn't in fact aimed (just) at teachers, but every English teacher will love it: over several years Clanchy has elicited extraordinary work from the pupils at Oxford Spires Academy. This collection is full of the voices of children building their new homes in England, and trying to manage their new emotional and mental distances from their original countries.


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