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English Literature: How to Teach Grades 8-12

| August 20, 2014 | 0 Comments

Authors: M. Adler, S. Brighton and H. van der Mescht
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-599706-4
Reviewed by: Fiona de Villiers

To title a book English Literature: How to T each Grades 8-12 seems a little grandiose, but let’s face it: South African secondary school pupils and their teachers need all the help they can get to lift their game.

After all, we’re all pretty tired of hearing about our dismal literacy rates when compared with other nations.1 And if there’s any company that can help children master the challenges of the national English curriculum, it’s Oxford University Press (OUP), with this new title.

Textbooks must be properly used Many teachers complain about ‘having to use technology tools’, yet most of them don’t use textbooks properly. One often sympathises: in most cases, even the most seasoned educators are pressed for time and don’t want to include a textbook as part of their own recreational reading.

Yet, given that this basic yet crucial skill frequently doesn’t form a fundamental part of every teacher training programme, schools could and should create specialised time periods for teachers to go through textbooks together. I guarantee that it will result in more effective teaching and learning,2 especially if they use a superior resource like OUP’s English Literature: How to Teach Grades 8-12.

Creative, detailed guidance is standard with OUP, making pre-lesson preparation a less onerous task. As with many OUP resources, here the very first section is, in fact, entitled ‘How to use this book’ (and the accompanying CD). It’s an indication of what’s to follow, and of the fact that this is exactly why this book was created: to build teacher confidence and student engagement.

Where to start

The useful introduction is followed by a fascinating discussion on what exactly literature is. To many pupils, it is simply another examination paper to pass, but a discussion with your class and/or colleagues based on this OUP definition may change their minds:

Literature… deals with issues – problems and challenges that face all of us. Dealing with… racism, sexism, homophobia, global warming and religion is… part of what it is to be human. In this sense poetry, novels, plays and films can be commentary on human affairs… and can provide clarity in times of great uncertainty and confusion.

Both veterans and novice educators can benefit from chapter two, in which Adler, Brighton and Van der Mescht recap different approaches to teaching and learning literature. Then the authors turn their attention to what they knowingly call “the big work”, adding: “One of the major challenges we face as language teachers is teaching the major literary work, usually the drama or the novel… this unit focuses on ways in which careful planning makes the teaching of a big and complex work doable.”

Make use of meso planning with OUP

At this point, teachers can breathe a sigh of relief, in the knowledge that if they use OUP’s meso (mid-range) planning over a number of lessons, they will be able to cover plot and structure, characters, theme/s, language and style, and context. There’s not a thing I could think of that the authors have omitted, paying special attention to the vexed issues of time constraints (ever tried to teach Othello in 12 lessons?), comprehension and continuous assessment.

OUP on your side

Whether or not you work through this text solo or with your teaching peers, absorb it all before an impending academic year or keep it on your desk as a daily touchstone, you’ll find help with teaching novels, short stories, poetry, plays, films, diaries and autobiographies in the context of everything from choice of material to assessment. There’s also the usual back-up of an OUP further resource list, glossary of terms and index. Got your copy of OUP’s English Literature: How to Teach Grades 8-12? Right, then; I predict success in your near future!

1. See, for example:
2. See, for example:


Category: Spring 2014

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