Teaching Secondary English


Mark A. Pike

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    For Luke and Lydia, my very own Keen Readers


    This book is based on over ten years' recent experience of teaching English at secondary level, finally as Head of English, Communications and Drama in a large comprehensive school. It is also informed by my work with students on the PGCE Secondary English course at the University of Leeds, one of the largest and most successful courses in the country, which I currently lead. Approaches developed during my classroom-based Ph.D research are also drawn upon to help teachers of English foster keen readers, writers and communicators who do more than acquire skills and knowledge: they experience the power of literature and learning to transform lives.

    In this book teachers and student-teachers provide their own insights into such topics as how they learnt to plan lessons, match objectives to tasks, mark work and organize classes while maintaining their sanity and social lives in the process. There is reference throughout to the latest requirements for the award of Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) and how these standards can be met but this book also seeks to provide readable, engaging and thought-provoking insights that help English teachers appreciate what they do and also see new possibilities. Anecdotes and illustrations are used to illustrate key points as a deliberate attempt is made here to demystify the art of English teaching.

    For the sake of clarity the text is divided into three parts although there is necessarily some overlap between them. Part I (‘Principles and practice’) considers some foundational principles and practices for the English classroom and applies these to the planning and assessing of teaching. Part II (‘Teaching the English curriculum’) examines English teaching at Key Stage 3, GCSE and AS/A2 level. Part III (‘Challenging English’) explores a range of challenges facing English teachers today and provides strategies for rising to them.

    In Part I, Chapter 1 considers the aims of English and its nature as an arts subject. Chapter 2 is practical and employs the mnemonic ‘Operational’ to explain how effective English lessons can be planned. Chapter 3 uses another mnemonic, this time ‘Metre’, to demonstrate how assessment is an integral element of the art of teaching English. Chapter 4 looks at how English teachers can improve their art and explores the relation between professional development, action research and aesthetic response.

    In Part II, Chapter 5 looks at ways of teaching literature and literacy at Key Stage 3 and their relationship. The transformation of English at Key Stage 3 and the impact of the National Literacy Strategy are clearly described and evaluated. Chapter 6 gives guidance on how to teach GCSE English and English literature in an integrated way and provides examples of work with a range of texts and various topics. Chapter 7 is a guide to the new AS and A2 levels in our subject and includes lesson sequences to illustrate the application of literary and learning theory.

    In Part III, Chapter 8 describes approaches to teaching the media, drama and ICT and suggests that all three are essentially concerned with reading and how we construct and exchange meanings. Chapter 9 tackles differentiation, an aspect of English teaching which is a constant challenge, and argues that although we should differentiate in response to gender, ethnicity and ability we should also focus on the individual identity of the learner. Chapter 10 provides theoretical perspectives on, and practical strategies for, teaching pre-twentieth-century texts so they are relevant to adolescent readers saturated in twenty-first-century culture. Chapter 11 looks at how motivated and perceptive readers of poetry can be fostered and gives examples of successful and inspiring poetry teaching. Lastly, Chapter 12 explores the spiritual and moral dimension of English and how we can ensure our teaching has significance.

    Please note that all names are pseudonyms unless permission to use actual names has been obtained. Readers should also note that details of examination specifications and set text should be obtained from the relevant examination board rather than from this book which should not be relied upon as a definitive guide.


    It has been my privilege to work with many gifted and talented people in both schools and universities who have informed my thinking about the art of teaching English at secondary level. The PGCE English team at the University of Leeds; especially Andrew Stibbs and Stephen Clarke, commented on ideas as they developed. Nick McGuinn at the University of York identified omissions in an earlier draft and thereby ensured the text became more comprehensive. Much of the material on reading and the reader's response, would not have been possible without the expert guidance of Professor Michael Benton, who supervised my ‘Keen Readers’ PhD research at Southampton University.

    Student-teachers of English whom I taught in the School of Education at the University of Leeds between 2000 and 2003 provided unique insights into the processes at work when learning to teach. While I was writing students gave refreshingly honest and critical feedback on draft chapters. Matt Bromley's thorough reading of the manuscript, while on his first teaching practice, was especially shrewd and Emily Cronin's encouragement was timely. Marian Moodie, Anna Goodall, Liam McNamara, Tara Cooksley and Luisa Graham all commented perceptively.

    Hayley Pegg (Ryedale School, North Yorkshire) found time to write entertaining and incisive comments on the manuscript during the Christmas holiday following her first four months as a teacher of English. Halima Alam (formerly Head of English at Monmouth Comprehensive School) read an earlier draft and generously contributed insights from her extensive teaching experience. Bryony Hart (Arnewood School, Hampshire) and Joanne Rathmell (Beckfoot School, Bingley) gave permission to include extracts from their work on the way their experiences as pupils influenced their teaching. Struan Bates (Countesthorpe College) surprised me by writing an article for The Times Educational Supplement after attending a workshop I ran on teaching classic poetry and allowed me to include extracts from it here. Danny Fitzsimmons was encouraging throughout and commented helpfully on Chapter 2, Hillary Headey advised me on literacy and Wendy Adeniji was especially helpful with ICT and language teaching. Sue Pearson provided perceptive and also meticulous guidance regarding special needs.

    Helmut Heuss, my father-in-law, brought editorial experience from Klett to the text and Ursula Heuss, my mother-in-law, helped to organize the earlier work on which this book is based. They were both the most congenial of hosts in Gomadingen, Baiersbronn and Stuttgart when I was engaged in preparatory reading, often undertaken sitting on a balcony in the sunshine after a long walk. My parents, Norm and Ruth Pike, who are the best teachers I know, encouraged me to carry on studying while showing remarkable stamina and good humour as babysitters although my son, Luke, and daughter, Lydia, still managed to provide the enjoyable interruptions and distractions during writing which puts everything in perspective. My wife, Babs, gave uncompromising advice and consistent support throughout and typed the original Ph.D thesis on which this book is based. Above all these sources, though, I must acknowledge my most significant Source, the Alpha and Omega, as this book emerged from a spiritual transaction as well as an aesthetic and literary one.

    Mark A.Pike Ph.D, University of Leeds September 2003
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