Annabell Watson is a teacher of educational programs at the University of Exeter, a supervisor of doctoral students, and a researcher of writing development. She has been awarded several prizes among others Research-Inspired Teaching in 2015, Best Feedback Provider in 2016, and Best Supervisor in 2020. Watson has recently been working on projects in relation to teaching English online during the Covid lockdowns. Co-editor Ruth Newman is a senior lecturer in Language and Literacy Education at the University of Exeter, she researches communication in English Language Teaching. The 14 contributors who shared their approaches are all well-known actors of education in Great Britain from all fields of the profession just as suggesting classical literature in teaching, promoting well-being for teachers, designing creativity in the lesson, and curriculum reform.
In a classroom filled with constantly changing challenges, and expectations from students, parents and the educational system, teachers find themselves in a situation where expertise and motivation sometimes seem not to be enough. The answer to questions like what to do and how to do can be the book of Watson and Newman who collected tips and ideas covering all aspects of reading, writing, and speaking English in secondary education. The book contains 19 chapters starting with a short introduction to the past 150 years in history with the aim of understanding the teachers' present role and tasks. All the remaining chapters deal with different fields of teaching and offer resources and tested activities on the four skills. Unlike other methodological publications, this Guide says farewell to traditional teaching methods and fills the teacher's tool kit with up-to-date resources. The writers have a double purpose which is on the one hand, strengthening students' reading skills, their improvement, and last but not least their future educational and employment chances. On the other, they want to give an insight into the latest methods and deliver inspiration to teachers.
The structure of each chapter is the same: starting with a short historical outline on skill development or the competence's direct description, followed by an explanatory methodological recommendation with tasks, ending with a summary, key points, and key resources – the latter is extra help for finding out more about the topic. While reading, you can feel that you get exactly what you expect, because, at the beginning of the chapter, a detailed description deals with the items the reader is taught and how his/her teaching skills will be improved.
You can find practical strategies and limitations of the tasks and activities, up-to-date and interesting notes, YouTube videos, articles, books, photographs, Facebook posts and Ted-Talks are part of the projects that can be implemented into the lessons but have to be thoughtfully designed for the teacher to teach, for the student to learn and for the whole classroom community. Based on one skill, each chapter shows a method of teaching speaking, reading, writing, and listening, and some of them combine all four skills of language. Using fine arts: music, poetry, paintings, sculptures, and Greek vases sounds audacious and strange, nevertheless, it offers a wide range of activities for students of all levels and backgrounds. Books like Roald Dahl's Mathilda, Shakespeare's Macbeth, Dicken's Hard Times, and Robert Browning's My Last Duchess are used in the model lessons where group discussion, presentational talk, storytelling and essay, poem and letters can broaden the student's intercultural, cross-curricular and interdisciplinary knowledge. Plans for reading and writing development are hidden in every part, whereas individuals' and communities' interests and needs are taken into consideration at the same time. Advise for mind-maps and word clouds, playful activities serve students' and educators' joy and satisfaction. There is no doubt that the schemes are like an oasis in the desert of strict syllabi and dull curricula but we can likewise be sure that implementing these remains a demanding, consistent, and time-consuming work for educators who dare to take the first steps. And still, the magical experience of a successful lesson is an award for the huge amount of effort – and that tireless dedication makes a good teacher.
The Guide highlights the importance of teachers' awareness of their curriculum, syllabi, and lesson plans because only through attentive guidelines can educators influence students' development and shape a balanced environment for learning. It is also loud and clear that there are different views on every skill and its development. Moreover, the given activities and tasks do not fit everyone so, teachers should be aware of their abilities, wishes, aims, and their students' needs and personal aptitudes.
Even the last chapters highlight a new view on teaching: Chapter 15 for instance on digital and multimodal writing offers brand new channels to Generation Alpha. Chapter 19 seems to be the most exciting part of the book: Diary-writing as a must for teachers is also seen as an instrument of the teachers' experiences, reflections, personal views, and improvement. Besides, it can help overcome ‘dead-end’ situations, mental burn-out, and stress.
Implementing literary texts in the lesson, the stages of reading and writing, as well as the importance of communication in the lesson mean nothing new under the sun though, Watson's and Newman's work is a fresh and convincing guide which is not a book to read, but rather a dialog between teachers who are desperate and eager to give their best for students. The dialog becomes personal when you add your own ideas and practices to the writers' suggestions. Teaching methods that keep your mind focused on you, your students and your goals, the constant mind-mapping, the summaries, key-points and key resources at the end of each chapter offer teachers' a chance for growth and renewal.
Despite of many other books on the topic, this guide with clear and meaningful descriptions shows what, when and how to use in the classroom. Besides, there are warnings on what to avoid and leave out if needed. Through this different view of methods, you can be a teacher who is willing to broaden his/her experience and is able to create motivation and stimulus to finding fun in learning. Highly recommended for those who are starting their career and for educators who want to relive the delight of the teaching process.