What Is English Teaching?

What Is English Teaching?

What Is English Teaching?

What Is English Teaching?


• Is it the role of English teachers to teach basic literacy skills? • If not, what do English teachers think they should be doing? • How should basic literacy be taught in schools? These are important questions which have recently attracted significant political, media and parental debate. In addressing them, this book explores the question What is English Teaching? from a variety of perspectives, including teachers' beliefs about what they should be teaching, the views of the government, and the reality of young people's experiences in the 1990s. In particular, it explores the question of how - and even whether - the English subject area is capable of meeting its own, and the outside world's, expectations for teaching not only its specialist concerns, but also general literacy. The book explores ways in which the teaching of English might develop - for instance, by balancing its efforts evenly between literature study, media study and knowledge about language - and how it might contribute to wider literacy teaching, by sharing its distinctive teaching strategies with teachers of other subjects.


This book will consider a variety of perspectives in trying to answer the question, what is English teaching? and will, in the process, twist that question into many different shapes: What does go on? How did that come about? What changes are taking place? What, ideally, ought to go on?

In order to answer those different questions, we will need to look at different kinds of evidence: instances of practice observed, changing beliefs about the subject, the demands of the outside world, the needs and characteristics of the learners themselves, and the ways in which new initiatives work in the classroom. The aim of these chapters is to accumulate a range of viewpoints which are sometimes critical of the way things are in English teaching, and hopefully provocative about the way things might be.

In thinking about where English ought to go, though, this book will not fantasize about some heroic, Utopian new English. It will, instead, look carefully at the various forces that have come to make English what it currently is, and try to think how – on such a basis – it might be developed into something better. It is a question of seeing where it might be going (which is certainly part of what it is), and emphasizing aspects of that which this book will argue are both desirable and feasible. This book is about the reality of English teaching – where it comes from, where it is, and where it might end up, if we do our best. This book is about ways of making the best out of English, in fact.

What goes on in English lessons?

In order to achieve such an ambitious goal, it might be sensible to start with some kind of picture, however superficial and sketchy, of what English teaching actually looks like, right now. This is important, because the subject is continually developing and changing and it probably will not look the same to an outsider as it did twenty, or ten, or even five years ago. Therefore, this chapter will outline a number of different English lessons that are typical of . . .

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