New OUP Course Book
The sequel !
Closely following the publication of the new Language B Subject Guide in February 2018, OUP have published the relevant English B Course Book. It has been written by two of the authors who produced the highly successful Course Companion supporting the 'old' Subject Guide, Kevin Morley and Kawther Saa'd Aldin - and so far as I can see, it provides even better value!
The most obvious innovation is signalled by the word 'pack' - each printed course book comes with access to an online version of the text. This makes it possible to access Listening Comprehension audio recordings (there are three of these in each chapter), as well as support materials such as exam papers, answer sheets, and transcripts. So, we have a genuinely multi-media course book here - entirely appropriate to the new Subject Guide's introduction of Listening Comprehension.
Although... I wonder how this will actually work out in the classroom. If each student buys a pack (with which comes the unique code to access the online version), might there not be a temptation to listen to various recordings and to look up the answers to everything, before the teacher decides to use each particular section? I can imagine that this can be managed - for instance, if the school buys a set of packs, the students can be issued with the print versions, and the teacher can reserve access to the online version. But that seems a shame because the online version contains a lot of rich material, additional to the range in the print version.
And there certainly is a wealth of stimulating texts and ideas! Each of the five Themes specified by the Subject Guide is allocated two chapters, and each chapter provides three aspects developed through texts and activities - so in effect we're talking about 30 mini-units, ready for teaching. The (very broad and general) Themes are focused by taking interesting angles - for example, I like the way that one chapter on the Theme 'Human Ingenuity' is sub-titled 'Celebrity' ! All of the sub-sections embody a repeating pattern, dealing with key elements required by the Subject Guide - Conceptual Understandings, Text Types, Reading and Listening Comprehension, and so on - thus providing excellent coverage of all the requirements. One add-on technique is particularly neat - each section begins with a 'research question' e.g. under 'Identities: Lifestyles', the research question is "How can physical exercise contribute to our well-being?". The research question poses an issue, which will guide the students' thinking throughout the activities, and the research question returns at the end of the section, asking for reflection and conclusions - in other words, all of the work involved in the section is intended to actually get somewhere: there is an outcome.
At regular intervals there are references to the IB Core, linking the English B specific material to wider IB requirements. There are panels raising TOK issues ... each chapter ends with a section on relevant CAS ideas ... and there's a final section about the Extended Essay. Even the Learner Profile gets a mention, so the book taken as a whole provides pretty comprehensive coverage of the entire concept of the Diploma.
All of this means that the intellectual level of the content is fairly challenging, as appropriate for Diploma students. As to language level, this is handled skilfully through the technique of providing mini-sections entitled 'HL extension' - focusing on language or tasks which are more demanding. This indicates that the overall level of the book is suitable for both SL and HL, with add-on elements to make sure that HL students are properly challenged and stimulated.
It's not just the excellent content - it's an attractive text. Visually, it looks good, with spacious layout, elegant use of colours, and a selection of interesting and attractive photographs. More significantly, the design explains intelligently - for instance, colour-coded boxes indicate different types of advice or instruction, such as the purple boxes referring to ATLs like 'Transfer and self-management skills' and 'Communication skills'.
The attractiveness is not just in the layout, but also in the style. The text is addressed directly to the students, simply and clearly - "What are your first thoughts and reactions to...?" or "What more would you need to know before...?", and notice the 'open' stimulating question forms here. Surely, the vast majority of students will become involved through this personal address, and cooperate with the suggestions and ideas described. They will feel present in the book ... that it is 'my book'. And perhaps this is the answer to the question I raised above about the online material - we can say to the students "yes, you can cheat by looking up the answers if you want ... but this book is here for you to learn and develop yourself, so if you cheat, you're only cheating yourself of an opportunity to learn."
This personal tone is developed through the activities proposed. There is a strong, consistent emphasis of group work - 'Brainstorming' in small groups, or working in pairs, very often leading to cooperative writing, of text types, or of presentations to the full class. As you can see, these simple instructions for group work expand the book - a task that takes half a page to describe can easily involve the whole class productively for a whole lesson, or more, depending on how excited the students get! It's also impressive that Peer assessment is one of the required activities in each section - again making this course book highly student-centred.
What about flaws? On my initial scan, I have only seen minor glitches - such as slips in editing (e.g. a reference to 'choose a photo' when there's only one available). Slightly more seriously, I noticed occasional blurs between 'teaching tasks' and 'exam practice' tasks - for example, two examples of Paper 1 Writing questions provided, but the second asks for the writing of a 'rationale' - to be "given to the teacher for feedback", yes ... but some students might think that rationales had to be written in the real exam. But these are very occasional, very minor slips in a book of 456 pages!
But why not see for yourself? Just click on the OUP link at the top, and find out...