New CUP Course Book
The Cambridge coursebook English B for the IB Diploma is now published, and represents a valuable addition to the material available for teachers to support the teaching of English B. The author, Brad Philpot, provides a vast (make that mountainously vast) range of rich material, including interesting stimulus texts, lively and challenging activities, and sensible advice.
The coursebook is methodically structured. An Introduction presents the ‘rules of the game’: a concise and clear description of the Language B course requirements, including course content, assessment, and the full text of the marking criteria. This is followed by three main sections: ‘Themes’, ‘Text Types’, and ‘Assessment’. In addition, the main text is fringed by a series of boxes, usually colour-coded, which provide relevant tangents to the principal texts and activities – such as links to the Learner Profile, TOK, CAS, ATLs, Concepts (‘conceptual understandings’), and so on. Note that these correctly connect the teaching of Language B to the underlying general principles of the IB Diploma. The design, layout, format and typography is sound rather than outstanding (for instance, the type face used for the main body of the text is a little... retiring, in my view) – but overall it works well, especially once you have interiorised the numbering systems of all the different sections, which make it easy to refer rapidly to what you want. The combined effect of the structure taken as a whole is to create in-depth coverage of practically all elements of the Diploma in general and Language B in particular.
In addition, there will be a Teacher’s Resource (provided online, for easy download). This will include unit planners, answers to activities and exams, examiner’s comments (Paper 1, IO), guidance on open answers and class activities and a transcription of all 23 audio recordings, including the student responses on the IO. One neat trick in the coursebook itself incorporates yet more audio visual material: certain activities give the names of specific videos, and require students to access these on the internet so as to answer guiding questions... online support at no extra cost!
The ‘Themes’ section covers all five Themes with three aspects of each, which adds up to 15 units ... and each unit is generously stocked with activities and materials. For example, under ‘Experiences’, the unit on ‘Extreme sports’ must prove to be attractive and stimulating, with texts discussing dangerous sports like Big-wave surfing, Motorcycle racing, Cheerleading... (Cheerleading?? Yes, 20,000 cheerleading injuries a year, apparently. No, I didn’t know either.) Throughout the book, there is a very wide range of different types of activities, from ‘head-down’ individual exercises to ‘head-up’ guided discussions for groups of all sizes. The activities suggested skilfully combine exploration of the subject with expansion of language – for instance, the unit on ‘Pilgrimages’ starts by eliciting students’ own ideas about related experiences such as ‘climbing a mountain’, ‘going to Mecca’, ‘going to a concert by a pop star’ ... and then asks for the subtle distinctions between ordinary pairs of words such as ‘look for/search’, ‘important/sacred’ or ‘religious/spiritual’ (linked to a TOK box about ‘denotations/connotations’) - you see the range: a continuum from basic language study to far-reaching concepts.
Note that each unit contains a sub-section entitled ‘Higher level extension’. I take this to mean that the body of each unit is for both SL and HL, and the ‘Extension’ section is simply add-on value to challenge the HL students a little more. This makes sense in that my clear understanding from many years of doing workshops is that most English B classes around the world have SL and HL students taught together ... although the IB’s expectation remains that an SL course should involve 150 contact hours, and an HL course 240, so an ‘Extension’ approach would help to fill the gap.
The section on ‘Text Types’ provides clear and methodical guidance to 9 significant text types. I particularly like the basic pattern of the guidance: a model text ... which is annotated, identifying key features ... which are then explained in detail ... leading finally to ‘Exam preparation’, typical sample tasks to attempt. Practical instructions for each text type deal with format and approach, and are insightful and detailed ... possibly a little too detailed in one or two cases. For example the ‘Brochure’ section lists 10 different structures of brochure (such as ‘Tri Fold’, ‘Z fold’, ‘Accordion Fold’), which feels like over-kill in terms of general knowledge, and not actually helpful for exam purposes; and the ‘Speech’ is used to introduce the field of rhetoric – largely appropriately, but... are “hypophora” or “tricolon” useful concepts for Eng B students? But these are quibbles, since the whole book sets out to provide a high level of challenge, and if your students don’t quite reach some of these ideas, then just edit them out.
The section on Assessment is quite short but effective. It deals with the three components in turn, offers sensible practical advice on exam technique for each, and, for the Productive components, writing and oral, provides examples of student performance at both levels which can be marked. Marking is an excellent way for students to learn to distinguish between clumsy and skilful approaches (‘poor’ and ‘good’ responses are provided at HL), as well as drawing their attention to what the marking criteria require. All in all, highly useful material to use in the preparation for the exams.
The book is evidently written to be student-centred. Each student reading their copy will feel involved, because the primary mode of address is ‘you’, with lots of questions along the lines of “What do you think about...?”, along with suggestions to stimulate interesting class discussions. However, I would add ‘(and teacher-guided)’, because of the quantity and quality of the material provided. First of all, quantity - there is so much material, so many texts and activities, that any teacher will need to trim down, select and limit usefully. If you consider that each of the three aspects of each of the five Themes typically contains around 30 activities (which may range from 10-minute quickies to open-ended research projects), and 5 or 6 substantial texts for reading – then you’re looking at a lot of class time if you were to attempt to do everything in the book. So, there’s a lot of quantity... but there is also a very wide range of quality, in the sense of levels of challenge. For instance, sophisticated vocabulary crops up regularly - I’ve mentioned recondite rhetorical terms above, but would also cite the ‘Word bank’ lists that begin each Themes unit and which often include sophisticated vocabulary which may need technical background to understand, or explain. I do not for a moment suggest that such sophistication should have been left out – I only suggest that for many weak-to-middling English B students such complexity may be a challenge too far, and so a wise teacher will guide the class round potential problems by selecting.
But, hey – if the only problem is that there is so much that you have to choose what to use, that’s a recommendation! The essence of this coursebook is that it is rich, providing you with masses of materials to support your English B programme. So much material, in fact, that it’s not just rich, it’s monumental!
I have been provided with the following link, which takes you to the online Teachers Resource site:-