Book scrutiny: a tool for support or monitoring?

For book scrutiny to be useful, schools need to make the process more transparent and less judgemental, says Adam Riches

Adam Riches

Book scrutiny

The words ‘book scrutiny’ are not welcomed by many teachers, but for me, the term has particularly negative connotations. It’s not that I’ve been subject to any terrible experiences with regard to the checking of my class books, or that I’ve been held hugely accountable when my books have been looked at, it’s just that for some reason the term feels a bit wrong.

As a process, I think looking through class books is a great practice when it comes to continued professional development and to helping students (and teachers) progress.

But it is the phrasing that makes the concept so negative to me; it’s the idea of being ‘scrutinised’. We need to remove the negative stigma that the word ‘scrutiny’ brings with it. This is the first step towards making book checking a more worthwhile process for everyone.

Sometimes, leaders don’t consider the implications of the terms used to refer to exercises like this. Words like ‘scrutiny’ instantly evoke a sense of being judged, and this doesn’t help anybody.

Book scrutiny exercises shouldn’t feel like monitoring. When someone wants to look through what you’ve been doing, it’s only natural to feel judged. But rather than encouraging these feelings with their language choices, schools should aim for greater transparency.

How to improve book scrutiny

And to further remove any resistance that staff might feel towards the process, there are a number of ways that schools can make book checks more positive for everyone.

Here is what I would suggest:

  • Have a focus
  • Select a specific group of students to look at
  • Be transparent with staff about the process and involve them in it as far as possible
  • Keep the process consistent across departments and teachers
  • Make it clear why the book check is taking place
  • Ensure that timely feedback is given

Quality assurance is a part of teaching. I welcome anyone who wants to look through my books. In fact, I openly embrace it. I like the idea that people want to see how individuals are getting on in my classes and I love getting feedback on areas to develop.

This is the culture I think we need to foster when it comes to looking through student books, and using the word ‘scrutiny’ does nothing to support that.  

It’s incredible how powerful a word can be. Part of the process of improving staff attitudes to book scrutinies is changing the language we use to refer to them.

What word would be more positive to use? On that front, I’m open to suggestions.

Adam Riches is a specialist leader of education and lead teacher in English

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Adam Riches

Adam Riches is an assistant principal and senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches

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