CREATING THE CONDITIONS FOR CLASSROOM IMPROVEMENT. By David Hopkins et al. Fulton. pound;19.99.
Bridging that gap between what teachers learn during in-service training and implementing it in school has always been a substantial problem. Although we have had policy initiatives and grants, which have led to an array of externally provided and informative training , their impact on classroom practice is often disappointing. These books seek to improve schools from within and thus make the move towards school-focused in-service training more effective.
David Frost introduces "reflective action planning" as a process that empowers teachers. The principle is a good one but somehow the information that guides the reader to produce personal development and action plans, and a portfolio, never really catches the imagination. Exemplars with teachers such as Edmundo Ross and Dennis Skinner, and Vera Duckworth as the PSE Co-ordinator do not help the imagery. The associated workshops provide systematic guidance but they rely heavily on the "workshop leader" to understand the materialthoroughly.
In contrast David Hopkins' book provides a more flexible approach. The aim is to strengthen a school's ability to build on existing good practice. The twin approach of supporting change in the classroom and offering a strategic approach to staff development, is useful. Each chapter provides an authoritative and readable summary of current knowledge followed by a series of activities. The book is a worthy addition to a staff library for this information alone. Whether the activities will work only time will tell, but they are user friendly and easily adapted for different audiences.
The chapters on teaching are particularly useful. They recognise that the planning of experienced teachers involves an "intellectually demanding self dialogue" about how to stimulate learning. The associated exercises encourage the identification of teaching skills, styles and approaches.
Later chapters deal with how teachers might implement what is learned from training by creating opportunities to talk about teaching in a systematic way, to gather data and apply it to classroom practice, to encourage collaboration and peer coaching, and to reflect on what they do and the impact that it has on school improvement. When there is growing recognition that good teachers do make a difference, this book is worthy of serious consideration by in-service training co-ordinators and advisers.
Martin Baxter * Martin Baxter is senior adviser(standards) for the London Boroughof Hillingdon.