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Let them in, watch them go

CREATING THE CONDITIONS TO INVOLVE PUPILS IN THEIR LEARNING. By John Beresford. David Fulton pound;25.

WHEN YOUR KIDS PUSH YOUR BUTTONS ANd WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT. By Bonnie Harris. Piatkus pound;10.99.

These two books are about relationships with children, the first clearly rooted in the classroom. John Beresford's premise is that if students are to be more effective learners, they need to be more involved in learning.

The comment of education leadership expert John West-Burnham springs to mind: "Schools are places where pupils go to watch the teachers work."

Beresford's book arises from the Improving the Quality of Education for All (IQEA) project, a school improvement initiative from the University of Cambridge with an impressive record in changing school cultures. Reading it can make you feel like an outsider, someone who needs to learn the rules of the IQEA approach. It helps that the rationale and history of the project are described early on.

In the heart of the book are chapters on self-assessment, independent learning, changing the culture of the classroom and the school, and so on - all with useful, ready-to-adapt resources, chiefly in the form of pupil questionnaires. Some are excellent and there are many examples. But questionnaires can be a cop-out. Because we have issued another pupil opinion survey, we can assume that every student has reflected on his or her own performance, or the lesson, or the culture of the school. In fact, the pupils might simply have filled in a questionnaire.

There is genuine idealism in Beresford's aim to improve the culture of schools by increasing the involvement of pupils. But the book could go further in exploring all the interesting principles of the assessment for learning strand of key stage 3; for example, by suggesting ways of students reviewing each other's work and teaching each other. Nevertheless, it is a welcome guide to practical classroom-based school improvement.

When Your Kids Push Your Buttons and What You Can Do About it is a self-help volume from the United States, aimed at parents. What's good is the optimistic message from an experienced parent educator that however grim relationships with your children seem, there are ways of breaking out of a downward spiral of blame and aggravation. What's bad is the saccharine style.

Bonnie Harris's solution to the daily battle to get her daughter ready for school is to "shift her own focus". Instead of thinking "what's wrong with her?", she changes her view to "this is how she is. How can I help her?" As a result, she says soothingly to her daughter, "You know what? I hate getting up in the morning too." A transformation happens. "Suddenly we connectedI She began to melt into my body as we sat cuddled on the hard floor of the bathroom."

The basic premise is sound. We know from working with pupils that a change of perception can be the key to a fresh start. But the danger is that the analysis is too simplistic, with family crises conveniently untangled as if taking place in an episode of The Waltons.

Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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