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Off the shelf

In the early 1950s, when I was at Ecclesfield School just outside Sheffield, I would often spend my lunch hours at the top of the school field. It finished at the edge of an escarpment from where there was a fascinating view across the northern edge of the city.

A large sector of this view was taken up by the Parson Cross council estate. There, unknown to me lived then Arthur and Doris Blunkett and their son David, just ten years younger than myself.

David Blunkett's autobiography, On a Clear Day was warmly reviewed in the TES last year. Now it is available in paperback (Michael O'Mara Books Pounds 5.99). It is an absorbing story, containing any number of lessons about life, politics and education.

All teachers are also learners of course though many go a step further and become learners in the formal sense, by studying to improve their qualifications.

Once upon a time this was easy - you were seconded from your job for a year to stroll around a university campus. Now, though, study has to be done in twilight sessions and at home, after a day at work. The demands that this makes cannot be over-estimated. Anything that helps, therefore, is welcome, which brings me to three books.

The first two are from the USA. Returning to Learning by Caroline Brem (Allen and Unwin Pounds 5.99) is undoubtedly right to regard self-image and assertiveness as vital to the hard pressed adult student. She has a whole chapter, "Asserting Yourself", which includes this response to a teacher or tutor who has given too much work. "Mr Burns, when you give me work that's not related to your class I have to put in extra hours I don't have. So I have to say no to this extra work." What an excellent bit of advice this is. Too many tutors of adults have no real idea of what it takes to do part time study. Their students would be doing everyone a service if they were to challenge the workload occasionally.

That apart, there really is no easy route to success, even though a book such as Super-learning 2000 by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder (Souvenir Press Pounds 10.99) claims to offer "New, triple-fast ways in which you can learn, earn and succeed in the 21st Century".

This is a jolly enough volume, and it at least has the virtue of being founded in the undoubted truth that we all have a lot more brain power than we use. The advice it gives on how to release our potential, however, is based on every conceivable bit of science, pseudo-science and magic.

Still, as doctors say of barmy therapies - if it helps you, and does not scare the kids, then go ahead. Thus, that you may be able to learn better if you not only read and look at pictures but also "pay particular attention to the usually ignored kineticemotional sense" is excellent advice. You can "write down as well as say a new word. Sense the beat, the rhythm of a phrase. Develop muscle memory." So far so good, I need a lot more convincing, though, that, "Getting familiar with the shenque acupoint,which is on your bellybutton, can help reading comprehension." Might work,but don't try it on your adult literacy students without warning them first.

As well as inspiration and exhortation, though, part time students need practical advice about organisation. A book which provides this in abundance is The Management of a Student Research Project by John A Sharp and Keith Howard (Gower Pounds 10.95). Now in a second edition, this book looks at the practicalities of selecting, planning, and carrying through a research project, including advice on such things as what to do if you fall ill. The section on data analysis is particularly good. Teachers on higher degree or diploma courses usually carry out a research project and a weekend spent with this book could head off some problems.

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