Common sense and sensitivity

These books take clever and practical approaches to complex issues.

Getting the Buggers to Think. Sue Cowley. Continuum. pound;14.99

I have always been deeply suspicious of the "Buggers" series. The education sections of bookshops are full of them, yet they never appeared on any of my training course reading lists (perhaps there is a filter on the word bugger on university word processors). I was affronted by the use of the word bugger in reference to children - it's not particularly respectful, is it?

Well, a couple of things have changed: I've been teaching for a couple of months longer now and the mention of that word offends me a little less. I was also sent a copy of Sue Cowley's How to Survive Your First Year in Teaching by my union. At least two chapters of that book have considerably enhanced my prospects of not only surviving the first year, but also enjoying it.

With that in mind, I thought I'd give Ms Cowley the benefit of the doubt and read what she has to offer to the debate on enhancing our children's thinking skills.

As with her previous books, Getting the Buggers to Think is a resolutely practical guide. It is precisely sequenced, heavy with activities and light on theory - just the way most teachers need such a book to be.

The structure lends itself to dipping in for ideas. It has activities for improving children's concentration and memory, for structuring thinking and, crucially, for assessing thinking. I tried out "statues" with my Year 3 class and found it great for improving concentration.

Getting the Buggers to Think is now in its second edition, so clearly a large number of people are buying and reading it. This edition has a new chapter incorporating readers' suggestions for enhancing thinking skills in the classroom.

This is a solid addition to her series and is sure to find its spine well-creased. If only Ms Cowley could have called them tinkers or scamps, I may have come across these excellent books at the beginning of my career.

Mark Aston teaches at Mowbray First School in Northumberland

Assessment and Learning Pocketbook. Ian Smith. Teachers' Pocketbooks. pound;7.99

Have you ever agonised over the difference between assessment for learning and assessment of learning? If the answer lies in going out more, then please do. If that doesn't help, hopefully this Pocketbook guide will.

The main thrust of the book is that it is not trying to preach, but simply to say what ideas others have used and found successful.

It is left up to the reader to decide whether to take the ideas on board and the book stresses that it has to suit you.

Just as with children, one size does not fit all.

The ideas that it presents are based on knowledge of how children learn, as well as what stops them. It leaves you with a sense of wanting children to take full responsibility for their learning.

It is full of great ideas, some you may have seen before, but others that may appeal and reignite your enthusiasm for assessment for learning.

I liked the fact that this book is not patronising and is equally suited to teachers that have been doing the job a long time, as well as those who are new to the profession.

This is small, readable and a useful practical guide.

Stephanie Tyler teaches at Heatherside Infant School in Fleet, Hampshire

Can't Learn, Won't Learn, Don't Care: Troubleshooting Challenging Behaviour. Fintan O'Regan. Continuum. pound;12.99

It is a crying shame that the printers of this book didn't troubleshoot its opening chapters. It opens the topic of behavioural, emotional and social difficulty (BESD) in the most comprehensive way and once you get past the uninspiring tone and the printing errors in the first chapters, it is an easier read.

As one of the unconverted in terms of blaming ADHD, ODD and all the other acronyms as being the root of "naughty" behaviour, I was sceptical before I started. However, O'Regan's case studies are helpful in understanding a range of issues that are becoming important to teachers and pastoral administrators.

The book develops into an in-depth examination of all the behavioural, emotional and social difficulties that children encounter.

The key issue for me is: can I incorporate the knowledge of this book into practice?

The answer is, some of it. I find it occasionally difficult to sift through the facts and quotes to get at what I truly want from the book.

There is certainly a lot to take in, but even those two or three little gems you find will make you better, or at least more understanding of the social and emotional conditions youngsters have to contend with.

Kevin Speake teaches at St Antony's Catholic College in Urmston, Manchester.

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