Eye openers

31st March 1995 at 01:00
CURRICULUM IN PRIMARY Practice series Science 7-11. Developing Primary Teaching Skills By Clive Carre and Carrie Ovens Routledge. Pounds 9.99. 0 415 10509 9. Wynne Harlen on ideas and methods for developing primary science teaching skills.

This is a book to help primary teachers think. It gives ideas rather than information and ideas whose value is likely to be greatest when discussed in groups. The six "units" in Science 7-11. Developing Primary Teaching Skills deal with some core aspects of teaching primary science: teachers' knowledge, communication of subject knowledge, children's understanding, teachers' planning, assessing, and attitudes towards science and science teaching. Within each unit there are frequent activities for teachers, examples of pupils' work and quotations reflecting current ideas and research. It is satisfying that we have reached the point in research into primary science when a good many ideas about practice can call on research evidence.

One of the themes running through the material is the need for flexibility and variety in teaching methods to match the range of objectives of children's learning. This is an important message and it is good to see it translated into specific action through examples. A second well presented theme is constructivism. The practical meaning of implementing this view of learning is illustrated in the unit on "Restructuring Children's Understanding", although it is a pity that theoretical models and ideas which have been around for more than a decade feature rather than more recent research-based development.

A further welcome theme is the value of language and communication skills to the learning of science.

The unit on planning is the one that suffers most from referring to the pre-Dearing national curriculum. The difficulties would have been fewer had the authors referred to the programmes of study rather than statements of attainment in the planning frameworks. Reference is made to long-term and short-term planning and to devising activities which combine opportunities for conceptual and skill (procedural) development. The treatment of assessment strikes me as the weakest part of the book. In particular, it deals much more effectively with the formative role of assessment, which is, after all, central to constructivism, but gives much less help with the summative aspect. Some ideas for recording the performance of individual children seem unrealistic unless set within some strategy for focusing attention on pupils in turn. In the examples of pupils' written work aspects signifying development are helpfully pointed out, but less help is given with the difficult matter of relating these features to level statements. It is also surprising that no mention is made of involving children in the assessment of their own work.

By contrast, the unit on attitudes towards teaching science is more thought provoking and encourages teachers to examine their beliefs about science and recognise how these influence their teaching. The material in the unit may not, of itself, cause any change in these beliefs but discussion with others may well shake loose some embedded and unexamined notions about the nature of the subject. What is true of this unit is true of the whole book. To the individual teacher it offers some useful ideas, although most of these are already available from other sources. What it adds is a structure for each teacher to gain access to the ideas of others. Those concerned with teacher education or in-service work, and school science co-ordinators, will find the activities in this book valuable for initiating discussion and restructuring teachers' ideas about primary science.

Professor Wynne Harlen is director of the Scottish Council for Research in Education.

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