Good practice

15th September 2000 at 01:00
THINKING THROUGH TEACHING. By Susan Hart. David Fulton pound;15.

"I haven't even got time to think nowadays," is a common complaint from teachers. The sheer volume and intensity of initiatives, prescriptions and internal and external pressures of different kinds, added to the busy nature of classroom life, have cut down the time available for reflection.

Yet it is only by thinking through what has happened in the classroom that teachers can improve their practice. Hence the title of Susan Hart's book. Every day in any school there are hundreds of happy or sad incidents, questions, explanations and reprimands as teachers encourage, cajole, nurse or harangue their pupils. Over a professional lifetime, teachers develop habits which can be difficult to change.

The author proposes five strategies for reflecting on practice, each described in a chapter: making connections, contradicting, taking a child's-eye view, noting the impact of feelings and postponing judgment. Incidents from classroom life are then analysed according to these principles. Many involve children for whom English is not their first language.

One London pupil, described in the chapter on postponing judgment, was not doing well in school. It was discovered tht he had returned to Cyprus for a time and been put back a year in school there as his Turkish had deteriorated since he had been away. When he came back to England, his English had suffered and so he was again placed in a lower year group. School became identified with rejection and humiliation. Too swift a judgment by teachers on his subsequent behaviour would have done him an injustice.

Two of the chapters, "Including Asad" and "Involving Ayse", are written by London teachers who applied the author's principles of reflection and analysis to their own teaching. This is not common practice and it offers an interesting perspective, since practitioners are often sceptical about theories of teaching and learning.

The book is generally well written, though slightly tortuous on occasion, but the mixture of specific examples of events, children's work and teachers' reflections, as well as evidence from other sources, makes for an effective whole. There is little time to spare in a busy day, but teaching without conscious reflection is unlikely to flourish and this book offers a useful structure for analysis that teachers should find feasible.

Ted Wragg Ted Wragg is professor of education at the University of Exeter

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