How the experts do it
Every staffroom has its "superteacher". There's always one person who stands out from the rest. Her class is never off task, her SATs results are spectacular and her displays make lesser mortals despair.
But the big question is, what does she actually do to achieve this? There's many a colleague, struggling with less responsive groups, who would dearly like to be a fly on the wall and learn her secrets.
Two recent publications go some way to solving the mystery. What Makes a Good Primary School Teacher? Expert Classroom Strategies, is research-based and started life as an academic study, but was later recast into what's known as "a good read".
Researchers observed 24 expert primary teachers in an attempt to find out what they were doing in the classroom and why. The result is a lively study that makes good use of a wealth of practical examples to bring the complex business of teaching to life. The abstract criteria of the inspection framework are translated into concrete terms through extracts from real lessons and interviews with the teachers concerned.
How do you go about assessing learning? What does a good question look like? Which styles of organisation work best? These and other practical issues provide insight into the thinking of successful teachers, and much food for thought for experienced members of staff and those who are just starting out on their careers. Good teachers make it look easy ad the book rightly pays tribute to the many skills of these expert practitioners.
The Successful Teaching series aims to develop these skills and provide a practical guide and theoretical framework for teachers who want to improve their practice.
Staffroom bookshelves are groaning under the weight of guidance on different aspects of teaching, but this series stands out because of its clarity and the excellent exemplary material. It features well designed workshop activities that could be used as part of staff development days. The case studies provided in Class Management - the strongest book in the series - are also ideal for sparking debate when reviewing the school behaviour policy.
Ted Wragg has a long and distinguished track record as an initial teacher-trainer and the book will also be a godsend to struggling probationers.
The second book in the series, Assessment and Children's Learning, covers familiar ground. There is something about assessment that brings out the beast in any educationist, however humane, and Unit 2, which covers its principles and purposes, is predictably heavy going.
In some places the book tussles with the problem of its audience. Basic guidance, suitable for beginners, is juxtaposed with complex discussions of concurrent validity and some of the issues are of more interest to those in secondary schools. The sections looking at informal assessment and assessment in action are the most useful.
Paradoxically, the third book in the series, Questioning in the Primary School, with its detailed analysis of different approaches and transcripts of successful, and less successful approaches, provides better guidance on how to get a handle on what pupils know and understand. It is this, as the series emphasises, which is at the heart of effective assessment.