Humour provides a tonic;Reviews;General;Secondary;Books
Generations of newly- qualified teachers have complained that their PGCE year was far too theoretical.
One of the strengths of this remarkably comprehensive handbook, based as it is on Gloucestershire's successful school-based initial training partnership, is that it balances the theoretical with the down-to- earth and adds an important extra dimension. It reminds us always that both teaching and learning are intensely personal skills.
As NQT Maria says in these pages: "You think you've learned what to do to improve your lesson - then you watch someone else doing it and realise that you've only being seeing a tenth of what goes on."
This book is about seeing the 90 per cent we miss. One of its strengths is that it is written by and for mentors as well as by and for trainees. More than 50 contributors are listed. Their common sense is as impressive as their expertise.
At 400 A4 pages, with 40 chapters and some 250 items for reflections, analysis or completion, it's a fairly weighty volume. It is structured as a full year course, so that key topics - language awareness and differentiation, for instance, or what the book calls "teaching and learning's big ideas" - are revisited in the light of experience as the year progresses.
Throughout the year there is guidance for trainees on building up the all-important professional development portfolio. In practice, though, it is likely to be equally valuable as a reference book, a reliable source of practical advice and reassurance and occasional inspiration.
Some will criticise it for still giving too much weight to the psychologists and theoreticians. You could reasonably argue, for instance, that there are more important things to say about differentiation by process than "it's an excellent vehicle for using Vgotsky's zone of proximal development, Bruner's scaffolding and Wood's five levels."
Other's might say that some of the advice, for example on assignment writing. ("You should include 15-20 references") is still a trifle formulaic.
For my money, though, it is well balanced and realistic. It is about real schools, real classrooms, real pupils, real teachers, and it constantly reminds us that there is an art in teaching, not just science. What's more, it has room for humour. I liked the lesson plan that listed its essential resource: "card with marked angles, scissors and paste, large gin and tonic". Like the last of those, this book could get to the parts that conventional texts don't reach.