Hurdles, what hurdles?

1st July 2005 at 01:00
How to Help Children Find the Champion within Themselves

By David Hemery

BBC Books pound;7.99

Memory Boosters

By Jo Iddon and Huw Williams

Hamlyn pound;6.99

Brain Fitness @ Work

By Judith Jewell

Hamlyn pound;6.99

Confidence Boosters

By Martin Perry

Hamlyn pound;6.99

The language of sport lies deep in the ethos of many schools. Of course, there's talk of teams and clubs, encouragement of healthy competition (whatever the Daily Mail would have us believe), and even, in some schools when a pupil misbehaves, use of "time out" to cool things down.

Nowadays the fashionable concept is coaching, and who better than Olympic gold medallist David Hemery (see My Best Teacher, page 4) to advise us on what works? The most immediate feature of his book is the passion with which it is written. "I have a belief that there is a spark of greatness in everyone," he writes, and everyone "has something special to contribute to this world". This positive outlook pervades the entire book, which has sections for families, teachers and coaches.

The family section looks at the way parents can unwittingly demotivate children with comments such as "if you spent half as much time on your homework as you do going out..." Hemery's message to parents is that we should listen more and instruct less, give choices, and encourage children to take responsibility. The problem here is that the cartoon style of presentation sometimes makes solutions seem simpler than in real life. For example, two youngsters are arguing over a PlayStation. The cartoon mother says: "I'm going to trust you to work out the best solution", and leaves the room. In our household we'd have to call in a United Nations peacekeeping force.

The teacher section uses the same initial cartoon approach followed by a section on asking questions. This is topical because questioning is often the weakest part of many a teacher's repertoire. We grind students into submission with our relentless barrage of closed questions and lack of thinking time. Hemery gives tips from his time as an economics teacher at Millfield school which, while interesting and relevant, don't do justice to a topic of such importance.

For me the best part of the book is the consideration of the role of the coach, with advice on motivation, using emotions and, again, asking questions. Here's someone writing from undiluted experience. The frustration is that there isn't more of this: more on the three steps to clarifying commitment, and definitely more on self-healing and alignment, both of which were new concepts to me. Because the book is aimed at such a wide audience - parents, teachers, coaches and other adults who work with young people - it may offer too little of depth to each reader. But it's well worth considering for the sheer level of enthusiasm it exudes.

By contrast, the new series from Hamlyn provides depth rather than breadth.

And 140 pages of hints on boosting your memory isn't bad value for pound;6.99. So much of what we do in schools still relies on students' capacity to memorise that it's odd we don't teach memory skills more explicitly. If you're thinking of doing so, this is your book: a vivid, well-presented and practical guide to the subject.

There's lots here that isn't purely about learning to regurgitate facts, such as assessing your own motivation (a recurring strand in all the books), and hints on how to remember names. This is the page I turned to straight away. I once had to give a speech at someone's retirement party and realised with sickening horror just after I'd begun that I'd forgotten her name. It was a long and nerve-racking speech as I babbled, hoping desperately for the memory to resurface.

Hints here include using a visual tag (think of Michael singing into a microphone - mike, geddit?). Some examples are a little more contrived:

"For really tricky names such as Dr Bartolenon imagine something like a doctor leaning on a bar - Dr Bar-to-lean-on". That's not a name that occurs in my Dictionary of Surnames, but I take the point.

Judith Jewell's Brain Fitness @ Work is full of activities to limber up your brain. "Unlock your mind's potential and achieve peak performance," it grandly promises, and Martin Perry's Confidence Boosters offers "ten steps to beating self-doubt". It's not immediately clear who the books are aimed at. They aren't for teachers, but, as the back cover of one says, "anyone whose natural talent and abilities are hampered by self-doubt". I can imagine building many of the skills and ideas into a PSHE or citizenship programme for our Year 9 students. Not that they appear too weighed down by self-doubt.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Suffolk. His latest book is English Challenge (OUP)

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