Hush those ruler-twangers

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Mike Sullivan selects key titles to prepare you for early days in teaching

Managing Behaviour in the Primary School (3rd edition). By Jim Docking Revised and updated by Michelle MacGrath. David Fulton pound;16

Returning to Teach in Primary Schools. By Peter Eagling, Sylvia Turner, Charly Ryan and Doug Tanner. Learning Matters pound;10 Tel: 01392 215 560

Effective Pupil Grouping in the Primary School: a Practical Guide. By Susan Hallam, Judith Ireson and Jane Davies. David Fulton pound;14

PGCE Professional Workbook: Professional Issues in Primary Practice. By Emma Asprey, Cathy Hamilton and Susan Haywood. Learning Matters pound;15

Principles of Primary Education (2nd edn). By Pat Hughes. David Fulton pound;15

Keeping pupils in order is a basic teaching skill, essential for credibility in the staffroom. As a probationary teacher, and for a long time afterwards, I had more practice in counting to ten than the children. There was always at least one child in the class who pushed my patience to the limit with those familiar acts of low-level disruption: ruler-twanging, whispering to friends or wandering around the classroom to sharpen a pencil. If I had read Jim Docking's updated Managing Behaviour in the Primary School, would I have understood better the causes of poor behaviour and had more strategies for successfully managing my class? Would I have been seen as more of a real teacher by both kids and colleagues? You bet I would.

Docking's book is firmly rooted in the everyday life and language of classrooms, and contains many examples of well-tried techniques. There is a welcome emphasis on "catching children being good" and positive reinforcement, but there is also a realistic recognition that incidents of poor behaviour need challenging and sanctions need to be enforced. The mix of examples peppered with worthwhile references to research and reports adds up to an easy and informative read for both experienced teachers and newcomers. The teacher's contribution to creating classroom discipline problems isn't ignored and the chapter on pre-empting behaviour problems is a gem. I'm now convinced that avoiding thrusts, dangles, flip-flops and overdwelling are essential in maintaining smoothness and momentum in teaching. Intrigued? Read the book.

Those who are returning to teaching will be relieved that at least the task of managing pupil behaviour remains unchanged, while almost everything else has moved on at a remarkable pace. The entire primary curriculum, the way schools are managed and teaching of maths and literacy have all radically changed over the past decade. If you are aiming to get back into the swing, Returning to Teach in Primary Schools is the book for you. There is up-to-date information on the national curriculum, the literacy and numeracy strategies and assessment. The authors are connected with the Returners to Teaching course at King Alfred's College, Winchester, and their experience shines through.

Everything is in place in this fairly short book. Three of the seven chapters focus on the core subjects: English, maths and science. These chapters give a good overview and the main focus is on "what you have to do" rather than "how you do it", with signposts to other sources of help. The non-core foundation subjects are covered at a 13-page gallop. Those seeking information on ICT, design and technology or even the Foundation Stage are advised to look elsewhere.

Effective Grouping in the Primary School sifts through research and practical experience of schools in various ways to group children for learning and clearly lays out the strengths and weaknesses in a very readable style.

Particularly interesting is the chapter on pupils' experiences. It appears that children become socialised into the types of grouping structures used in their schools, accept them and then echo the rationales offered by their teachers. The authors are clear that there is no simple recipe for success and that the keys to raising standards are quality of teaching, high expectations and good relationships between staff and pupils. They provide a far better basis for organising teaching than either fashion or hunches and are well worth reading.

Trainers of both returners and new entrants will find both Professional Issues in Primary Practice and Principles of Primary Education useful. Publishers are also fashion victims and this season's colour is grey - no reflection on the quality of the text in either book, but both publications go overboard in the background shading of boxes, symbols and tables. Lighten up, publishers! Teaching and learning isn't such a sombre business.

Pat Hughes's guide has been updated to give practical advice on the new standards for qualified teacher status, the revised Code of Practice for special educational needs and other legislation changes. The book is a must-have for those following non-traditional routes through initial teacher training. The author's direct no-nonsense style keeps the reader engaged, informed and entertainingly challenged.

Professional Issues in Primary Practice is aimed at the same market and there is an overlap in content, but striking differences in tone and style. By page 13 of Professional Issues in Primary Practice the reader will have become familiar with social constructivism, behaviourism, multiple intelligences, the zone of Proximal Development and some of the work of Vygotsky, Bruner, Papert, Skinner and Gardner. All good stuff and knowledge that helps understanding of learning.

Those who are more comfortable with anacademic style may well favour this book over Pat Hughes's, but either one provides a good introduction to primary teaching.

Mike Sullivan is an educational consultant and former primary headteacher in the West Midlands

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