Marks out of 10 - Upping the awe factor

6th August 2010 at 01:00

How to Teach

Phil Beadle

Crown House Publishing

#163;16.99

Martin Spice

If the Government is serious about raising the standard of teaching it could do worse than give every teacher a copy of this book. Ostensibly for NQTs, How to Teach should be compulsory reading for all teachers. Then there should be a national exam to check its message has been understood before all teachers take an oath, written in blood and sworn on their payslip, that they will implement at least some of Beadle's ideas.

But the Government will not do this, of course, because it and its agencies are part of the problem and they rightly come in for some stick: "just plain stupid", "a complete pile of cobblers", "what they want is a series of drab identikit automatons delivering lessons in the same manner and naming this stupefying blandness 'professionalism'", are just a few of Beadle's spicier observations.

And he is correct in his view that:

- if you want to be a great teacher you have to find your own way and not slavishly follow someone else's;

- the four-part lesson is simplistic and formulaic;

- no one has time to prepare a good starter to every lesson;

- posting up learning objectives takes away any element of surprise or discovery;

- interactive whiteboards are over-used and used badly;

- presentation of work is central to kids' attitude to themselves and the subject;

- literacy is the concern of the geography teacher just as much as the English teacher.

And he is right to say most grade descriptors are deeply unhelpful but getting to grips with them is essential. However, the thing he is most right about is that "awe" and "wonder" need to find their way into every classroom.

If all this sounds too sycophantic, there are also things I think he is wrong about. It is perverse to:

- wage a war on gum and then say that you "couldn't give a toss" if kids eat crisps in class;

- say grades are pointless and patronising;

- claim you should always put a comma before "but";

- say people who mark in green ink are just trying to be clever;

- argue that differentiation by outcome is "a definition of low expectations";

- think for a millisecond that it could be a "brilliant idea" to scribble down homework in planners for the entire term ahead.

But the loveliness of this very funny, irreverent and iconoclastic book is not that Beadle is always right. It is that it offers a clear-sighted and devastating critique of established orthodoxy and combines it with a host of excellent teaching ideas based on sound and rigorous practice. Beadle puts kids back at the heart of everything and challenges everyone who reads it to be better in the classroom.

That is why every teacher should be given - or, failing that, should buy - a copy.

The verdict 1010.

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