Never forget the artistry of teaching;Letter

11th June 1999 at 01:00
David Reynolds (TES, May 28) quite rightly argues that the focus for school effectiveness and improvement research must be at classroom level if we are to continue to raise educational standards.

But the professional development of teachers and their pedagogic skills in relation to student learning need to be at the centre of the debate.

It could be argued that instructional programmes such as the literacy hour and some others that have been bought in from other countries do very little for the development of practitioners.

Teacher behaviour is most effectively changed through interaction, reflection and discussion, not through externally imposed top-down regimes.

One of the biggest opportunities for schools to modify teacher behaviour is peer observation. Unfortunately, many schools and teachers are not using this tool to its full potential.

The observations may take the form of informal visits or formal coaching sessions. We have found that it is the prepost observation discussion that clarifies issues and gives people the confidence to try strategies that they have witnessed to be effective.

However, this does not guarantee success with another teacher in another context.

For teachers to be effective they need to possess a broad range of strategies which they can dip in to as appropriate.

A second reason why we are quite right to encourage a variety of approaches rather than any one "right way" is that teachers are individuals with different physical and intellectual characteristics.

It is these characteristics that give teachers their strengths and weaknesses. Effective teacher behaviour for one practitioner may be totally ineffective for another, without even considering other factors such as the context of the behaviour.

Teaching is a delicate blend of art and science. I cannot understand why we focus on words and phrases such as "instructional techniques" and "technology of practice" at the exclusion of concepts such as "artistry".

Chris Chapman, UFA Paul Hamlyn Teaching Fellow, Bartley Green school, Adams Hill, Birmingham, cchapman@lea.birmingham.gov.uk

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