Small in size but big in value

17th October 2003 at 01:00
Teachers' Pocketbooks series. Secondary Teacher's Pocketbook. By Brin Best.

Mentoring in Schools. By Bob Garvey and Kim Langridge.

Accelerated Learning. By Brin Best.

Teachers' Pocketbooks, pound;6.99 each. Classmates series. Managing your Classroom. By Gererd Dixie.

Lesson Planning. By Graham Butt.

Teacher's Guide to Protecting Children. By Janet Kay.

Tips for Trips. By Andy Leeder.

Stress Busting. Every Minute Counts. By Michael Papworth.

Running your Tutor Group. By Ian Startup.

Teacher's Guide to Involving Parents. By Julian Stern.

Marking and Assessment. By Howard Tanner and Sonia Jones.

Teaching Poetry. By Fred Sedgwick.

Continuum pound;39.99 set of 10 until December 20, or pound;4.99 each.

"Teachers are beginning to get spectacular results by using a range of new approaches to motivate their students and help them learn more effectively." No, it's not a politician speaking: the quotation comes from the publisher of the Pocketbooks series for teachers, but there are plenty of teachers who would sign up to it. It makes educational as well as commercial sense to identify the new approaches, to pin them down for inspiration or for reference in a handful of punchy, pithy pages.

But does it work? That depends on the teacher. Newly qualified teachers will find the first of these titles, Secondary Teacher's Pocketbook, supportive and reassuring - a sensibly wallet-sized compendium of do's and don'ts with lots of positive suggestions and reminders. The special ingredient here - the "new approach" the series promises - is accelerated learning; there's an enthusiastic summary in bullet form of the principles and techniques that underpin it.

But it also gets a pocketbook to itself, as does Mentoring in Schools, and teachers in schools considering or committed to these approaches may find these individual titles helpful. They may be over-helpful - like the classroom diagram in the initial title, with its carefully labelled "whiteboard, for writing or projecting on", and "flowers, for oxygen". But in general, the books reflect a down-to-earth approach ("it may take hours, days, weeks, months, even years to fully understand a complex issue") and commendable enthusiasm. They are not cheap, but for teachers ready to think about their contents they could be good value.

Continuum's Classmates series, which promises "accessible, practical and indispensable advice for teachers", covers some of the same ground with a slightly different format. They are also pocket-sized, but the pocket's bigger and there's more text: thoughtful, continuous prose rather than notes and bullet points, and more room for case studies and activities.

Some of the first 10 titles are straightforward how-to-do-it books. Lesson Planning, for example, is about the factors that make for effective and enjoyable lessons - not the bulging file of lesson plans. Its advice is sensible and realistic. Best of all, it's reassuring. So is Running your Tutor Group: good on the basics and with lots of ideas for the inexperienced tutor to draw upon - even if the suggested "tacky postcard competition" ends in tears. It's good, too, on citizenship, which, like PSHE, now comes the form tutor's way.

Tips for Trips is helpful, too - excellent on the sort of detail that government and local authority regulations don't include - how to plan and advertise your trip, how to choose a travel agent or coach company, how to spell out your expectations of behaviour, what to do if things go wrong - but upbeat and positive about the educational value involved. A Teacher's Guide to Protecting Children is more than useful if you are the nominated teacher with this responsibility and you want to update the school policy or plan Inset.

Inevitably, there is repetition. Managing Your Classroom, for example, touches on ground that's covered in each of the titles so far listed, and if you're going to buy one of these books, it's probably the most helpful overall. The do's and don'ts are more memorable for being partly anecdotal, and experienced teachers will applaud the central theme of establishing "tactical control".

Not all the titles are how-to-do-it manuals. Stress Busting, for example, is about attitude to life. Its theme is that complex behaviours have simple causes - if you tackle the causes, you tackle the problem. Common sense. As the author says, common sense isn't all that common (and isn't always sense).

Like Involving Parents (good on the way that teachers create barriers of jargon and technicality between themselves and parent partners), Marking and Assessment is more than a compendium of good practice. It offers plenty of advice, not least on marking and report writing, but always against the theme that as teachers we have to be clear about the purpose of assessment.

Remember WYTIWYG, they say - what you test is what you get. That raises real questions about our current obsession with high-stakes testing - questions which, to their credit, the authors address.

That leaves Fred Sedgwick's Teaching Poetry, on the face of it, for most of us, the odd one out. Don't you believe it. Language is at the heart of teaching, and poetry (watch how young children respond to it) is at the heart of language. Sedgwick's book is magical and wise, but it's also (like his poetry) down to earth. More than any of the titles, it reflects what he calls "the grubby, glorious reality" of teaching. It's fun to read, too, and excellent value.

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