Straight Talk for Today's Teacher

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Straight Talk for Today's Teacher: how to teach so students learn By Adrienne Mack-Kirschner Heinemann pound;9.99 Last year I reviewed a book by the "Disney Teacher of the Year" and commented that, rather than reaching for a highlighter pen, I yearned for a sickbag. So I approached this more recent US publication with trepidation.

The cover resembles a scene from Fame. The introduction opens as if it's going to kick-start a 140-page saccharine fix. But then, against a familiar backdrop of bureaucracy, excessive amounts of assessment and a straitjacket curriculum, what follows is astringently entertaining and uplifting.

The first chapter is a dutiful but effective summary of brain theory, which approaches the topic with an accessibly light touch: "I think, therefore I'm thin: learning is good for the figure because the brain, although it only represents about 3 per cent of your weight, burns about 20 per cent of the calories you take in." So a combination of Jamie Oliver's new school meals and some active learning should sort out the UK's obesity timebomb.

Other chapters look at making the classroom environment a resource for learning, guidance on motivation (good advice: "if you can't love students, you're in the wrong profession"), assessment, structuring lessons, and so on. Like all books written by practising teachers, it sometimes feels like an account of ideas that work for them but may not work for us. That, however, is also its charm, the views of a real teacher working with real kids (as she calls them). The book is worth getting for one idea alone: take your naughtiest student and make them class sheriff for the day. I'm going to try that today. Yee-ha.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds

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