Survival kit for standards challenge

30th March 2001 at 01:00
STARTING TO TEACH IN A SECONDARY SCHOOL. An essential guide for all new teachers. By Mike Townsend. Available from, pound;2.20

Mike Townsend is a secondary school mentor for trainees and NQTs. His book is only available on the internet. As the publishers say, "you might be surprised how easy and how much fun reading a book over the internet really is". What you get is a 110-page Word document on your hard drive.

This ebook is in the "tips for teachers" tradition. It is written in a personal tone by someone whose heart is clearly in the classroom. For example, he writes: "Teaching must be one of the best jobs in the world when it is going well, but oh dear when it is going wrong life can be very tough - I know."

I can imagine a tone like this working in a school context where the NQTs know the person addressing them. I found the chatty style vaguely off-putting.

In an age when most books aimed at teachers in the classroom are written by people who have fled the classroom, this ebook is clearly a distillation of personal and professional expertise. It's strong on many of the things I wanted to be told when I was a PGCE student - what to do if your prepared lesson finishes 10 minutes early; or how to tap the desk to get the class's attention after group work.

But as someone who's fairly anti-theory, I did worry about the lack of a firm pedagogical foundation. For example, the book emphasise group work. Mike Townsend says: "Talking to a whole class is a very difficult skill to acquire especially if you are trying to have a class discussion - so don't do it!" This runs counter to much of the modern thrust of literacy work, where fast-paced whole-class teaching is the main mode of delivery. I also wanted more focus on learning rather than teaching. No recent developments in learning theory or how the brain works get a mention here.

There are also problems with the form. I'm not so sure that reading a 110-page document on screen is quite such fun as the publishers claim. You could of course print it all out, adding the cost of ink and paper to your initial outlay.

An expected advantage of an ebook ought, surely, to be an element of interactivity. I'd have liked a link or two to relevant websites, or activities which allowed me to choose an option, click a response, or post messages to other readers.

That's not what you get. It's a heavily text-based document published on a website rather than between cardboard covers. It's therefore less portable than an old-fangled book - you couldn't easily read this on the train or during a slack moment in the staffroom. And a quick whizz through a few paragraphs with my spellchecker uncovered five typographical errors.

Geoff Barton is a deputy head in Suffolk. He also teaches on the PGCE course at the School of Education, University of Cambridge

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