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Who knows best about teaching?

The comments in From the forums about Brian Cox's fascinating BBC lecture The Science of Doctor Who illustrate the dangers of giving teachers a mandatory prescription for "good" teaching and then enforcing it through an inflexible inspection system ("Is 'chalk and talk' due a revival?", 22 November).

Overwhelmingly, research shows that in order to take on board new learning, we need to process it through discussion, challenge it through debate and build understanding through collaborative exploration. Good teachers therefore need to be able to orchestrate such experiences for their students.

But research also shows that, as human beings, we love a good story: as well as being an eminent scientist, Professor Cox is a skilful and entertaining storyteller with an infectious passion for his subject and an instinct for effective rhetoric. These are all key attributes of an "outstanding" teacher and, when used to good effect, can keep a class engaged and motivated while they are simply sitting and listening.

Getting the balance right between these two equally important approaches is the ultimate challenge for the teacher and cannot be imposed by prescription. We need to value teachers' intuitive communicative skills, foster debate about effective pedagogy and acknowledge that no "magic bullet" for learning will ever replace the professional skill of the teacher.

Pat Stafford, Education consultant, Learning Unleashed.

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