Returning to Teach in Primary Schools

Author(s) Eagling, Peter; Turner, Sylvia; Ryan, Charly and Tanner, Doug
Publisher Learning Matters
ISBN 1903300681
Reviewed by Dr Margaret Wood
University of Bradford
Review published 1 December 2004

This is a very helpful book, which provides a useful update on, and background to primary education. It is written for returner teachers who, having had a break from the profession, may wish to recommence work in primary schools. However, it will also be of interest to anyone wishing to update their knowledge and understanding of many recent changes and some of the issues and debates surrounding them. This information and context is helpfully combined with discussion and practical ideas and it is this combination, which makes the book engaging and adds to its appeal.

The format makes the material easy to access and follow and is clear and focused. Chapter one provides more of a general update on primary education and gives a flavour of some important developments and changes in addition to offering some pointers for classroom observation. This guidance for classroom observation is mindful of the sorts of changes which will be evident to the returner and so helps to focus the observations appropriately for the intended readership. Chapter two examines English and in particular the Literacy Hour and again the needs of the audience are appropriately acknowledged in terms of some of the changes which a returner to teaching may note. The tone is reassuring and encouraging and seeks to provide a balanced perspective "This is a good time to be learning how to teach the Literacy Hour since research suggests that it has, in general, gained acceptance from most primary teachers, though there are reservations about particular aspects (Earl, 2001). Many teachers will tell you that it has extended their understanding of how children learn to read and write and has given them a new range of strategies for teaching English. It may seem daunting at first but it is worth sticking with". (p20)

A particular strength in the discussion of the teaching of mathematics in chapter three is the clear exposition of some of the changes which have taken place to the role of the teacher in teaching mathematics and the requirements and demands of the 'direct teaching' approach. A most valuable feature of this chapter is the inclusion of some of the thoughts of teachers undertaking a course for returners to the profession. The authors suggest "You may find they have similar thoughts to you" and these statements are reassuring in the honest expression of the doubts, uncertainties and hesitations with which many amongst the readership will no doubt empathise. These represent a natural and understandable reaction, which anyone grappling to come to terms with the uncertainties of significant change may experience.

Chapter four is concerned with primary science teaching and, in common with the other chapters in this book, it provides important background information and practical ideas. In particular the discussion about questioning is very valuable in serving to remind us of the importance of questioning to promote learning. Some examples of how questions might be framed in order to focus investigation and encourage thinking are suggested. This is really a very helpful reminder to us of the importance of our questioning: "As teachers we ask thousands of questions a year. Making our questions better should have a powerful impact on our teaching". (p48) There is a worthwhile reminder too of the importance of wait- time to allow for thinking: "Increasing wait-time is one of the best ways to improve learning" (p48).

The non-core foundation subjects are considered in chapter five, whilst chapter six deals with assessment and provides a very good overview for returners to teaching, alerting them to important research such as that of Black and Wiliam (1998). The focus on 'assessment for learning' is helpful and provides another very effective focus for classroom observation as well as stimulating thought and reflection. Understandably, concerns about behaviour management may be significant for returners to teaching and chapter seven acknowledges this possible trepidation. It not only develops and updates our thinking but also engages us in a reflective appraisal of where we would place ourselves on a continuum ranging from authoritarian to democratic in terms of how we see the teacher's role. This chapter will be welcomed too for the practical advice and strategies suggested to promote good behaviour and foster a positive classroom climate for learning.

In summary, this is a book that is appropriately written with the needs of its audience in mind. It provides a good combination of up to date information and discussion with practical strategies to impact on children's learning. Not only does it point the reader to further sources of relevant reading, websites and official publications, but it also engages us in consideration of some important aspects of teaching and learning. Those returning to teaching will find this combination effective and relevant to their needs. Inevitably some aspects are only fairly briefly touched on and whilst the reader may have wished for a little more at times, it is clear that only so much can be covered within the scope of a text such as this. In such cases, the reader is pointed to other useful sources of help and information.