Effective Teaching: Evidence and Practice

Author(s) Muijs,D and Reynolds,D.
Publisher Sage Publications
Published 2005
Price 19.99
ISBN 1412901650
Reviewed by Dr Derek Young
University of Stirling
Review published 6 March 2006

In this update of their 2001 publication, Muijs and Reynolds provide an overview or survey approach to the issues surrounding teaching and learning. An entry level publication, the book fully engages with its subject, is informative, and provides an ideal starting point for those wishing to understand the research foundation of modern teaching. The authors take great pains to root all points or subjects covered firmly within identified background research. The authors ‘aim to give an accessible introduction to research in this relatively neglected field’ and in this they clearly succeed by reinforcing existing beliefs, filling in gaps and encouraging the reader to investigate change needed to improve their understanding of what makes effective teaching.

Having chosen to divide the book into four sections, the first section, Introduction to Teaching and Learning, examines the research background of what the authors call the ‘basics of teaching’ and covers topics such as interactive teaching and direct instruction. This section outlines the main theories of learning and intelligence – giving usage and identified flaws – highlighting the passage of ‘trends’ in classroom behavioural study and practice. Behaviourism, Piaget’s four learning stages, Vygotsky’s environmental influence on child development, IQ theory and Multiple Intelligences are all briefly explained. In a book of this nature there is, understandably, not enough time to go into these theories in any great depth, but the authors nevertheless provide enough information for the reader to understand the basics of learning theory. The authors occupy the safe ground by not advocating any one theory instead choosing to highlight positive and negative factors for all theories identified.

The second section headed Creating a Framework for Learning covers generic classroom behaviour, what the authors call ‘the basic repertoire of any effective teacher’. It discusses clearly the basic mechanics involved when planning and conducting an effective lesson - how to establish clear rules and behaviours, set assignments and homework, lesson planning, controlling the classroom environment for effective teaching and, importantly, effective learning. This section explains issues of classroom and behaviour management and presents a sound overview of classroom techniques, again focused on embedding the models from which classroom behaviourism has evolved firmly within a research background.

Teaching for Specific Purposes is the third section which takes a more focused approach, dealing with student skills, student interaction, and issues encountered when teaching specific student groups. This section looks at developing learner skills and guiding students to achieve identified goals such as higher order thinking and social skills. Here the fault lies in covering such a wide variety of interest groups with special education needs. Coverage is consequently thin and, while it is intended to direct the reader to future further reading and research, in many instances information on specific groups is so sparse as to generate little or no further reader interest.

In the fourth and final section, Teaching Specific Subjects, Assessment and Observation, the authors address the popular issues of literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology, assessment and observation. In covering the subject of literacy the authors present an even handed description of the phonics, whole language, blended and balanced approaches and this is where occupying the safe ground backfires. It is here, when addressing subject specific teaching, that the authors are presented with the opportunity to actively promote an identified approach using the presented evidence and this remains a missed opportunity.

All in all this represents a well written and well researched piece of work – not only have the authors presented a balanced view of current teaching methodology but they have ensured that it is firmly embedded within a wide-ranging research background. The book highlights a number of research projects over the last twenty five years, presenting an overview of research, not only in current terms but what has prompted the current generation of research models.

It fulfils the one central function which a survey level book of this type should – it generates the need to read further. It encourages the reader to engage in, and interact with, research as the means of improving their teaching effectiveness.

Who is this book aimed at? I would say that it covers a wide spectrum. For the education student it is a good starting point, for the newly qualified it acts as a constant reminder and prompt, and for the experienced practitioner – slightly jaded and war weary – it provides a refreshing ‘caffeine’ surge to reinvigorate and renew flagging enthusiasm.

The authors ‘hope that we have provided this overview of research in a wide range of areas related to teaching in an accessible but thorough way’ and in this they have succeeded. The book is set out clearly in neutral, non-technical terms, maintaining the balance between oversimplification and giving the reader just enough relevant information and clear examples to whet the appetite for further reading. If there is a fault it is in this neutral approach taken by the authors - perhaps they need to move from a neutral standpoint towards the positive identification and promotion of what constitutes effective teaching. Often it is not enough to merely present the facts. When doing so a valid judgement needs to be taken.