When Teaching Becomes Learning: A Theory And Practice Of Teaching

Author(s) Sotto E.
Publisher Continuum
Published Reprinted 2003
Price 19.99
ISBN 0826456138
Reviewed by Dr Melanie Robinson
University of Warwick-Education
Review published 6 December 2005

As a teacher educator this book interests me on two complementary levels; how useful it would be to my students to inform their teaching, and how useful it is to me in my own teaching of them. It is a very interesting and absorbing text, in which Sotto draws on his own experience of teaching to inform the theory he presents, which is focused on teachers as teachers of people, not of their subject. This is the driving premise of his approach, and is one that some educators might find difficult to embrace.

The book comprises two complementary sections, Learning and Teaching. It is crucial for Sotto that learning is considered first. He uses a successful blend of relevant theories and his own personal experiences to situate his approach in a rigorously academic, yet thoroughly practical manner, and the result would be attractive to practitioners who otherwise might shy away from theory (i.e. busy practising teachers). However, it is a dense volume and the chapters are very long, which could put readers off; but it is worth persevering with if you are a reflective teacher (and even more so if you are not!). He turns some fundamental thinking about teaching on its head, for example that it is not the role of the teacher to motivate pupils – his explanation as to why is simple, yet facilitates an alternative way of approaching the idea of motivation through active learning. He also takes into account factors such as perception and feelings in the learning process, and in doing so exemplifies reflective practice. He proposes a theory of learning by the end of this part of the book that anyone who is involved in education would find useful. This theory then underpins the approaches he discusses in part 2, Teaching. The chapter on teacher behaviours is again excellent, and something for anyone who works in education. He discusses and exemplifies communication in the classroom, lesson planning and teacher-student interaction, all of which provide generally sound examples of good (although at times maybe ideal) practice.

The book is aimed at teachers in all sectors, but I find that it is most appropriate for educators of adults. There are approaches that I would personally try with my own adult students, such as less information input and more provision of a purpose for students to find the information themselves in a structured setting; but some approaches I would not recommend to my students who are learning to teach children, such as leaving the room to facilitate free group discussion, or ensuring that as teacher you do not occupy a prominent position in the classroom. Indeed, these suggestions are respectively illegal and counter to what trainees are currently taught for their own protection, and although an experienced teacher might benefit from the latter approach, a trainee doing so would be taking significant risks that are, from my own experience of teaching children, counter to health and safety issues as much as classroom management.

For this reason I would not use the text with trainee teachers until they had gained some classroom experience. Sotto would probably claim that the whole point of the text is to set up trainee teachers with a framework for positive, active teaching that will inform their entire career, and I would take this point and agree with it in principle; but some experience is needed to enable the trainees to reflect on the points that he raises, to give them the security of knowing that they can function within the classroom to some degree before they try to implement approaches which, it has to be said, would still be alien to many teachers. This is not to say that I disagree with Sotto’s theory and approach; indeed, I wholeheartedly agree with it. But I am also conscious of the overwhelming nature of first teaching placement, and Sotto’s approach is too ambitious to attempt without experience of what one is attempting to do.

This is not to say that selected extracts from the book could not be used with trainees in the early parts of their training. However, I would not recommend it for use as a general reader for ITE students. It would be more appropriate to use on CPD courses or at Masters level. I would suggest that my colleagues and peers in Higher Education read it though, and I intend to both draw upon the theory Sotto presents and to implement some of the approaches he recommends in my teaching with these students. In modelling such a person-centred approach to teaching, and ensuring that learning is active, students can learn to evaluate my practice as a way into reflecting on their own. Despite its density, this is a text worth persevering with.