Successful Teaching Placements in Secondary Schools (Achieving QTS Practical Handbooks)

Author(s) Kate Shilvock, Melanie Pope
Publisher Lear Matters Ltd
Published 2008
Pages 128
Price £14.00
ISBN 9781844451838
Reviewed by Mr James Williams
University of Sussex-Education
Review published 17 November 2008

Next to worries about pupil behaviour, where students will be placed on teaching practice is very high on their list of concerns. This book aims to provide a comprehensive review of those concerns and provide tasks, case studies and further reading that will help them through their placement. It is a busy book, with lots of headings and sub-headings often followed by short sharp paragraphs of useful advice, e.g. in 2 pages (p.26-27) there are no fewer than 10 sub-headings and a full heading dealing with the roles of various people and their professional responsibilities. Common elements throughout the book such as the reflective tasks, case studies, further reading and frequently asked questions are very useful and informative.

Progression through the book is logical and discusses, in order, the areas that all Initial Teacher Training Providers (ITTPs) should address when preparing trainees for a successful placement. Beginning with preparation for a placement and what the challenges are likely to be, the authors move on to professionalism, an area that cannot be underestimated for its importance in realising a successful placement. After dealing with planning, teaching , assessment and managing student behaviour, wider aspects of teaching placements such as students’ contributions to PSHE (personal, social, health & economic education), citizenship and the ‘broader curriculum’ are addressed.

The layout of the chapters is consistent and a useful section near the end of most, but not all, chapters is ‘frequently asked questions’. I suspect that these have come from real questions asked by trainees, as real as I would expect the case studies to be with the obligatory changing of names and schools to protect the innocent. It is this aspect that student teachers really value, rather than just a ‘theoretical perspective’ which lacks realism. Having said that, the book is not devoid of theory, good old ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ makes an appearance in the chapter on teaching (p.48). This is boosted with a reflective task calling for students to discuss their lesson structure in this theoretical framework.

A key issue for successful teaching placements is that students recognise the challenges ahead and how an initial teacher training (ITT) programme enables them to overcome these challenges. Chapter 2 discusses professionalism and professional conduct. In some ways I felt that the chapter was too short given how important this aspect of teacher education is in the development of the whole professional. I actually object to the characterisation of ITT programmes as ‘training’ and prefer to call it Initial Teacher Education (ITE). This chapter really defines the difference between training and education. Any higher education programmes that result in qualified teacher status should not be viewed as just another university course. They are distinctive because of the professional nature of the programmes. They are an education and not just ‘training’. As I remind my own students, dogs and dolphins can be trained, but good teachers are educated. They not only know what to do and how to do things, but why they do them. That is at the core of being professional. The chapter could have been extended to show how the ‘theory’ of the academic approach to teaching and learning is put into practice. This is a major challenge for students on placement. It is also a challenge for some ITTPs that are non HEI based, where the theoretical input takes a back seat – or in some cases is nowhere to be seen.

The penultimate chapter talks about another critical challenge for a successful teaching experience, how students are assessed. The chapter includes good advice on observation and being observed, as well as how to react to feedback and set targets for progression. Again for a critical area, this chapter delivers less than I had hoped for. The development of students as reflective practitioners is the key to their future development as teachers. For me, the section on reflectivity was just too short.

The final chapter, ‘Your first post’ does seem out of place. The book rightly considers teaching placements, but the final chapter, rather than drawing on previous experience of placements, simply looks at the mechanics of finding a job. The reflective tasks for this chapter could have asked the students to utilise their experience of school placements to inform their choice of school or to look at how their placement school advertises posts and then compare the advertising ‘spin’ with their experience of the actual school. In future editions, the loss of this chapter would not diminish the overall usefulness of the book.

As a companion text to the advice, procedures and regulations that all ITTP give to their students it will be a useful addition to any resource library. A major problem however is the proliferation of acronyms and provider specific terminology, e.g. one provider’s mentor is another one’s tutor, but if students can get over the language barrier much of the advice and a good number of the reflective tasks will achieve the overall aim of helping students allay their placement fears.