Learning and Teaching in Primary Schools (Achieving QTS)

Author(s) Denis Hayes
Publisher Learning Matters Ltd
Published 2009
Pages 176
Price £16.00
ISBN 9781844452026
Reviewed by Dr Michael Carroll
University of Glasgow
Review published 19 August 2009

Denis Hayes is well known in the field of primary education having worked in a number of primary schools as well as in higher education as Professor of Education at the University of Plymouth. As part of my work with students on initial teacher education (ITE) programmes I have the privilege to visit a large number of primary schools in Scotland. On my travels I am often struck by how many effective classroom practitioners are unable to articulate why their practice is effective, let alone make links between theory and practice. However, this is not the case with Hayes who, in addition to having a passion for primary teaching, has the ability to ‘step outside’ in order to describe what it is like to ‘be inside’ practice. Hayes’ extensive knowledge and understanding of the policy, theory and practice of primary education is complemented by his ability to articulate, in a down-to-earth and readable style, what is involved in ‘becoming’ an effective teacher. There is a real sense of what Bruner (1985) describes as ‘loaned consciousness’ in which Hayes, in the various sections of the text, focuses students’ attention of what they need to consider and enact in order to support children’s learning.

There is always a danger that texts about ‘Standards’ can be uncritical of the policy discourse; however, this text whilst acknowledging that the recent past has seen appreciable improvements in terms of teaching methods and curriculum coverage argues that there has nevertheless been some curtailment of the ‘spontaneity and innovation that was once held to be the province of primary teachers in England’ (p. 3). Although the pursuit of ‘excellence’, often defined in terms of academic standards and test scores, has brought about improvements, primary teachers should not abandon their focus on children’s learning. A recurring theme in the text is that the increased pace in the cycle of learning that has accompanied recent improvements should not be allowed to drive out the purpose behind learning; young people should be provided with opportunities to ‘think, reflect, cogitate and discuss the work content’ (p. 106). Every child matters! There is still a place for learning ‘for its own sake’ in addition to learning which is economically functional as both need to be part of the educational experience of young people in order to truly meet the needs of the ‘knowledge economy’.  Brehony  (2005)  describes  this  merging of  the  rights of  the  individual with the needs of  the nation  in  terms  of  ‘society-centred’  learning. For me the essential message that underlies Hayes’ argument is that young people deserve to find their learning challenging, engaging and motivating, with some fun interjected, presenting opportunities for them to progress at a rate which meets their needs. Fundamentally this is why Standards are important in that our young people deserve the very best teachers providing high quality learning experiences.

Another theme running through the text is that primary teaching involves dynamic relationships whereby we all extend and enhance our understanding of self through relation with others; learning is inherently a social process. Dialogue is critically important in the formation of these relationships but this dialogue reveals differences which need to be negotiated. The recognition and celebration of difference is part of what effective teachers do; however, Hayes also recognises that for those aspiring to the profession this involves a process of transition which can often be a source of anxiety as socialisation into the profession can be problematic. Teaching brings ‘joys and sorrows’ such that students, when faced with difficult school placements, should not confuse negative experiences with a lack of competence or, worse still, a loss of enthusiasm for being a member of the profession (p. 26). For some students who face difficulties in the beginning there is a real danger that their hopes for the future can be repressed by the world of school.

Students in coming into contact with new practices venture into territory which is simultaneously familiar yet strange. Each school, in which they are placed, has a history which is compressed in a present with which the student engages. Almost inevitably this sows the seed for conflict between stasis and change through which students must find their own trajectory. Students experience a sense of ‘in-between-ness’ in which there appears to be a struggle between the discourse of theory and research with that of practice. Students’ knowledge and understanding of practice can be ‘scaffolded’, reconciling these centripetal and centrifugal forces, by reducing the number of meanings that they have to make sense of to a restricted set; Hayes’ integration of policy, theory and practice accomplishes this feat. Hopefully this will enable students to construct and reconstruct their identities as practitioners in different contexts in the process of ‘becoming’ an effective teacher.

Structurally, there are ten chapters with links established to meet the Standards throughout each chapter. Hayes usefully provides a synopsis of each chapter in the introduction to chapter 1 which I’m going to shamelessly plagiarise. Chapter 1 provides some insight as to the issues that face primary teachers in the twenty-first century. Chapter 2 explores the characteristics that help identify the ‘effective’ teacher and how such effectiveness can be achieved. The themes developed in chapters 3-6 provides a number of insights with respect to some of the key skill areas in effective teaching which include planning and organisation (Chapter 3), effective questioning (Chapter 4), control, behaviour and discipline (Chapter 5), and effective communication (Chapter 6). Chapter 7 looks at the ways in which primary teachers can promote creativity amidst the prevailing climate of performativity. Chapters 8 and 9 look at the Standards in much greater depth. Personally I found these chapters less interesting; however, I am sure that those ‘pursuing’ the ‘Standards’ will find these chapters informative. Students are products of their time in that they are often very anxious as to what they ‘need to know and do’ to meet the performance criteria; entreaties to step away from thinking about their assessment and explore what is involved in learning often falls on deaf ears. Finally chapter 10 examines whether teaching is still a worthwhile profession through a series of quotes from the ‘great and the good’. Personally I need no convincing as I look forward to meeting the future with each new intake of students.

This is an eminently ‘tickable’ text with lots of bulleted lists outlining no-nonsense, commonsense advice on how to engage with practice. However, it is more than a ‘how to’ text in that the advice supplied integrates experience with a distillation of theoretical and research perspectives. In addition to providing an insight as to what effective practice entails the text provides a platform for further enquiry and reflection. This is supported throughout the text with practical tasks, research summaries and suggestions for further reading. The final structural element is that each chapter ends with a case study, designed to support reflection.

This readable text clearly caters for an English audience as it is related throughout to the Standards to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). However, the reviewer is convinced that this text can also help contribute to the practice of Scottish primary teachers; believe me this is no small admission to make. Finally in reading the text I was reminded of Watkins and Mortimore (1999: 3) definition of pedagogy as ‘any conscious activity by one person designed to enhance learning in another’. This text is clearly focused on scaffolding students’ learning in order to enhance pedagogy within the primary sector. Despite drifting off into the no doubt lucrative world of writing and consultancy, Hayes is clearly someone who has retained his passion for primary teaching and classroom practice. For this reason I would recommend the text to students on Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) programmes, primary teachers and those involved in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) who wish to avail themselves of the practical insights that can be gleaned from this text.

References:

Bruner, J.S. (1985) Vygotsky: a historical and conceptual perspective. In: J.V. Wertsch (ed) Culture, communication and cognition: Vygotskian perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 21-34.

Brehony, K. J. (2005) Primary schooling under New Labour: the irresolvable

contradiction of excellence and enjoyment. Oxford Review of Education, 31 (1): 29-46.

Watkins, C. and Mortimore, P. (1999) Pedagogy: what do we know? In: P. Mortimore (ed) Pedagogy and its impact on learning. London: Paul Chapman Publishing. pp. 1-19.

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Mike Carroll

Faculty of Education

University of Glasgow