Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector

Author(s) Peter Scales
Publisher Open University Press
Published 2008
Pages 319
ISBN 9780335222407
Reviewed by Mr Jonathan Tummons
University of Teesside
Review published 17 December 2009

The marketplace for teacher-training textbooks relating to the lifelong learning sector is starting to look rather crowded.  As a relatively small number of longer-serving texts continue to be updated (Reece and Walker’s Teaching, Training and Learning, a perennial favourite, is now in a sixth revised edition) an array of newer books jostles for attention.  Surely the main driver behind the proliferation of these textbooks, and the proliferation of courses which ask students to read them, is the QTLS (Qualified Teacher Learning and Skills) framework for teachers and trainers in the lifelong learning sector, established nearly three years ago.  The construction of professional standards for teachers in the lifelong learning sector has many undoubted benefits.  At the same time, they serve to shape (or perhaps that should be “constrain”) the teacher education curriculum.

Consequently, most of the textbooks that serve this market hold relatively few surprises (including those that I have written).  They tend broadly to cover the same issues, the same theories of teaching and learning, the same issues relating to reflective practice, or the assessment of learners.  As such decisions as to which titles to recommend to students, or which are worthwhile additions to the bookshelves of teacher educators, are taken according to more or less subjective measures such as readability, the overall feel or style of a book, its ability to communicate an appropriate breadth and depth of detail.  As a reader, I look for moments of humour or lightness of touch, as well as moments of subversion and critical commentary, which are (perhaps regrettably) often lacking.

Scales is clearly well qualified to write a book such as this: he has worked in this curriculum for a long time, and he wears his experience and expertise lightly.  The book as a whole is well written and pleasurable to read, and his writing is both persuasive and engaging.  A number of key textual features are present throughout the book (and which are, in fact, common features across the genre as a whole).  Chapters have specific aims and are mapped to relevant parts of the QTLS framework; extracts from reflective journals provided grounded examples of the themes discussed.  Case studies and other activities appear at regular intervals in order to encourage what Scales refers to in his introduction as “active learning”.  How frequently solitary readers use these is anyone’s guess (which is not to criticise them, as I put them in my own books), but they do provide an excellent source of activities and discussion points for teacher educators to use in their sessions.

At times when reading books such as these, I do find myself looking for those parts of the teacher education curriculum that persist in spite of growing criticisms or challenges.  This is not to say that I would want such subjects to disappear: but I am always pleased to read about the perspective of “the other”.  As such, the treatment of subjects such as reflective practice or adult learning theory seems somewhat conservative.  I am unsure as to whether this simply reflects my own (growing) reservations relating to some aspects of these topics, or whether it reflects a need to review the curriculum more thoroughly.

So what makes this book stand out?  In the introduction, Scales asks his readers to “excuse the slight bias towards English, communication studies and media studies” in the text.  I doubt that any such excuse is needed: it is these lived examples, and the ways in which these areas inform the work as a whole, that make the book stand out as a worthwhile addition to the bookshelves of both tutors and students.  Chapter two, “communication and the teacher”, is excellent, covering in detail a range of issues that are often overlooked in related literature.  This concern for communication surfaces in other places as well: for example, in chapter eight, “resources for teaching and learning”.  Scales’ analysis of what makes a good handout or what makes a good PowerPoint presentation (down to fine but often ignored details such as font style and size) is exemplary.  Chapter ten, “skills for life, key skills and thinking skills”, provides an easily understood, accurate and pithy summary of a range of topics that all too often cause difficulty for students (and for some teachers as well).

To conclude: this is a good book and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to my students as being a core textbook, worth a purchase.  It’s interesting, up-to-date, well written and easy to navigate.  What more could a student ask for?