Contemporary Issues in Learning and Teaching

Editor(s) Margery McMahon, Christine Forde and Margaret Martin
Publisher Sage
Published 2011
Pages 232
Price £21.99
ISBN 9781849201285
Reviewed by Dr Mary McAteer
Edge Hill University
Review published 7 April 2011

The book has been written primarily for an audience of teachers in transition from initial teacher education into the profession, and newly qualified teachers.  Described as a book “to highlight some of the issues facing teachers”, it covers a wide range of such issues in a highly readable and accessible way.  Although not written from a declared 'reflective practitioner' stance, it is a text which encourages a reflective and reflexive engagement. 

It is a highly readable and accessible book which follows a rather unusual format in that it reveals a multilayered structure, moving through policy, the learning context, and finally, the professional practice of teaching.  In doing so, it challenges us to ask questions of our own beliefs and values, the dominant discourses and policy frameworks in which we work, and locates these discussions in an increasingly globalised world.   A key feature of this book, introduced effectively in the opening section, is the need to see beyond the local and even the national contexts.  Globalisation as a key feature of contemporary life offers both opportunities and challenges to practitioners.  Questions of human rights and social justice form a recurrent subtext.  These are 'big' questions, and the book does not shy away from them.

Presented in three sections, each chapter is characterised by a clear articulation of the contemporary agenda, while not being driven by it.  It takes a reflective and questioning approach, encouraging teachers to stop and think, to question, and to imagine things operating differently.  Chapters use an effective range of short case studies to both illustrate points being made, and to act as stimuli for further reflections. 

The three sections of the book each provide the backdrop for the next and in structuring the text in this way, the ground is prepared for an approach to contemporary issues in learning and teaching which take the reader into, through and beyond their practice, recognising the many and complex influences on both contemporary legislation and practice. The critical stance of the book makes it an apposite read for teachers in all stages of their career, and indeed in a range of professional contexts.

Section 1, “Policy”, maps out the landscape in four chapters, outlining the relationship between policy and legislation, and in doing so, introduces the reader to the value-base of educational policy, and challenges the reader to make a personal, reasoned response to this, recognising the tensions inherent in so doing.   Chapters in this section explore issues of power and influence in policy, and ideology and conflict.  Issues of the sources of and influences on policy are raised in a manner which encourages teachers to investigate them in their own practical context, while at the same time   subjecting them to critical analysis.  The section finishes with a chapter on Inclusion and Pedagogy, which makes an effective bridging chapter to the next section.  The questions at the end of this chapter allow teachers to begin to understand their practice more fully, and the impact of their own values and beliefs on that practice.

The second section, focusing on “Learning” explores both the learning of pupils in classrooms, and also that of teachers in their professional communities.  It explores both the national and international changes in our understanding of 'knowledge about learning', and introduces the concept of professional inquiry as part of the classroom improvement and school improvement process.  Key contemporary issues such as provision for Gifted and Talented children, nurture groups, child social development, and collaborative professional enquiry for professional development are all presented through a range of effective case studies, and reflective questions.

Section 3, “Practice,” brings us right to the heart of what it is to be a teacher in the 21st century and asks perhaps the most fundamental of all questions for teachers:

  • Who am I as a teacher: how do I define my role as an educator?
  • What are the sources of my professionalism: what are the skills, knowledge and attributes that I bring to this role?
  • What do I stand for as a practitioner: what do I see as the core purposes of education? (p128)

Bringing together discussions around policy, pedagogy, identity, and context, it encourages teachers to explore and question their own positionality within their practice and the wider arena, challenging them to understand just who they themselves 'are' in all of this.  It further branches into the discourse of teacher leadership, collaborative and cross-professional working practices, and the understanding of child learning as part of the more holistic child development approach.

In the concluding chapter, Enslin skilfully bring us back to the early chapters of the book, which raised issues of social justice.  In this last chapter, the justice agenda is both more clearly articulated than has been the case throughout the book, but is also subjected to analysis and critique, drawing on the work of David Miller, Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls and others.  This chapter maintains the readability and accessibility of the book, while introducing the reader to 'bigger' philosophical ideas about education, its form, function, role and purpose within a rapidly changing world.

In summary, this book is one which I would exhort teachers, and indeed teacher educators to read.  It is grounded in a strong reality of contemporary education practice, while at the same time presents the academic and intellectual challenge that is helpful, indeed necessary, for those teachers engaged in continuing professional development.