Learning and Teaching

This post is a book review.  If you want to know the background to my approach to education this is where to find it.

The single best book I know on classroom teaching is Eric Sotto’s When Teaching Becomes Learning: a theory and practice of teaching (Cassell Education). To give both the theory of teaching and practical guidance on how to teach all in one book is quite an achievement. EricSotto does this. He writes clearly, engagingly and personally. He writes conversationally about how he came to teaching and his struggle to find out what worked, what didn’t and why.

He presents the theory clearly and interestingly, making clear where his ideas have come from. There is an extensive bibliography where you can learn more about the theories he has used.

The big idea in this book is: the teacher’s first job is to understand how people learn.

This seems so obvious to me now. But this was the first time I had seen this stated in a book about teaching (throughout a whole course devoted to education no book we were recommended ever pointed this out). For this he draws on humanistic psychology and mounts a critique of the ‘cognitivist’ approaches that are becoming common. His critique is thorough, well reasoned and devastating.

He also deals with what (de-)motivates students.

He understands that people are naturally curious and so the problem is not motivation but what gets in the way of student’s natural curiosity. The biggest demotivator for students in classrooms is criticism from the teacher.

I find it hard to praise this book highly enough. The clearly presented theory is not left up in the air. He gives examples of good and bad teaching and even a sample lesson planner. For me this is what you know about teaching between the covers of one book.

He doesn’t however go into the varieties different styles of activities and lessons. Kevin Barry and Len King’s Beginning Teaching and Beyond is good for this. They think that what is beyond beginning teaching is research – they are academics – I think, instead, that there is a lifetime of improving and enjoying our teaching.

2 Responses to “Learning and Teaching”

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