Book Review: Making Every Primary Lesson Count by Jo Payne and Mel Scott

My next review as part of my Reading Challenge 2018, for more details on this see here; a must read for all primary/elementary teachers.

“Success cannot be defined by the government or a test and it certainly isn’t about labeling children. It is unique and personal to each individual, and it is our job as teachers to help our pupils experience it, in whatever way is appropriate to them.” (p.152)

This epitomizes all that Payne and Scott have tried to achieve in this book; for me at least, they’ve made the ‘job’ or the pedagogy of excellent teaching more clear in my classroom. As a teachers then, we are success-enablers for each of our pupils – what an amazing role in young peoples lives!

 Building on Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison’s work ‘Making Every Lesson Count’, Jo Payne and Mel Scott apply their findings directly to the primary phase.

This book aims to answer the pertinent question:

‘If we are to make every lesson count, what simple and manageable actions have the greatest impact on learning?’

Jo Payne and Mel Scott answer eloquently with ‘Making Every Primary Lesson Count’. Drawing on recent research and decades of professional experience, they tease out six principles of excellent teaching that have high impact on learning. These principles are: challenge, explanation, modeling, practice, questioning and feedback and each have a dedicated chapter in the book. When exploring each principle, the underpinning evidence, personal experiences of the authors and practical strategies for implementation are discussed by the authors, providing teachers with clear ways that they can embed them in their practice. I am beginning to write about these principles here and here.

Before this book, I’d read a few helpful works on practical tips and tricks to engage pupils, get them to behave well or advise me as a practitioner on how to deliver an ‘outstanding’ lesson. This book isn’t like that. It looks beyond piecemeal tips and tricks to principles of effective teaching that transcend Ofsted criteria or hand me down techniques with minimal evidence. From these six principles, it draws out strategies that can be applied to a range of primary contexts. This is a must read for anyone looking to deepen their pedagogical reasoning or pick up tried and tested strategies that can be implemented quickly in the classroom.

Whether you are in your training year or have been primary teaching for a decade or more, this book is still well worth a read. As a teacher with a few years experience prior to my formal training, I found myself ‘knowing a few things already’ in this book, however, that didn’t make it a waste of reading time – I found research and practical strategies to further deepen my understanding of those topics to further aid my practice. Jo Payne and Mel Scott are clearly exemplary practitioners – who wouldn’t want to learn from them by reading this book?

Furthermore, this is not a long and arduous read. At only 157 pages, it took me about a week, reading about twenty minutes a day. One benefit to its compact nature is that for the first time ever, I found myself engaging with the reflection questions at the end of each chapter; at the end of each principle, I was left thinking about how I might use the wisdom of Jo and Mel’s strategies and make them happen in my classroom.

Each chapter attempts to explain the core principles that support great teaching and learning (as already discussed) and then moves progressively through to more practical ways to implement them. Where research or other sources are used, they assume no prior understanding of concepts and articulate the ideas and their relationship with the principles in a clear way for someone who might not be acquainted with the evidence; this is a real strength to the work. The stories from Jo, Mel and others classrooms that they use throughout the chapters give the book a reflective, almost biographical feel, which makes it more than a teaching manual.

A variety of well-chosen research is used to underpin each principle but it is not exhaustive. However, for me as a reader, if I wanted a book that reviewed a wide range of evidence, I’d look to John Hattie, Robin Alexander or E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s works amongst others. Personally, I feel as though core strengths of this book are its use of prominent bloggers thoughts, such as Michael Tidd, their own experiences and the experiences of their colleagues (which are vast) to argue for their values, principles and strategies and why they matter in the primary classroom. Because of their clear explanations of how some of these strategies work, for me as a practitioner, I felt well equipped to walk into my classroom on Monday morning beginning to at least think about how I might put some of them into action.

Without giving too much about the principles away, the most instant impact on my practice was the first chapter on challenge. It led me to consider some of Ron Berger’s work on excellence that helped me see how this is the bedrock of excellent teaching. Pupils love to be challenged! Once I realized this and reflected on how I could implement it in my classroom, I noticed a huge change in attitude in all of my pupils, with them willing to relish any task I gave them, even if they failed first time.

“Success cannot be defined by the government or a test and it certainly isn’t about labeling children. It is unique and personal to each individual, and it is our job as teachers to help our pupils experience it, in whatever way is appropriate to them.” (p.152)

This epitomizes all that Payne and Scott have tried to achieve in this book; for me at least, they’ve made the ‘job’ or the pedagogy of excellent teaching more clear in my classroom. As a teachers then, we are success-enablers for each of our pupils – what an amazing role in young peoples lives!

If you are interested in reading a book that gives you the thinking tools, principles and values of excellent teaching, with a smattering of great strategies thrown in, then this is the book for you. As a practitioner, I now feel able to more critically consider some of the piecemeal techniques that are bandied around schools and think deeply about whether they align with my values and my classroom environment.

Thanks Jo and Mel!

 

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