Book reviews

By Eve Rapley, Helen Corkill, Ann Hedges and David Mathew

Peer-Group Mentoring for Teacher Development

Hannu L. T. Heikkinen, Hannu Jokinen and Päivi Tynjälä (Eds.)

Routledge (2012)

Review by Eve Rapley

At first glance, a book that is written about teacher education within the Finnish school sector may not resonate with most academics working in a UK university. However, closer inspection of the chapters reveals a collection of themes that are beginning to emerge into the UK HE sector. Whilst within the school sector the notion of peer mentoring and the value of observing others in order to develop oneself is not in itself new, it is an area that has become increasing important for those who design HE professional development programmes for new academics in UK universities. Indeed, peer mentoring within UK universities for students as a means of developing a sense of identity and a community of practice has been gathering pace, particularly within the last 5 to 10 years.

The massification of HE and the increasingly diverse student body found within UK universities has thrown up many challenges and created an altogether different HE landscape from that which was seen 20 to 30 years ago. This seismic shift has brought about changes in the perceived identities and role of the university academic, with the 'teacher' and 'teaching' aspect coming into sharp focus at a time when the student experience increasingly becomes the epicentre of attention and activity for UK HEIs. With the advent of the HEA Fellowship scheme and the UKPSF (UK Professional Standards Framework), as well as HEIs providing professional development for academics in order that teaching should be 'engaging and professional', there is an increasing appetite for encouraging academics to develop their teaching practice via peer observation and reflection. There is also growing acknowledgement that mentoring as a means of developing inexperienced academics has many potential benefits.

Within this book, Heikkinen et al., have carefully drawn together a series of chapters which will provoke thought from the reader. Drawing on constructivist learning theories as well as those concerning formal and informal learning, communities of practice and of mentoring, they are all solidly underpinned by theoretical models and some respected and oft quoted authors. Clearly expressed with an accessible synergy between theory and practice, the book approaches teacher education with a sense of freshness and a desire to inspire and enhance both new and experienced school teachers. 

Whilst some chapters largely re-visit and reinforce ideas and philosophies explored in other similar texts, the coverage of Peer-Group Mentoring (PGM) does weave a thread of distinctiveness into the book. In a move away from the traditional model of the mentor as the master and the mentee as the novice, the PGM model champions the principle of reciprocity between all group members as being its defining and most potent feature. The straightforward presentation of the model, along with the empirical case studies, does much to paint a rich picture of its efficacy and benefit to those teachers who have participated in a PGM scheme. Indeed, this model of mutual benefit is often used as the framework upon which student group mentoring schemes are designed and used with success within the UK university sector. However, this text and akin to many of its predecessors, is likely to be blighted with the 'preaching to the converted' syndrome which can befall this kind of book. With the HE academic in mind, the content and persuasion of the book is likely only to attract attention from a select audience. Coupled with the narrow context in which the book is set, its claim that it is 'an indispensable reference tool for educationalists' is unlikely to realised; at least not within the UK HE sector just yet. As the move to professionalise HE teaching gathers pace and greater numbers of academics work towards the UKPSF, there is likely to be more appetite for PGM and other allied approaches to professional development being embraced more widely and more strongly within the HE sector.

Whilst the book unquestionably has a potentially wider ripple out and interest than one might imagine at first glance, its narrow range of focus is likely to deter many academics outside of school teacher educator from going beyond the front cover.

Developing Effective Part-time Teachers in Higher Education. New approaches to professional development

Fran Beaton and Amanda Gilbert (Eds.)

Routledge (2013)

Review by Helen Corkill

This book provides a highly valuable and timely addition to the limited international literature available on the growing utilisation of, and roles played by, part-time academic staff in higher education institutions. Evoking images of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, Tony Brand writing in the Foreword refers to part-time academic staff as 'the lost (or invisible) tribe'. The metaphor of being 'lost' is developed further through reference to the varying definitions and terminology employed across the globe to describe non full-time academic staff. Notions of being 'invisible' are explored through references to absence or exclusion from faculty teams, core organisational functions or staff development schemes.

The book is divided into three sections which nominally cover contextual considerations, policy and practice, and implications for future developments. The sequencing of the chapters did not seem to flow seamlessly, which is perhaps less of a concern for the selective reader but slightly irksome for the continuous reader. There were also places, perhaps inevitably in such a volume, where some repetition of ideas and arguments appeared. The central theme of the book is positioned against the rapidly changing context of higher education internationally, where in many higher education systems, upwards of 40% of academic staff are now employed on a part-time basis. The book explores the possible reasons for this growing sector, including economic necessity in a time of expansion of student numbers, changing employment-related curricula, increasingly specialised areas of expertise and demands for flexibility of delivery.

In their respective chapters, Amanda Gilbert and Bland Tomkinson both provide useful typologies of the nature of and roles played by part-time teaching staff. Throughout many chapters, the book affords more detailed and revealing glimpses of the life of the part-time teacher from the varied viewpoints of academic staff, doctoral student, academic developer and institutional management. The book considers the ways in which institutions deploy their part-time academic staff, seemingly often for covering populous first-year lectures and less favourable days and times in the week. No explicit mention is made, however, of the additional challenges of using part-time staff to teach part-time students. The book also addresses policy and practice within professional development for staff. Anne Lee's chapter raises the continuing debate as to whether teacher training should be compulsory or voluntary for full-time academic staff, and further considers the additional complexities of the requirements and provision for part-time staff.

This book therefore provides a very useful addition to the international field of literature on part-time academic staff. It should be recommended reading for all human resource, higher education and academic development managers.

New Perspectives in Special Education: Contemporary Philosophical Debates

Michael Farrell

Routledge (2012)

Review by Ann Hedges

When I first saw this book, my initial reaction was 'Oh what have I let myself in for'. My background is in learning disability nursing, and while special education does play a part within the nursing curriculum, it is in a limited way. However, I do have an interest in the subject, particularly in integrating children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Several of my Link areas are Schools.

Initially reading the text from cover to cover, I found it very heavy going. This negatively coloured my view of the book. I think few people would read it through in the way I had, as most people would dip in and out, looking at particular issues of interest. Having dipped in and out, I can appreciate the strengths of the text more.

I found the layout of the book very helpful. At the beginning, there is a detailed summary of the content of chapters, which has proved very helpful while writing this review, and I am sure will be useful when looking for appropriate content. In most chapters there is also a section which looks at the Implications for Thinking and Practice of the particular issues identified in the chapter. Thinking Points are also included at the end of each chapter, which allows for reflection on what has been read. If the book is used as a course text, these could be used as discussion points.

The first two chapters which explored definitions of disability were interesting, particularly from a learning disability nursing point of view. The terms 'disability' and 'difficulty' are frequently interchanged, which leads to confusion and inaccurate recognition of care needs, even by health professionals. The sociological implications of disability are also well explored. In some places I felt there was some repetition, or the content is poorly ordered. For example, Piaget is introduced in one chapter, with an evaluation of his ideas, while Piaget's stages of development are not explored fully until the following chapter. The remaining chapters explore in depth a number of psychological and philosophical theories which underpin special education. At the end of the book there is a discussion on practical application of the theories explored within the curriculum, considering issues such as resources and assessment.

So who would find this book useful? Student nurses now only have a short three-week placement in a learning disability environment, and while for many this will be in a special needs school, I feel much of the content is too deep for them. Some aspects may be appropriate for some student nurses. For example, some child branch students may find the discussion on the work of Piaget and child development stages of particular interest; and for mental health students, the chapter on psychoanalysis may be of interest. However, I think the people who would find this book most useful would be those involved in Education and Special Education. For students, it would be a valuable resource, while for those already in special education it would be a useful reference book to update and enhance their existing knowledge base.

Adult Learning and la Recherche Féminine: Reading Resilience and Hélène Cixous

Elizabeth Chapman Hoult

Palgrave Macmillian (2012)

Review by David Mathew

'Finding a place in which the dead can speak is a central concern of this work.'

It is fair to say that very few of the books that we receive for review contain many sentences like this. Then again, not many books about pedagogy or education use words like 'Ecdysis' as chapter headings either, or contain sections entitled 'The Risks Involved in Dancing with Snakes' or detailed analyses of the work of playwright David Mamet. In fact, this is one of the most original and entertaining books I have ever read. So impressive and thought-provoking is it that the space allotted for this review could easily be taken up by a consideration of the first chapter alone. Such is the quality of the writing that the temptation is to quote well-chosen phrases in the hope of convincing other people of one's opinion.

This is a book about adult learners who persevere against difficult odds. It is 'an attempt to read resilient learning through texts not normally included in educational research studies – myth, poetry, drama, and autobiography' – such as Educating Rita or The Winter's Tale. By itself this would seem interesting and ambitious, but the author goes one step further by introducing a lens through which to view the whole proceedings: this lens is the work of Hélène Cixous, whose writings provided the author with 'a theoretical basis from which to challenge the central pessimism of Bourdieu's theory and the limitations of applying Derrida's philosophical language to real-life learners.' The author adds: 'It has also enabled me to think much more deeply about the connections between reading, writing, and survival.'

How often, I wonder, do we consider our learners as survivors? We can usually think of a specific example of someone who has made the pedagogic journey and refused to give up, even when giving up was what most of us would do in the same circumstances. But survivors? While the book's title might lead a reader into an (incorrect) assumption that the book will be a feminist or even post-feminist deconstruction of academe (or of pedagogy), there are even more complicated readings of resilience offered up; and as a book to revisit, it will make you think and it will make you humble. It might even make you grateful; it certainly made me feel grateful – happy that I travelled on when I was tempted to stop.

I hope I can be forgiven the inclusion of such an autobiographical gobbet. I submit that it would be difficult not to think about your own learning and your learners as you read Elizabeth Chapman Hoult's words. Adult Learning and la Recherche Féminine is a rare discovery. It isn't often that a book impresses me as much as this one did, and I hereby salute the author's acuity and skill.

(Elizabeth Chapman Hoult has written an article for the JPD. It appears next in this issue. – Eds.)


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