Book reviews

By Jennifer P. Gray, Helen Corkill, Mark Atlay, Kate D'Arcy, Steve Briggs and Claire Burgess.

Thinking Out Loud on Paper

Lil Brannon, Sally Griffin, Karen Haag, Tony Iannone, Cindy Urbanski, and Shana Woodward

Heinemann (2008)*

Review/Commentary by Jennifer P. Gray

Thinking Out Loud on Paper discusses the use of the 'daybook' in writing classrooms. These six writers/teachers/researchers collaborated to share their experiences and their rationale for using the daybook in their writing classes. The authors describe the daybook as 'a tool that we use in our daily lives with our students, as teacher researchers, as writers' (p. 1). The daybook is a 'hardcover notebook with stitched-in pages' that are difficult to remove, which allows students 'to gradually let go of the perfectionism they have learned to expect of themselves' (p. 12). Teacher/Researcher Ralph Fletcher describes daybook contents as 'stuff' that 'defies description' that students can repeatedly revisit as 'readers, writers, and thinkers' (p. 12). The authors indicate that the daybook is more than a diary or journal focusing on 'just the students' personal and often private thoughts' (p. 12). Instead, the daybook is designed to be a place for 'freely sharing writing, ideas and language' that can provide writers with a place 'to think and develop' (pp. 19, 23). The six writers collectively stress the need to 'nurture natural curiosity and questioning to create a nation of thinkers and give people the power to make and question meaning' (p. 127). The daybook is one of the tools these writers use as they strive for this goal.

The authors provide readers with practical suggestions concerning the use of the daybook in the classroom setting as well as the theoretical explanations behind these practical techniques. Readers will find examples of ready-to-use successful classroom activities with student sample responses, and the theoretical reasons behind why these activities help writers. Teachers can pluck activities from the pages of this text and have a clear understanding of the theory behind the practice. The six writers have different backgrounds, varying from university professor to elementary school teacher, and they each share how the daybook can be used in a variety of situations, from fourth-grade classes to a senior-seminar class to teacher professional development meetings. One commonality the authors share is participation in the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's National Writing Project.

The text begins by discussing what a daybook is, how to use it, how to introduce it to students, and why writers benefit from their encounters with daybooks. There are chapters that discuss digital daybooks and how to assess daybooks. The assessment process, also called a 'daybook defense,' shows readers how to provide meaningful feedback and evaluation that gives 'students ownership over the assessment of this important work through reflection' (pp. 85, 89). In this case, assessment is more than just surveillance or checking for completion; students and teachers are co-participators in the assessment process that encourages critical and self-reflective thinking. Five of the writers provide commentary about their experiences with daybook assessment, and they even include sample assessments completed by their students. Readers will find daybook assessment plans for classes including college writing courses, high school English, and elementary school interdisciplinary subjects.

A special chapter highlights the importance and empowerment of teacher research and how the daybook can become a 'place for teachers to record experience and change practice' (p. 111). Teachers are advised to keep a daybook alongside their students for the maximum benefit. The writers believe that sharing their work, including failure and success, 'demystifies the writing process and draws students and teachers into a community of writers' (p. 19). The text concludes with the six writers' voices and comments from their students as they reflect on the transformative power of the daybook in their lives as writers, thinkers, and researchers.

In an era of standardized writing tests that focuses on a timed one-shot production method of composition, there is a need for students to slow down to experience their writing process, to live with their ideas, to collect them and reflect on them prior to producing a paper. Most importantly, the daybook makes thinking visible. The space allows writers to gather their thoughts and then have a place to make sense of them. Writers can use the daybook as a catch-all space, a spare closet of collected ideas that otherwise have no other place to go. The daybook 'captures students' thinking' and reflection, making them visible for writers and for their readers (p. 13). Encouraging writing as a means of thinking provides a welcome change to the one-shot production of formulaic writing assignments: 'A daybook works well in classrooms that are concerned with what and how children learn and where teachers are curious about what and how children think' (p. 13). The authors believe that the daybook is the 'single most powerful tool' they can put into the hands of their students (p. 16). After reviewing this text, it is also clear that daybooks can be the single most powerful tool for teachers to see our 'thinking out loud on paper' (p. 13).

(*Editors' Note: The above is something of a departure for us. It's usually the case that we run reviews that have been written by UoB staff, although this has never been a rule of any kind and external submissions are always welcome. Jennifer Gray, from the College of Coastal Georgia (Brunswick, GA, U.S.A.) sent us this review/commentary in the form of a short article entitled 'Celebrating the Power of Curiosity and Creativity by Thinking Out Loud on Paper'. We were unable to use it in its original presentation, but we liked the piece enough to run it as a review, even though we usually review books no older than the previous year of publication. As always, the book reviews appear in the order that they were received.)

Informal Learning at Work

Paul Matthews

Three Faces Publishing (2013)

Review by Helen Corkill

Informal Learning at Work is an interesting and timely book for a variety of reasons. It is not primarily intended or presented as an academic book. The fact that it is written by a workplace learning and development professional with a wealth of practical experience provides the first compelling reason why the book offers engaging reading for those working in higher education. Stripped of most academic writing conventions, it is also eminently readable.

Although not the author's intention, the book provides an interesting looking-glass into the world of contemporary higher education and how the learning offered there links, or fails to link, to workplace learning. The book provides a refreshing insight into the 'knowing-doing gap', whereby knowing is not the same as doing and what happens in the classroom (whether at a university or an industry training department) is often worlds apart from what occurs in the workplace. As the author observes wryly in the first chapter, university academics spend their time 'researching and arguing over the definitions of informal learning' while industry learning and development professionals concentrate on introducing ever more formalised workplace learning schemes. Meanwhile, very significant economic and technological changes are impacting on the way learning actually occurs in the workplace. This in turn is impacting on the conditions, content and context of work.

Although essentially offering little that is new, the book nevertheless encourages us to re-think what we actually mean by learning and how we know that learning has actually occurred. The book provides a useful reminder of the concept of learning as a multidimensional activity placed on a continuum from the formal to the informal. Synergies with shifts in higher education pedagogies are interesting, as the author considers workplace learning in terms of being naturally occurring, task conscious, acquisition, and push and pull. He positions these alongside such support mechanisms as flash mentoring and action learning groups within the context of an agile learning organisation. The roles and uses of new technologies are also considered within this, with an interesting section on the sharing of knowledge through the use of social network analysis (SNA).

While fully accepting that this is a not a book written to rigid academic conventions, the exclusion of complete references at some key points is occasionally irksome. The writing style of interspersing extremely short paragraphs into the text (presumably intended for emphasis) was also frustrating at times, especially where these did not permit the adequate development of an interesting point. On the positive side, the book is well illustrated throughout by thumbnail sketches and statistics drawn from a wide variety of organisations, which provides useful insights into areas such as skills shortages and development needs.

As universities are increasingly focussed on enhancing graduate employability, ever more attempts are made to incorporate different types of work-related learning into the higher education curriculum. These need to include consideration of the changing ways of informal workplace learning. This well-timed volume therefore supplies a valuable insight into the types of learning that occur naturally in the workplace and although not the prime intention of the book, provokes thought as to how some of these could be translated usefully into higher education learning activities.

Styles of Practice in Higher Education: Exploring approaches to teaching and learning

Carol Evans and Maria Kozhevnikov (Eds.)

Routledge book search: Carol Evans and Maria Kozhevnikov

Routledge (2013)

Review by Mark Atlay

This book is a collection of papers previously published in a special edition of Research Papers in Education (vol 26(2) 2011). Since all of the papers are readily accessible through the University's library it's not immediately clear why anyone would wish to purchase a hardback version (priced at £85) and most academics interested in this area are likely to have access through their own libraries. The value in such a publication is possibly in the way in which it might summarise work in the field or provide a reader to accompany postgraduate study. However, no attempt has been made to update the cited references (a few of which refer to in press 2011) and the introduction provides a limited review of the literature and largely serves to introduce the articles in the publication. Thus the purpose of the book as a standalone publication is unclear.

Having doubted the value of a separate publication, those with an interest in learning styles, deep and surface processing, and related areas will find interesting material here. The papers demonstrate what a complex and murky area this can be. The evidence that students adopt different approaches to learning (deep, surface, strategic) is strong but the way in which individuals respond is changeable, context dependent and governed by a range of factors. The implications for curriculum designers are not always clear either. Attempts to introduce a curriculum that deliberately fostered a deep approach (through adopting a problem-based learning methodology) did induce some surface learners to adopt a deep approach. However, the change also led to around the same number of previously deep learners to adopt a surface approach.

Chapters challenge the notion that students from some cultures are pre-programmed to adopt a surface approach to learning and explore the effect of assessment and feedback on the ways in which students approach learning. Overall there is much here to stimulate debate about how we structure, deliver and assess our curriculum to meet the needs of our diverse student body – but access the journal, don't buy the book.

New Directions in Social Theory, Education and Embodiment

John Evans and Brian Davies (Eds.)

Routledge (2013)

Review by Kate D'Arcy

All of the chapters in this book were originally published in the Sport, Education and Society Journal, which gives some insight into the theme and context of the book. The editors have drawn on a variety of work in the field to compile the chapters in this book. Their authors specialise in subjects such as class, gender and sexuality, social identities and subjectivities in school settings, embodiment, bio-politics, human geography, visual research methods and ethnography, to name a few. Although these authors have varied research interests, their work also contains distinct similarities. The editors use this book to celebrate the theoretical and methodological diversity in the social sciences, while at the same time calling for border crossings between disciplines and perspectives of the social and bio-physical sciences. To do this they focus on the similarities within the study of body pedagogies with particular emphasis on embodiment, emplacement, enactment and subjectivity. The aim is to generate better understanding about the ways in which social and cultural reproduction occur within and beyond schools.

This book contains ten chapters which cover a wide range of topics. One of the first chapters concentrates on the skin industry and the different pressure on females across the world to have 'perfect' skin and bodies. Another chapter discusses how inequality is lived in the body; the author focuses her analysis on two films – Juno and Precious – to demonstrate how young women from different cultures and backgrounds negotiate their teenage pregnancy. I particularly enjoyed this chapter; having seen both films I could easily relate to the arguments and points the author was making around social class and race inequality. The use of films to analyse inequality was found to be an interesting and engaging method. The other chapter I particularly enjoyed was one focused on urban walking and pedagogies of the street. In this chapter the author discusses the history and ways in which we walk for different reasons. We might march in protest, or we can walk for religious purposes. The author asserts the educational value of going for a walk because walking can provide insight into our local communities and environment, a better understanding of individual's lives and the use of urban space. The author argues that walking is the perfect exercise as it provides gentle exercise, stress relief and reconnects us with our localities.

Other chapters made me think more critically about physical activity and inactivity, particularly the time and opportunities for children and the moral panics surrounding increasingly sedentary lives and child obesity. One reports on a particular research project into children's use of TV. They suggest that children use TV to resist their increasingly busy and chaotic daily lives. It is noted that the chaos and pressure comes from new technologies which produce faster lifestyles with longer time commitments, leaving little time for proper relaxation. The author discusses the way in which children and their parents use TV as an aid for much needed time-out and relaxation.

Other topics within this book include anti-obesity campaigns and the production of healthy bodies and look at how schools perceive children's bodies and the demands and time restrictions they place on their bodily functions.

The book brings together an interesting array of new perspectives on a range of topics located with the social sciences, with emphasis on the human body and its relationships with various different environments, experiences and influences. This book will be of interest to those in the social sciences, and readers interested in the body and physical activity. It will be useful for those teaching or working in schools or education. As a range of different perspectives and research approaches are provided, it is also likely to be of interest to those studying child development and childhoods today, or those undertaking their own research.

Preparing for your Future: Study Skills to get ready for university, college and work

Angela Hepworth

Universe of Learning Ltd. (2013)

Review by Steve Briggs

Searching Amazon (UK) for 'study skills' books generates almost 80,000 results. This highlights how saturated this market is becoming. Consequently, it is important that new titles have some form of unique selling point (USP). At first glance, a possible USP for this book is length. The book only comprises around 115 pages (of which around 40 are dedicated to title, contents and exercises). Considering the target audience (students about to commence Higher Education (HE)), I would anticipate that such a parsimonious introduction to study skills could be popular.

The first chapter provides an overview of factors to consider when selecting a college or university. Areas that are addressed include course selection, scholarships, completing an application, preparing to commence studies and how university differs from school. If a student has never considered attending university then he or she is likely to find this chapter useful. If, however, a student has already undertaken some preliminary research around attending university then it is unlikely that this chapter will provide anything new.

Chapter 2 sets out the study skills that students need to master in order to be successful within HE. This is by far the largest part of the book, comprising 62 pages. In brief, this chapter addresses areas such as assignment planning and writing, time management, presentation skills, criticality, referencing and examinations. Some consideration as to how a degree can be enriched (for instance, through volunteering) is also included. Given the size of the book it is unsurprising that topics are covered briefly (for example, 5 pages are dedicated to note taking / 2 pages to presentations / 5 pages to essay writing – all inclusive of related exercises). This brevity might increase accessibility but left me feeling that additional reading would be needed in order to really support skill development.

The section of chapter 2 that addresses referencing (pp.68 — 72) could be confusing for prospective students. Hepworth states: '…the best system to use is the Harvard system as your lecturers will understand it and think it to be the professional way to treat references' (p.69). For some students this advice will be incorrect. For example, many psychology students adopt American Psychological Association conventions whereas OSCOLA conventions are commonly used within law. Given the target audience, I believe such a sweeping statement would have been best avoided.

Chapter 3 includes an overview of 'skills development for employability'. This relates to areas such as leadership, motivation, team work and problem solving. Each area is briefly discussed and readers are encouraged to complete related exercises.

Chapter 4 summarises some of the areas to consider when attempting to find a job. It very briefly covers career searching, researching potential employers and constructing a CV. I would anticipate that students might find the lists of UK and US job search websites and 'key words' for inclusion in personal statements to be particularly useful. That said, some annotated examples of what good personal statements should look like would have strengthened this chapter.

I felt that this book would benefit from a glossary of key terms. Throughout the text there is terminology which might be unfamiliar to the target audience (such as 'module', 'course' or 'tutor'). However, I didn't feel these were properly explained prior to usage – this could cause confusion. Related to this, there may have been merit in explaining that such terms are not universally used within HE along with providing some alternatives that students might encounter (such as 'unit', 'programme' or 'lecturer').

The book would have also benefitted with some 'find out more' signposting at the end of each chapter. This could have directed readers to supplementary online materials developed by the author and/or to open access content (such as the excellent range of materials available via the Learn Higher website). Through doing this I believe that the author could have retained a short book length USP but given readers the opportunity to build on the basic introduction that is provided.

It was also a shame that there are parts of the book where proofreading could have been more robustly undertaken. For example, '…even though the cost of your degree may be a daunting prospect, the actual achievement on obtaining you degree can be such a gratification for all your hard work' (p.115).

In summary, many prospective university students may be intimidated by or unwilling to engage with substantial study skills textbooks. Consequently, there is real value in a short introduction to study skills aimed at students making the transition into HE. This book does provide a basic introduction to some key study skills and I believe would be accessible to many would-be students. However, I disagree with the testimonial on the back cover that '…this book provides all you need to know before going to study at university as well as throughout your course through to planning your career and future goals'.

The Little Book of Dyslexia

Joe Beech

Independent Thinking Press (2013)

Review by Claire Burgess

The Little Book of Dyslexia is sub-headed 'Both sides of the classroom', which frames the way this book has been written. The author is a trainee teacher who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of eight, and the book merges the dual perspectives of someone who experienced the education system with dyslexia and who is also preparing to educate others. Its stated audience is teachers but also students and parents, and in fact anyone who works/lives with someone who has dyslexia is likely to find some use from reading this book.

Joe Beech uses an open, almost chatty style in his writing which makes the book a very accessible read. The chapters have a natural progression through explaining what dyslexia is, to giving advice on how to best support dyslexic pupils through the different stages of school, to discussions on the use of technology, exams and teaching. It is therefore suitable as a dip-in-dip-out book but also a comprehensive read from start to end (and as it is a 'Little Book' as the title suggests, at 150 small pages you can do this practically in one sitting). He relies heavily on his own experience but that is a positive element of this book, as it gives the impression of him speaking from a position of knowledge and understanding, rather than someone who is solely reliant on research (he notably uses a substantial amount of research to back up his intuitions).

The opening chapters are enlightening with regard to myth-busting about dyslexia – for example that dyslexia is not a sign of being less able, and actually many people with dyslexia demonstrate high IQs (backed up at the end of the book by a celebration of many famous and successful people with dyslexia, including Richard Branson and Bill Gates). He gives a thought-provoking fact that 'more than 50 per cent of NASA employees are dyslexic, hired for their superior problem-solving and spatial awareness skills'. His stance is that dyslexic pupils need support to demonstrate what they can do rather than being labelled as having 'learning difficulties'. Beech states that as 10 per cent of the population have signs of dyslexia, there is a strong likelihood of a teacher having a dyslexic student in the classroom. He highlights that many remain undiagnosed, and weaves throughout the chapters signs to look out for in your pupils/children (not just 'poor spellers/readers' as the stereotype).

Alongside the information about the facts and signs of dyslexia, the book is crammed full of helpful hints and tips to support pupils with dyslexia. At the end of each school-focused chapter he gives 'ACBs' (Assessment, Classroom practice, Behaviour) which are practical suggestions to draw on to support and manage these pupils. His criticisms of the education system, both from his experiences as a pupil and now as a trainee teacher, are stark, but he makes them from the viewpoint of someone trying to work with the system and get the best from it, not change it (or be resigned to conformity). He discusses barriers such as focusing on weaknesses in dyslexic children, and emphasis on written work and handwriting, and gives suggestions on how to think around these. His chapter on technology is particularly useful, giving examples of software that has worked for him as a pupil and teacher (with an excellent 'planning flow chart' in place of a traditional lesson plan).

As an ex-teacher, I found this book refreshing and enlightening, with the focus on getting to know your dyslexic pupils and listening to them, treating them as individuals rather than 'one size fits all' (and also rather than assuming their support needs to come from the SENCO). Some of Beech's advice in the later stages of the book, around exam techniques and Higher Education, could arguably apply to any student, but it is still useful advice. I would recommend this book for both teachers and parents as a way of viewing dyslexia through a different lens, and as an inspirational source of ideas to support children with dyslexia to crash through the barriers that the education system can often put in the way of them demonstrating their potential.


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