Review: Outstanding Lessons

Outstanding Lessons
Outstanding Lessons by Ross Morrison McGill
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Before I talk about the book I wanted to give a little background about myself that might put the review into perspective. I like reading and I read a lot of books, but nearly all fiction. I find non-fiction and research material tedious and slow going. I’ve had a number of books about assessment in schools sat on my shelf waiting for me to start reading them – and I’ve never got more than a chapter or two in. This could have influenced my view of the book, as could the fact that there are lots of ideas in the book that I either use already or can’t use in my setting.

Anyhow on to the book. I decided to order a copy of this book because my twitter stream was full of people who had purchased the book. Others were saying how they had used some of the ideas from the book and had good observation feedback as a result. I decided to part with my cash – opting for a paper copy rather than buying for my Kindle (I think reference material is better on paper).

The book arrived and the first thing that struck me is the size – it’s a compact paperback with small print. The pages aren’t full of text but instead the main text flows down the centre of the page in paragraphs with ‘tips’ and the odd hashtag (yes – hashtags in a paper book!) down the sides.

My initial feeling when flicking through the book was one of disappointment – I didn’t think the book lived up to the ‘hype’ on Twitter, although you can’t fault the book for that. When I go on CPD I always look for things packaged up that I can take away with me and slot straight into my own teaching. I did like some of the ideas in this book but the majority of the book left me feeling distinctly unimpressed.

If you follow lots of teachers on Twitter (like I do) then you come to pigeon hole some of the more prolific posters into certain stereotypes. Reading this book made me think of the ‘trendy’ teacher, using ideas and terminology that is in fashion. That might just be my opinion (I am getting a little long in the tooth now and my teaching styles are starting to look a little old school) but a review is an expression of one’s opinion. The title also made me think that the book would be 100 teaching ideas but instead some the ideas relate to the culture you build that leads to outstanding learning – an important but subtle difference.

Some of the chapters were of little use to me – for example the chapter 23 is called #bananas. After a page full of text we learn that it might be useful to use your marking to inform planning (perhaps next a chapter about teaching your granny to suck eggs?). Another chapter talks about the gherkin in a burger. I read this expecting some tangy tasty tip I could throw into my lesson – but the chapter concludes with a short list suggested by tweeting teachers about lesson planning.

Other chapters that I didn’t find useful referred to strategies and ideas that I already use like mini-whiteboards (these are hardly new, they appeared with the National Strategies). A chapter is devoted to Bloom’s taxonomy which all staff at our school use when planning (we starting to move out of special measures). Another chapter refers to Pose, Pause, Pounce, Bounce (which Dylan Wiliam explains well on YouTube) which I’ve run training on in my own school.

I’m painting rather a negative picture of this book and that doesn’t mean that it isn’t useful to others (and Twitter will bear witness to this). My setting (special education) means that some of the ideas in the book aren’t relevant to my teaching, and the nature of my students means we do a lot of hands-on practical activities.

If you are the type of teacher who needs to be told how to use a TA (perhaps by involving them in planning…) then this could be the book for you. I’ve tried returning to this book several times in case my opinion changed and unfortunately it hasn’t. I have several teachers and school leaders in my family and when we were catching up over Christmas the topic of this book came up. I wasn’t sure if to be relieved or disappointed that we shared the same opinion of it.

Don’t let this review put you off – I’m in a different position to lots of teachers having accessed and run CPD for teachers, ASTs and school leaders I doubt I fitted into the target audience for this book. I will continue to flick through this book and share it with my colleagues at work who might find it more useful than I did.

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