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Book Review

Teaching for Success cover
'Teaching for Success, The Brain-friendly Revolution in Action'
by Mark Fletcher
(Brain-Friendly Publications)

Review written by David Holden,
Teacher Trainer at the BLC in Madrid

Essentially, this book is a series of ideas for the TEFL teacher and educationalists in general and intends to cover almost any topic to do with teaching, learning and the brain. The topics, laid out as a collection of mini-texts and activities, are designed for teachers to dip into, rather than follow chronologically and are grouped around six chapters: Your Amazing Brain, The Treasure Chest, Learning Styles and Memory, Affective Approaches, Applications and The Way Forward.

The contents are laid out in both a list and mind-map form. Each section ends with a "ponder point" or a mind map which acts as a review. Because of its lack of a strict systematic approach, personally, I found it a bit difficult to usefully access parts of the book. Some pages are quite text-heavy and could be livened up by highlighting or more carefully laid out bullet points. Others give the impression of being unnecessarily spread-out. A comprehensive indexing system at the start of each section would have helped along with more cross-referencing.

The first section, Your Amazing Brain gives an overview of the makeup of the brain and then mentions left/right hemisphere learning. There is a list of characteristics but I think this chapter could have included a quiz or questionnaire type activity to better exploit this topic area.

The Treasure Chest section deals with " Methaphors at the heart of learning." It contains a list of "symbolic reminders", for example, The Business Card which reminds the author that he's a professional or a (woman's) garter which symbolises the need for support for the Teacher and Student. I appreciate the thinking behind it but to be honest, I found this section to be the least useful and the most lacking in useful content. As an awareness-building activity it was moderately interesting but I prefer more practical tips and examples. For example, a teacher's real experiences/ ideas, realistic case studies?

The Learning Styles - and Memory section provides a focus on whether the teacher is a visual/ auditory or kinaesthetic learner, followed by some activities and hints to do with memory. Some of these were useful reminders but not 100% new. For example, you remember better if information is linked together , if there's an emotional charge etc. Perhaps this could have been linked to the actual classroom with some specific ideas for areas like vocabulary learning?

The Affective Approaches section contains a brief run-down of terms and ideas ranging from brain waves to Humanistic Psychology to mind maps to Neuro-Linguistic Programming etc. . These references are cross-linked to later activities and it was nice to see the principles simply laid-out. Again, I would have appreciated more practice activities and more reference to actual classroom situations. Later on, there is a useful section on Multiple Intelligence Theory with some nice photocopiable activities but these are designed for teachers to use by themselves or in training sessions as a kind of test. For example, they have to match "jazz chants" with "musical". There are more activities to do with groups and references to Suggestopaedia. Again this material is really for in-service training at a post-CELTA level but I think that trainees at that level would need further input.

The Applications section deals with areas like using images, colours, mind maps etc. There are some useful ideas in this section. For example, for using classroom drawings more effectively, relaxation and "brain gym" activities. I was struck by the metaphor of considering a lesson like a meal- formal banquet vs. pick and choose buffet party vs. child's birthday party!!

In the final section The Way Forward, an interesting "YES BUT" deals with possible objections and the book ends with a rundown of the author's top team e.g. Rita Rationale, Vera Visualise, Freda Fun and Games et al and with a list of tips and hints.

My overall opinion is that Teaching for Success is a useful resource book with activities and readings for a teacher trainer to dip into for in-service training courses or for a teacher to read for their own development. I felt the book was lacking "meat" in some areas and personally, I wasn't 100% enamoured of its style and layout. At times it seems to be too highly pitched, in that it deals with quite dense and useful ideas without the benefit of enough do-able and use-able activities. On the other hand, someone wanting to investigate areas like NLP, Multiple Intelligences etc. in more detail, especially for use in the classroom might be better off starting off with a book like Knowing Me, Knowing You (reviewed on this site) or dive straight in with , for example In Your Hands ( Jane Revell and Susan Norman) which covers NLP in far more detail. Having said that, Teaching for Success is definitely worth looking at.

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