Learning and Teaching in the Primary Classroom


Maurice Galton

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    List of Figures and Tables

    • 2.1 KS2 national curriculum results (English) 1995–2005 16
    • 2.2 KS2 national curriculum results (Mathematics) 1995–2005 17
    • 2.3 Year 6 pupils' enjoyment of primary school 21
    • 2.4 Open v. closed questions 26
    • 3.1 A typology of knowledge acquisition 33
    • 3.2 How pupils think and learn: working models 44
    • 3.3 A classification of thinking skills 46
    • 4.1 The concept of flow 51
    • 4.2 Key steps in direct instruction 58
    • 5.1 Knowledge, learning and pedagogy 75
    • 5.2 Academic tasks 80
    • 5.3 Knowledge, pedagogy and feedback 87
    • 5.4 A possible cross-curriculum project plan 90
    • 6.1 Example worksheet for dealing with behaviour problems 103
    • 7.1 Example of a semi-rural primary school's discipline policy 115
    • Table 2.1 Year 6 pupils' attitudes to core subjects (2001–2005) 21
    • Table 2.2 The pattern of teachers' statements 26
    • Table 4.1 Instructional process for facilitating student learning 54
    • Table 4.2 Ten key features in teaching for understanding 67
    • Table 5.1 Effect sizes associated with various types of feedback 88
    • Table 6.1 Key phases of group work training 98


    I would like to acknowledge the following sources for allowing me to use these extracts:

    Dr. Adrienne Alton-Lee, Chief Educational Adviser of the New Zealand Ministry of Education, and the late Professor Graham Nuthall for permission to use part of a lesson transcript on cold fronts that is reproduced on pages 55–57.

    Leicestershire County Council for permission to reproduce Figure 6.1 taken from their publication, Out from Behind the Desk: A practical guide to groupwork skills and, processes.

    David Moseley, Director of the Learning and Skills Development Agency Project, An Evaluation of Thinking Skill Taxonomies for post-16 Learners, and colleagues at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, for permission to include Figure 3.3 which is based on their version in a paper given at an ESRC seminar and subsequently reproduced in a modified form in an article in the June 2005 edition of the British Educational Research Journal.

    Dr K.K. Chan, Principal Assistant Secretary (Curriculum Development) Hong Kong Education and Manpower Board, for permission to incorporate part of Figure 5.4, which was taken from a draft of the Hong Kong Senior Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Study Guide on Teaching and Learning.

    McGraw Hill for permission to use part of a transcript on page 61 illustrating wait time, which was taken from Chapter 8 of Mary Budd Rowe's book, Teaching Science as Continuous Inquiry.


    To Matthew, who had great primary teachers, not-so-good secondary ones, but came good in the end.


    This book is a sequel to one that I wrote some years ago on teaching in the primary classroom. In that book I tried to respond to the charges regarding poor teaching and the insistence by politicians that they had rescued schools from the ravages of the 1960s' progressive trends. At the same time I noted the increased pressure on primary teachers that had resulted from the introduction of the National Curriculum and the increased emphasis on testing. A sequel, Crisis in the Primary Classroom (1995), attempted to spell out the consequences of these policy initiatives on classroom pedagogy. Little did I think at the time that New Labour, despite increased funding, would make matters worse in many respects. The increased emphasis on a performance rather than a learning culture in our schools (one recent education minister told me that performance was the only acceptable measure of learning) has led to a drastic dip in pupil attitudes, a lowering of morale among teachers, an impoverished curriculum and a restricted pedagogy. Even the limited gains in so-called ‘basics’ (contested by other independent research studies) seem to have peaked in recent years. When excellent, dedicated teachers are leaving the profession because:

    ‘After all my years in teaching I feel that my methods and opinions are worthless. With every new initiative we have to throw away other tried and tested methods that worked for us,’


    ‘I'm not looking for a career with more money; I'm looking for a career with more levels of satisfaction. I want to be challenged by things I want to be challenged by. At the moment I just feel challenged by everything and I want to be challenged by things which I feel have real value,’

    while those who stay say:

    ‘I wouldn't enter the profession now for £1,000 per week. It's stressful and socially destroying. I just love the children: that's why I continue,’1

    then there is a serious problem of teacher professionalism which needs to be addressed urgently without recourse to the meaningless jargon and catch-all phrases to be found in much of the advice that emerges from the Department for Education and Skills Standards Unit and those responsible for coordinating the National Primary Strategy. Above all, teachers wish to regain control of pedagogy; the right to teach in ways which best promote the learning of the children in their charge, rather than adopting the rigid frameworks of the Literacy and Numeracy hours. There are signs that this battle is now being waged successfully, by some schools openly and by others stealthily. One difficulty is that for teachers under the age of 30, the National Curriculum and the associated targeting and testing regimes constituted their whole experience of schooling and teaching. There are, therefore, a decreasing number of practitioners who can remember what it was like before the reforms. Hence the purpose of this book: to set out some of the pedagogic principles that promote ‘deep’ rather than ‘surface’ learning and that encourage pupils to think for themselves.

    For most of my career in education, spanning over 30 years, I have sat in the back of classrooms observing teachers teach and pupils learn. Beginning with the study of science teaching, then a series of studies over two decades following the ORACLE (Observational and Classroom Learning Evaluation) Project, the research has concerned such aspects as grouping and group work, curriculum provision in small schools, transfer to secondary school and, more recently, the way that artists, writers, dancers and actors motivate children who appear to lack the confidence to learn under normal classroom conditions. At times the research has involved working alongside teachers in order to gain better insights into what they did in the classroom and why they did it. I am grateful to the hundreds of teachers who allowed me the privilege of watching them teach and who were kind enough to spend precious time helping me better understand the complexities of daily classroom life. To my colleagues, in both Leicester and Cambridge, I also owe a debt of gratitude, but particularly to my collaborators in much of this research; Linda Hargreaves and Tony Pell, who have always been on hand to restrain me from more fanciful interpretations of the evidence. The views expressed here have been heavily influenced by their critical observations although I am, of course, responsible for what is set out on the following pages.

    Additionally, at the end of each chapter I have given a list of key references for readers who want to follow up specific issues. These are also included in the References section at the end of the book.

    Last, like many other authors, I have had trouble with current conventions. I have tried to avoid always referring to teachers in the singular as ‘she’ or ‘her’ unless it concerns a particular person, but confess defeat over the choice of student, child or pupil and have used each of these descriptors on various occasions.


    1 Quotations from A Life in Teaching? The Impact of Change on Primary Teachers' Working Lives by Maurice Galton and John MacBeath for the National Union of Teachers, June 2002.

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