I’ve read many books on education. Some have been very good, some ok, some distinctly average and a small number were so bad I stopped before I got to the end. Craig Barton’s “How I wish I’d taught maths” doesn’t fall into any of these categories because I think it is quite possibly the BEST education book I’ve ever read. Yes its pure focus is on teaching mathematics in a secondary situation which just so happens to be what I do for a living as well, but it is so much more than that and I am convinced that many of the ideas contained within this book would work equally well in primary schools and across other subjects at secondary level.
Craig distils what he’s learned from his teaching career (and the mistakes he’s made) in a book which is an organised elaboration of his fantastic website. He draws on extensive reading around the research on these ideas – very much the “I’ve read these daunting educational tomes so you don’t have to” and puts it into the context of what it would (or should!) look like in a mathematics classroom.
I’ve been an avid listener of his podcast’s and learned so much from them but this book takes many of the ideas mentioned in the podcasts and, using the solid foundations of educational research, gives them flesh and bones and brings them to life in the classroom. What gives Craig and his book credibility ahead of other books of this nature is that he is still a classroom practitioner and he practices what he preaches.
They often say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – well I’ve been teaching mathematics for 23 years and done it relatively successfully (I think – though you ought to check with my pupils from the past 23 years) and I’m here to tell you this book has taught this old dog a number of new tricks. Tricks is possibly an ill judged metaphor because this book is not about the ‘tricks’ which are the enemy of depth of understanding and focused purely on short term exam performance. This book and the ideas contained within are definitely NOT tricks but about teaching in a way where long term understanding prioritised and championed.
Craig Barton’s book has re-invigorated the teaching and learning aspect of my teaching career and for that I will be eternally grateful to him. I’ve gained so much from this book and have already put some of these ideas into practice in my own teaching (purposeful practice, example-problem pairs, extensive use of diagnostic questions, spacing effect to name just four have become more regularly – but most importantly – more deeply thought out aspects of my teaching armoury). I have plans in place to incorporate many more of the ideas (tailored for my classroom of course) as well as embedding the ones I’ve already worked on into my teaching in the new school year.
In my opinion this book should be required reading for any PGCE or trainee mathematics teacher – it is that good and that important. As a department we intend providing copies of this book for our trainee teachers and NQTs in the future (budgets allowing of course – but a number of us in the department have copies of our own already). More importantly however this book should definitely NOT be bracketed as a book for trainee or ‘newbie’ teachers – ALL mathematics teachers should read this book and enact some of the great ideas explained in it. Buy it – read it – do it!