Skip navigation

Site Map / Contacts

You are in:  Home » Volume 3 » Christopher Payne

This site uses cookies. If you continue it is assumed that you are happy to receive all cookies. Accept and close. View privacy policy

‘Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners’

Book review of  ‘Teaching Teenagers: A Toolbox for Engaging and Motivating Learners’,
Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski, SAGE Publications, 2011 (ISBN: 978-0-85702-385-8, 200 pages, paperback published at £23.99)


On the surface, Teaching Teenagers looks like one of the many books on the market that proffers both advice on how to engage pupils and a toolbox of tips that will allow you to motivate even the most stubborn classes. Such books are easy to dip into and offer a variety of anecdotes and strategies but do lack a certain academic rigour that is often both interesting and useful, particularly when engaging in a reflective approach to teaching. However, Teaching Teenagers bucks this common trend, strips away the veneer of anecdote and applies a fresh coat of genuine academic research.
The two authors, Warren Kidd and Gerry Czerniawski, come from a Sociology and Humanities background, which comes across clearly. Teaching Teenagers clearly emphasises the emotional aspects of teaching and the authors believe that the best approach to turn around those tough classes is to focus your attempts on building a positive ethos and effective relationships in the classroom in order to motivate. This may not be much use when your year 10s haven’t done any homework for four weeks and your year 7s still can’t recite a French verb. If you are looking for that quick fix and some new techniques that will wow your classes, you can still find it in this book by utilising the many ideas contained within – the book claims to have a grand 220 tips. These tips are not subject specific and the more mathematically and science inclined may have to search a bit harder to find something that is immediately suitable. However, this book is best used as a handbook for changing old habits and improving your practice in order to engage learners. If you treat this book a bit like a self-help guide and throw yourself into it, you really will begin to see the benefit. The main strength of this book comes from encouraging the reader to reflect on her own practice. Whilst this does not always make for the most entertaining read, the research does not drown the main text but instead weaves it into the suggestions. Of course, it is always useful to have hard evidence to back up your new methods to your head of faculty.
The introduction reinforces this idea that you need to invest time in this book. The activities it encourages you to complete are reminiscent of mentor sessions during teacher training. The act of identifying common problems, finding suitable solutions and then reflecting on them afterwards is common to trainees, but is something that gets lost as you begin to drown under exam marking. All chapters have the same format, beginning by explaining a particular problem that teachers may face, such as how to plan effective homework activities or how best to provide opportunities for cooperative learning. Chapters then continue by giving what the authors term ‘Context’; this explains why a particular problem is so prevalent through using research and details how exactly these problems come to be. For example, a class may not be working effectively because they need to be taught exactly how to learn or they would benefit from movement around the classroom. Whatever the exact reasons, this book will get to the real explanation and show the corresponding research. The main bulk however is the previously mentioned toolbox of ideas. Many of these you will have heard numerous times before and there is nothing particularly original or ground-breaking; there are collections of different seating arrangements and exemplar group activities that you will find in many other books. That is not to say that you will not get anything from this book: these ideas are presented in an easy to read manner and I often found myself scribbling down little ideas that I will use with classes in the future.
Each chapter ends with some questions for your personal development; these will allow you to further stretch yourself. Some questions, such as “Are you a member of a teaching association?” or “Do you record when you use homework?”, may not provide great opportunities for reflection, but the vast majority of questions do probe into one’s own philosophy and pedagogy. Final checklists remind you of what general points you need to remember – do not forget to plan for pace and variety, or create wall displays, the book expounds. Whilst much of the content may appear to be obvious, many of the questions and suggestions will encourage you to think. You will begin to question why exactly you have not used some of these techniques and you will soon find yourself annotating your original ideas with further comments on how to implement these methods.
Whilst the ideas are nothing particularly original, the strength of Teaching Teenagers is actually its familiarity with the content. Instead of introducing a revolutionary method of teaching that you will never use, this book guides you through a process of looking at your own teaching and properly building in some of the many new techniques it outlines. This book does not provide a magic wand, it instead provides a mirror onto one’s own practice and allows you to make real, lasting improvements in the classroom.

Christopher Payne