Review by Alex Weatherall

13 Mar 2016, 19:00

Ticked Off

About halfway through Fletcher-Wood’s new book Ticked Off: Checklists for Teachers, Students, School Leaders, I stopped reading. I flicked through to the end and noticed that the conclusion was half a page. This concerned me. The author had just spent just eight pages in his introduction explaining what the book’s premise was, the rationale behind using checklists in school and how to use the checklists that were to follow. The rest of the book contained the lists.

He did mention Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, which I’d read a few years ago, and I was looking forward to a good read about how checklists had been used, tried, and tested in schools. When I thought that this wasn’t on offer, I re-read Gawande’s book to remind myself about the reasoning behind using checklists.
Once that need was satiated, I continued with Fletcher-Wood’s book and felt happier for it. For this book contains a goldmine of ideas that will help me day to day.

I am not the most organised of people. I forget things, especially when under stress. We’re not talking of life or death situations that can occur in the operating room, or the skyscraper site, or the pilot’s cockpit. Just the usual things – like remembering after a full day’s teaching to set the detention for the student who misbehaved in lesson one, or effectively reflecting on difficult lessons.

These things matter in school, and when you are running on empty at the end of a term, or preparing for an Ofsted visit, or simply planning effective lessons after the witching hour (which for me is about 8pm), having a good checklist to hand can really help.

So to the checklists themselves.
Fletcher-Wood has collected just under 50, some designed by him and others collated from schools he has visited. These are grouped into checklists for students, teaching, teachers, school leaders and life.
A few examples are: How to plan an essay; Am I ready to start the lesson; How should I read research; How can I keep staff happy.

Each is accompanied by examples,
some more basic than others, and a pause point. This is where you review/do/read/check your list and act upon it. It is the important anchor that makes sure the checklist is actually doing its job.

The author summarises the findings reported in The Checklist Manifesto that explain why this is so: in the operating room a particular person (the nurse) is given responsibility for the list. In the classroom, you have to make space for following the list yourself. The pause point is that space.

The book has a section at the end where Fletcher-Wood discusses the process and reasoning behind designing a checklist and how you can write your own effectively. For those that see checklists as a way of de-professionalising teachers, reducing all they do down to a set of things to tick off, this is where this book potentially falls short. I advise teachers who are put off the idea of referring to a checklist to read The Checklist Manifesto as an accompaniment to this book. It provides the backbone to the idea and some more weight to the lists that Fletcher-Wood has collated.

I have just one more gripe but this is not down to the contents of the book itself, though it does impact on how the reader perceives them. The publisher has made the decision, perhaps with the author, to use a font that looks hand-written. The problem is, while this works for the lists themselves, this font is also used for every heading, except the title, which uses a different handwritten font! Perhaps I’m fussy, but I found the typesetting distracting.

That said, this is a book that I will refer to again and again. It is full of great ideas and stimuli to help make me a more productive and organised teacher. It is well worth your time and money.


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