Book Reviews

Including teaching and learning, motivational skills, the overflowing brain, bullying, music psychology, and web-only reviews

Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-analyses Relating to Achievement
John A.C. Hattie
Routledge; 2009; Pb £24.99 

This book is to be even more strongly commended for the insights that have emerged from the author’s reflections on the deeper implications of his data than for the specific relationships documented within it.

The basic data consist of a meta-meta-analysis of more than 800 meta-analyses of the contribution to pupil ‘achievement’ of 138 variables widely thought important. The meta-analyses are based on more than 50,000 studies (which yielded some 150,000 effect size estimates) derived from testing several million pupils. Its major limitation is the limited range of ‘outcomes’ covered. Unfortunately, this constraint is not limited, as Hattie suggests, to exclusion of studies of such things as ‘affective’ outcomes, but includes such basic academic outcomes as the ability to forge new syntheses, form good judgements, and engage in critical thinking – never mind such ‘non-academic’ outcomes as the ability to get together with others to contribute in one or another of a huge variety of ways to society. Despite this limitation, the conclusions Hattie has come to about important educational processes are remarkably similar to those emerging from our studies of what makes for success in achieving high-level outcomes like those just mentioned (see

An incidental, but startling, initial insight is that the average effect size of an additional year of schooling is 0.40. By comparison, the impact of widely advocated educational practices like homework pales almost into insignificance. Accordingly, Hattie sets the criterion to be reached by variables to be considered worthy of serious attention at 0.40.

The deep, theoretical, insights Hattie has drawn out of his data are striking. Effective teachers emerge as extraordinary people characterised by high levels of dedication and personal competence. One of the most important things they do is to continuously seek feedback from pupils to improve their teaching. They study the barriers the pupils have encountered and restructure what they are doing to achieve their objectives. This stands in stark contrast to the more common interpretation of ‘feedback’ – which tends to be viewed as feedback to pupils of some kind of mark or score, unaccompanied by any attempt to understand and remedy the barriers to improved performance.

The choice of the book’s title – Visible Learning – reflects Hattie’s observation that effective teachers discuss their objectives and procedures with their pupils… thereby making them visible. More than that, by discussing barriers to achievement, they make the sources of their own initial incompetence visible to their pupils in such a way that they can learn from them, as role models, how to be learners in the wider sense of that word Activities like these demand safe classroom environments in which mistakes – on the part of teacher and pupil alike – are viewed as sources of learning and development instead of meriting reprimand. At the heart of this basic shift in understanding of the educational process lies a move from thinking of ‘teaching’ as ‘telling’ to ‘managing development’.

Hattie’s ‘synthetic’ conclusions stem from the reflection that the effects of the specific activities shown to be effective do not produce that effect directly, but via their contribution to one or a number of more basic processes that comprise those important for human development and its management. It is as a contribution to the evolution of a framework for thinking about these processes that the book is to be most strongly commended.

Reviewed by John Raven
who has conducted research in the areas of educational evaluation, psychological assessment, staff development, organisational development, and values, attitudes, and institutional structures associated with the development of different types of society

A Toolkit of Motivational Skills (2nd edn)
Catherine Fuller & Phil Taylor
Wiley; 2008; Pb £26.99

The book uses a motivational approach based on the motivational interviewing principles of Miller and Rollnick. However, this is definitely not some dull academic textbook. Its strengths lie in being engaging and succinct, matching theory with practice, and its application to a diverse variety of clients and settings.

Whether you are familiar or not with the motivational approach or the ‘stages of change’ framework, this book has much to offer with its thorough overview of the subject and its jargon-free language.

A Toolkit of Motivational Skills provides a comprehensive coverage of the key skills associated with behaviour change, including those that similar books often disregard. In particular, the chapters on building rapport, listening skills and working with resistance were excellent.

Fuller and Taylor have written a detailed guide that takes the reader step-by-step through the process of the cycle of change and the associated strategies at each stage.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in developing and maintaining self-motivation when helping others to change their behaviour.

Reviewed by Kirsty Stewart
who is a health trainer with Bath & North East Somerset Primary Care Trust

The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory
Torkel Klingberg
Oxford University Press; 2009 Pb £17.00

The Overflowing Brain provides a unique overview of the use and significance of working memory in everyday life. Torkel Klingberg uses a variety of fictional examples from ‘Linda’ the busy IT manager to ‘Lisa’ the adult with ADHD to illustrate the mismatch between the complexities of modern living and the limits
of the functional brain.

The often controversial topic of ADHD is dealt with sensitively, particularly in relation to the distinction between common attention deficits and a medical diagnosis of ADHD. The author very successfully promotes the concept of ‘training’ working memory with reference to a range of research evidence with applications beyond ADHD to embrace typical learning. He highlights the issue of brain plasticity through the use of examples of training-induced improvements in cognitive functioning from the behavioural and neuroimaging literatures.

This book will be of particular relevance to academics interested in discovering more about the applications of cognitive psychology but would also serve as an excellent introductory text for students new to the area.    

Reviewed by Sinéad Rhodes
who is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Strathclyde

New Perspectives on BullyingHelen Cowie & Dawn Jennifer
Open University Press, McGraw Hill; 2008; Pb £19.99

This book provides a comprehensive overview of recent research on school bullying – translating it into accessible, practical guidance. The title New Perspectives on Bullying is well justified as the book covers topics gaining more recent interest in the literature (such as peer support systems and cyberbullying) and aligns this with current government agendas in schools (such as ‘Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning’ and ‘Every Child Matters’).

Throughout the book, the authors promote a whole-school approach to tackling bullying and stress the need to develop multifaceted interventions. They encourage a shift in emphasis from punitive approaches to more restorative strategies where mutual respect and positive peer relationships are facilitated. The focus on developing children’s emotional literacy reflects current agendas and highlights the need to situate bullying within a broader social context. The amount of research integrated into the text to underpin discussions is impressive, and the authors make good use of case studies to translate theory into practice.

Overall, this book offers a valuable resource for a wide audience including teachers, educational professionals, academics or students.
Reviewed by Rachel Maunder
who is a lecturer in psychology at the University of Northampton


Eminently readable
The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology
Susan Hallam, Ian Cross & Michael Thaut (Eds.)
Oxford University Press; 2009; Hb £65.00

‘They tried to make me go to rehab, I said no, no, no.’ The public face of popular music in the 21st century seems to be all rock ‘n’ roll and rehab – triggering questions concerning the links between psychology and music. But where can we go with these questions?

The once marginal area of music psychology has rapidly expanded over the last 30 years, gaining much mainstream recognition. The Oxford Handbook of Music Psychology stands as a positive testament to the array of achievements  in this area, and is a comprehensive resource for any psychologist, musician or educator.

The work provides a robust and eminently readable overview. It is divided into 11 edited sections, paralleling mainstream psychology topics, for example, ‘Music and the brain’, ‘Musical development’ or ‘The role of music in everyday life’. Each section contains short, related, research summaries, by some of the most authoritative voices in each area. These are excellent reviews of key topics and debates, ranging from ‘music and consumer behaviour’ to ‘clinical practice in music therapy’ to ‘optimising physical and psychological health in performing musicians’. Although wide-ranging, the work is logical, flowing from the origins and functions of music, to exploring future directions.

Regardless of whether you are a student or educator, musician or music fan, this handbook will have something of interest. It is concise, yet broad in its scope – making it suitable for use in enhancing mainstream psychology teaching, for examining your practices as a musician, or for investigating ideas for undergraduate projects.

Reviewed by Kate Gee
who is a PhD researcher, University of Sheffield

Web-only reviews

Memory: A Very Short Intoduction
Jonathan K. Foster

An extranodinary introduction that will enable the reader to gain a good understanding of memory, an important psychological process of the human body. This pocket-sized book is clearly illustrated with anecdotal observations to clarify the importance of memory. Filled with pictures and diagrams to make it an easy read.

The author explores human memory in terms of: How important is memory? How does memory operate? How are we able to access information from memory? Why do we sometimes forget, and sometimes able to remember something so vividly? What are the effects of brain injury on memory? Does memory changes with age? Can memory be improved?.

The author evaulates well-known theories and models that have helped to answer the former questions. The reader is able to put their memory in the spotlight by carrying out ‘do-it-yourself’ tasks. A must-have providing an easy-to-digest understanding of memory.

Oxford University Press; 2008; Pb £7.99p.
Reviewed by Gurpreet Bahra, who is a psychology graduate living in Leamington Spa currently looking for employment

Hope for the Autism Spectrum: A Mother and Son Journey of Insight and Biomedical Intervention
Sally Kirk

This book is split into four sections with the first two sections looking at the author and her experience of her son with an autism spectrum disorder. The third section introduces biomedical interventions (vitamins, supplements and diet alterations) for ASD and their impact. The fourth section looks at some of the common medical problems of individuals’ with ASD and their corresponding biomedical treatment.
It was a confusing and frustrating read. There is a strong positive message in this book that is lost amongst a text full of American colloquialisms, sweeping statements, and puzzling analogies, which complicate a complicated subject even further. The author jumps from topic to topic leaving it difficult to follow the thread of the book and the story of her son. Further to this it is based on an experience within American systems, guidelines and policies.
The book offers an extensive, but largely one-sided argument for the origins of ASD. It is worrying how casually the author writes off any contradicting theory regarding ASD.
This wouldn’t be suitable as an introduction to the subject.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2008; Hb£ 17.99
Reviewed by Hannah Gough, who is an assistant psychologist with North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare Trust

Focusing-orientated Art Therapy
Laury Rappaport

The book synthesises the focusing approach developed by Gendlin with Art Therapy. The book is the first of its kind as Rappaport has pioneered this approach. It begins by describing focusing and art therapy separately; there is then a bridging chapter. The remainder of the book looks at the use of the approach in different settings. Being a newcomer to focusing, I felt that I needed to read some of Gendlin’s original work to fully comprehend some of the terminology. This is not necessarily a criticism as the book prompted me to research the area further and stimulated questions.

The book is filled with beautiful examples of art therapy and guided exercises give a good flavour of the work that evolves. The book is both informative and practical. Practitioners at any level could gain some practical tips about the use of creativity in the therapeutic relationship. It provided me with an insight into a holistic and often spiritual way of working. Overall, a stimulating read but one that is best understood within a wider knowledge of art therapy and focusing.

Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2009; Pb: £18.99
Reviewed by Hannah Nelson, who is an assistant psychologist working at Greater Manchester West, Intermediate Care

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