Book Reviews

the learning powered school; effect sizes; anxiety and worry; developing destinies; online only reviews and more

The Learning Powered School: Pioneering 21st Century Education
Guy Claxton, Maryl Chambers, Graham Powell & Bill Lucas

This strongly written, clearly set-out book describes what the authors call BLP, Building Learning Power, a radical approach to bring our schools into the 21st century and prepare children for the ambiguous future ahead.

Albert Einstein once said that ‘the only thing that interferes with my learning is my education’. The book outlines a distinct response to Einstein’s criticism, which the authors have developed over the past decade with an array of schools, in diverse areas and different countries, with children of different ages and backgrounds. The book describes convincingly the rationale for educational change, some selected psychological theory and evidence, the approach itself and a detailed evaluation demonstrating its highly positive impact.

At its heart, the idea behind this ambitious approach is to facilitate and develop children’s learning skills, confidence, meta-learning, resilience, resourcefulness and interpersonal skills. In short, the authors argue that we need to teach children how to learn and to become better learners. This requires changes to the language teachers must use, changes to lesson plans and structure, and changes to the way the teaching day is structured to allow children to follow their own explorations and inquiries, requiring, for example, inquiry-based learning projects.

The ideas, though not new and unique, are comprehensively pulled together, attractively presented and made readily accessible. There are many ideas for schools, teachers and others to use, such as ‘split screen lessons’, (focusing on content plus methods of learning and thinking), and ways of developing students’ ‘learning muscles’. Perhaps more could have been made of the use of philosophy in the classroom.

The book is divided into four parts; the first sets out the vision, the science and the beliefs of the authors. The second section outlines the classroom experience, with chapters about teaching, the curriculum and assessment. The third section discusses the whole-school changes needed, aptly focusing on leadership, professional development and parental involvement. The final section addresses the question of whether the approach works, examines its future, and includes an evaluation and a commissioned study of some 20 schools utilising the approach.

One beauty of the approach is that schools can select how much or how little they use, and they can adapt and develop it over time. This is pragmatic, but creates a real problem for the evaluation, because one critique of the highly positive evidence presented is that the ‘intervention’ itself is not a distinct variable, and no control groups are used. The writers acknowledge this limitation, depicting the evaluation as a ‘mid-term’ survey. To their credit, they do use a triangulation of methods, samples and evidence. That said, this is a book on a mission, the authors are advocates and promoters, rather than dispassionate researchers, and their conclusions rather strongly made. However, all my personal experience, and work as an educational psychologist and teacher tells me that their message is valuable, worthwhile and of direct use for schools.

The book should be of interest to all those engaged in education; teachers, head teachers and researchers, as well as policy makers, all of whom will doubtless review and critique the ideas through their own lenses, which I think fits the ideals of this book very nicely.

TLO; 2011; Pb £23.95

Reviewed by Irvine Gersch who is Professor of Educational and Child Psychology at the University of East London


Effect Sizes for Research: Univariate and Multivariate Applications (2nd edn)                                                                                           Robert J. Grissom & John J. Kim
We are all being enjoined to report effect sizes, and papers that report only p values are increasingly derogated and, indeed, rejected. This book presents an excellent summary of the debate around the use of null hypothesis significance testing and includes a lot of examples and practical advice to researchers about the software and methods needed to report effect size.

Coverage of different models (ANOVA, ANCOVA, regression, MANOVA, SEM, and HLM/ mixed effects models) is wide and much of the material will be highly relevant to psychologists working in many fields. No one piece of software is covered for all tasks – researchers could spend a lot of money on software following all the chapters; more coverage of the free and polymath R would have resolved this problem.

One other niggle is the slightly uneven tone, ranging all the way from giving advice on dummy regression, a very basic task for most researchers with statistical know-how, all the way up to advanced treatments of multivariate techniques. Something for everyone, therefore, but perhaps not everything for someone; recommended nonetheless.

Routledge; 2012; Pb £29.99
Reviewed by Chris Beeley who is Senior Evaluation Manager at the Institute of Mental Health, Nottingham

The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution
David A. Clark and Aaron T. Beck

Overcoming anxiety and worry is not for the faint-hearted. Coming from a family of world-class worriers, I know how strong the drive is towards safety behaviours of avoidance and reassurance. I also know, from listening to clients, how common and potentially debilitating the experience of anxiety is.

This book comes from world authorities including Beck, one of the founders of cognitive behavioural therapy. It is laid out in a workbook style, with plenty of charts and tables to fill in or photocopy. For those who are serious about tackling their anxiety, it is an excellent resource of well-tested exercises, explanations and encouragement. Those seeking a quicker fix might be put off by the somewhat dry textbook layout and the daunting amount of work that it involves.

But therein lies the underlying but not always palatable truth that overcoming anxiety requires the same kind of motivated dedication that training for a marathon does. The authors do not shy away from making this point, whichI found refreshing in an age of big promises on the self-help shelves.

Guilford; 2012; Pb £14.99
Reviewed by Sarah Dale who is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Creating Focus 

Developing Destinies: A Mayan Midwife and Town
Barbara Rogoff

Describing the life of Chona, an 85-year-old Guatemalan midwife, this book explains how we build on our cultural heritages from previous generations whilst also creating new ways of living. The author details Chona’s life, from birth to the present day, drawing on interviews with Chona and her community of San Pedro, background history, and previous work of researchers who first visited in 1941.

Photographs of Chona and San Pedro interweave the text, adding depth of interest by putting faces and images to what is described in words. Wonderful examples illustrate how cultural practices in San Pedro are still preserved, even as they are adapted with the changing times. Combining psychology, anthropology and history, the author reveals the integral role that culture plays in human development overall, and at the same time, provides a detailed insight into one small community. The book highlights that by examining how people participate in cultural practices we can better understand the role of culture in our lives. Overall, Developing Destinies delivers a fascinating, real-life account whilst also bringing theory alive – an engrossing page-turner.

Oxford University Press; 2011; Hb £22.50
Reviewed by Kate Sparks who is a Chartered Psychologist in Health

The Brain is Wider than the Sky: Why Simple Solutions Don't Work in a Complex World
Bryan Appleyard

Can the human mind be understood as a purely physical phenomenon, or does consciousness preclude simple materialism? Appleyard is a scientific journalist with a wealth of direct contact with leading scientists and thinkers. On meeting Bill Gates he became convinced that some technocrats believe Art is just another activity awaiting transposition into binary code. This follows a tradition of reductionist science exemplified, inter alia, in the concept of the Singularity, where computers eclipse human intelligence.

Appleyard describes various attempts to reduce complex activity to simple algorithms: the personalisation of the internet, which becomes a mirror rather than a window into knowledge; the frustration of ‘call-trees’, which aim to shape human behaviour according to the convenience of machines; financial models based on the naive assumption that formulae can be free of the ‘contamination’ of human judgement. Appleyard broadly favours a more complex view, epitomised in Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis.

This book is engaging, perceptive and important, if not always sufficiently critical. Nevertheless, its thesis deserves consideration by scientist-practitioners, who will find a window to a wider cultural perspective on their enterprise. It might even make computers ponder!

Weidenfeld and Nicholson; 2011; Hb £20.00
Reviewed by J. Mitchell Noon  who is an Honorary Fellow at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry


Web Reviews

Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant

Darold A. Treffert

Whether you have occasionally felt curious about the savant stories that are periodically brought to the limelight by the media or whether you have extensive knowledge about this condition, Islands of Genius will surprise you and, in all likelihood, will exceed your expectations.


This is a comprehensive and captivating book that successfully balances the past and present of theory and research with the extraordinary stories of savants. Treffert also presents the less well-known acquired savant syndrome and sudden savants, as well as discussing topics such as genetic memory, this last one perhaps susceptible to controversy. Furthermore, of great interest and thoughtfulness are the chapters written by educators with the parents of savants in mind.


If you read the book in one go, then do expect a certain repetitiveness in Treffert’s accounts. Conversely, this same drawback can be advantageous should you chose to read the book in several sittings.


Overall, Treffert offers a very informative and pleasantly engaging book that transmits his enthusiasm for this remarkable condition and which will appeal to all interested readers regardless of their previous knowledge.


Jessica Kingsley; 2010; Pb £15.99

Reviewed by Emma Shaw Nunez, who currently studying MRes Clinical Psychology at the University of Birmingham



Group Play interventions for Children: Strategies for Teaching Prosocial Skills

Linda A. Reddy

Throughout recent years, with the drive towards emotional education within primary schools, practitioners from many different agencies are becoming increasingly involved with schools on a regular basis to provide interventions for children with a plethora of social and emotional difficulties. This text can be seen as a ‘one stop shop’ for those professionals (including those still studying), to offer effective interventions for children with these problems.


As a practitioner working in the UK, I found it necessary to sift through some of the introductory text in order to identify the salient points, as the book, it becomes clear, is written for an American audience. Overall however, the practical nature of the book overcomes the cultural differences with a wealth of activity ideas that make it the perfect go-to book when one’s planning creativity runs out of steam. Although this book may cover some theory that is well known to those working ‘in the business’ of education, it still holds as a highly useful text for all from students to senior practitioners with a good mixture of theoretical grounding and practical advice.


American Psychological Association; 2011; Pb £44.50

Reviewed by Francesca Portess, who is a nursery teacher in Birmingham


A Brief History of Psychology (5th edn)

Michael Wertheimer

This is a concise volume that presents an extremely readable overview of the history of scientific psychology from its early empirical and philosophical developments to its ‘enigmatic future’. It also looks to the future and how psychologists are ridding themselves of their identity.


This book is aimed at undergraduate courses on the history of psychology; however, I enjoyed recapping on other disciplines other than my own field. There is an improved glossary for clearer understanding and reference.  It is a balanced view aside from sections on how the APA has developed over the years; analogies can be drawn to the UK and the BPS, however these sections may not be beneficial to our students.


The new final chapter contemplates the current state of the field and clearly argues that we all need to promote our potential.  Wertheimer provides some areas for future study and makes some controversial statements on the future of the profession. This book has awakened my need to continually promote psychology as an applied science that is enormously beneficial to society.


A recommended good read for all.


Psychology Press; 2012; Pb £24.95

Reviewed by Angie Ingman, who is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist


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