Psychology for teaching - a review

The focus of this review is on part five of Lefrancois text, Psychology for Teaching, which contains ninety eight pages. This section is on instructional leadership which is subdivided into four chapters. Motivation, teaching, discipline, classroom management and individualized instruction are topics covered in chapters eleven to fifteen. Generally, classroom practice requires a great deal more than what had been gleaned from educational psychology and reported in the first ten chapters. It demands, among other things, interpersonal and management skills of the highest order, patience, imagination, enthusiasm and worth.

In chapter eleven, the writer examines theories of motivation which attempt to answer questions about the initiation, direction and reinforcement of behavior. A theory is advanced of Maslow's hierarchy of needs with physiological needs at the lowest and the need for self actualization at the highest. The primary sources of arousal (a concept with physiological and psychological components) are the distance receptions (vision and hearing) whereas the secondary sources include all other sensations. The relationship between arousal and motivation is discussed. The teacher can be seen as the source of stimulation that maintains student arousal at low or high levels. Weiner's attribution theory of motivation which is presented is based on the assumption that individuals attribute their successes and failures to internal (ability or effort) or external (difficult or luck) factors. Achievement motivation and the need to avoid failure appear to be closely related to attribution theory. Students whose need for achievement is high are typically more internally oriented and consequently more likely to accept personal responsibility for the outcomes of their efforts. Attribution-changing programs attempt to move students in the direction of making more effort attributions. Feelings of competence or better still positive concepts appear to be related to internal sources of attribution and consequent feelings of powerfulness.

In chapter twelve, the writer distinguishes between management and discipline and shows the relationship between them. The former is presented as an umbrella term which embraces establishing routines, learning students' names, setting and applying rules consistently, arranging frequent occasions for the original use of praise, using humor and paying attention to classroom environment and climate. Corrective discipline is involved when preventive discipline has not been successful in curbing the appearance of a disciplinary problem. Methods used include reasoning, reinforcement, use of models, extinction and punishment. In addition to maintaining classroom order, teachers should also attend to the development of social and affective skills in children. Generally, the chapter outlines a number of strategies and principles that might be effective in preventing and/or correcting disruptive behavior in the classroom, looking at the application of behavior motivation. The single most important point it makes is that prevention is far more important than correction.

The penultimate chapter details the application of science (to the extent that psychology is a science) and of technical advances in the business of educating. Accordingly , this chapter describes programmed instruction, the use of computers in education and specific teaching techniques founded on distinct theoretical principles. Although the writer presents a number of different methods for dealing with individual differences, these are not always highly effective for practical reasons. Programmed instruction individualizes instruction largely by allowing students to progress at their own rates and sometimes also by providing additional help for learners who experience difficulty. Although the writer presents the linear and branching programs, he observes that research has not shown that either is superior. However, they teach effectively as adjuncts to other methods of instruction. Optimistic and pessimistic views about the computer are presented even though it would appear as if computer literacy may soon be one of the goals of the educational process. Among the computer's advantages are its almost unlimited memory capacity, problem-solving capabilities and its versatility of presentation modes. Among its disadvantages are the difficulties associated with preparing and obtaining software. Evaluations of major system approaches to individualizing instruction indicate that typically those have moderately positive effects in elementary and secondary schools but more highly positive effects at the college level. Conclusions about attribute-treatment interactions are typically very modest. In the final analysis, the two variables that appear to be most highly related to school success are ability and previous achievement.

The ultimate portion, chapter fourteen, describes the various methods by which performance can be measured and evaluated, the reasons why assessment is important, and some of the abuses and misuse of assessment procedures. Measurement is seen as the use of an instrument to gauge the quantity of a property or behavior. Evaluation on the other hand is the making of a decision about quality, goodness or appropriateness that is based on the results of careful and thoughtful measurement. A teaching model can be represented in terms of goals, instructional strategies and assessment. Educational goals are important in determining both strategies and assessment. Measurement can be divided into nominal (categorical), ordinal (using ranks), internal (employing equidistant scales but with an arbitrary zero point) or ratio (based on a true zero). The writer believes that educational measurement pretends to be on an interval scale (usually); it is indirect rather than direct. He presents four indexes of test validity, face, content, construct or criterion-related. Common uses of standardized tests are for special education placement. To certify student achievement, judge the competency of teachers and evaluate schools and standardized achievement tests typically provide one or more of the following: age-equivalent scores, grade-equivalent scores or percentiles. Sometimes they also provide tables for transforming scores to one of several normally distributed standard scores. These scores are meaningful because one knows what their mean and standard deviations are, for example Z-scores (mean=0, standard deviation=1), T-scores (mean=50, standard deviation=2). The writer differentiates between the essay and objective tests. When constructing essay examinations, efforts should be directed toward sampling processes that are not easily measured with objective tests as well as toward measuring relevant course goals. In conclusion, the writer forcefully argues that the teacher should try to behave as sensibly as a bear who persistently faces the front of its footprints.

A major criticism is that the writer did not state the category of people the book focuses attention on. Most of the issues raised and examples given are more relevant to psychology and teaching at the primary and secondary levels. One expects this clarification to be made in a text which has been edited several times. Furthermore, commenting on the computer as a device that counters the negative effects of television is a bit far fetched. The writer fails to take into consideration such damaging effects like immoral and blasphemous websites. Most of the issues in the book could be found in other books on psychology and teaching. The above notwithstanding, the section under review is highly practically-oriented.

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Psychology Book Reviews