It is traditional within courses of Initial Teacher Education (and indeed many Continuing Professional Development courses) for teachers to be taught some fundamental psychology, and there exist many comprehensive psychology textbooks which describe in great detail the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner etc. There are however fewer textbooks which successfully manage to apply psychological theories to everyday educational issues in the classroom.
Stephen James Minton’s new book Using Psychology in the Classroom manages to do just that in a refreshing and accessible way, creating a useful text for undergraduates but also for serving teachers who are seeking new, evidence-based insights into everyday issues. Minton (a Lecturer in Psychology of Education at Trinity College, Dublin) notes in the introduction that this is not a book about popular self-help psychology (phew!), nor about educational psychology (the testing work of educational psychologists), but is instead concerned with how everyday teaching can be supported by the theories and research of psychologists.
After a useful overview of child and adolescent psychological development, the book comprises seven core chapters, each of which takes a topic of contemporary concern to teachers: the self, self-esteem and self-esteem enhancement; intelligence, learning styles and educational practice; positive discipline, conflict resolution and cooperative learning; special educational needs; preventing and tackling bullying in schools; dealing with prejudice; and stress and stress management for teachers and educators.
Of particular interest to readers here will be chapter six ‘Thinking about Special Educational Needs’. In this thought-provoking chapter Minton does not attempt to provide exhaustive coverage of the enormous topic of SEN. Instead he encourages the reader to think critically about three main issues: how one thinks about SEN (through a discussion of general and specific learning difficulties); the question of neurodiversity (through considering the case of autism where some individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome argue that they do not want to be ‘cured’ and are happy to be different); and the nature of research into SEN (through looking at ADHD where some of the research supporting the existence of ADHD is commissioned by the very drug companies which supply the medication often prescribed).
In this way, Minton’s book does not attempt to offer merely a set of ‘teaching tips’ for dealing with children with SEN in the classroom, but encourages the reader to ask more fundamental questions about their own perceptions and assumptions about what special needs actually are or might be.
As such, this chapter is typical of the others in the book, in that it provides a stimulating read for those who wish to think more critically about a wide range of issues about which psychology has something to say.
For those who want an unreflective tick list for the classroom, this is not the book of choice. For those who want a novel, questioning look at familiar issues, this comes highly recommended.