Achieving Success Through Academic Assertiveness: Real Life Strategies for Today's Higher Education Students

Author(s) Jenny Moon
Publisher Routledge
Published 2008
Pages 208
Price £13.99
ISBN 9780415991438
Reviewed by Keith Savage
Stockport College
Review published 9 April 2009

Jenny Moon is well known to all those who follow ESCalate – you will have seen and heard her at workshops and conferences or read her books and papers. It is unlikely, therefore, that you will need much encouragement from me to get her new book. But what will you be getting?

The first thing that needs saying is that Jenny has written a book for students rather than for tutors. This is reflected in the style and structure of the book; she has worked hard to try and write in a language that is appropriate for the intended readership without ever patronising or condescending. It seems to me that she succeeds in this task.

That said, many tutors will find much in this book of use and value. In particular it would be a good source for group tutorials or study skills sessions, especially for 1st year students.

But what is ‘academic assertiveness’? “It is the capacity to cope better with challenges that are associated with the learning in, and experiences of, advanced education” (Moon, 2009: 11). The challenges students face will vary, of course, according to their background and experiences. Many of my students are women with family responsibilities. Their concerns – as students – are unlikely to be those of an 18 year-old fresh from school and living away from home for the first time. Jenny Moon recognises this and writes a manual that should make sense to most students – though it is fair to say, I think, that she targets younger students more consistently.

The sorts of skills, knowledge and issues that Jenny encourages students to focus on – through a mixture of case studies, reflective exercises and group tasks – include:

  • Being assertive (rather than aggressive or passive)
  • How to change your behaviour
  • Use of speech and language; body language; personal space
  • Personal history, emotions, barriers and triggers to assertiveness
  • Rights and responsibilities when it comes to assertiveness
  • Techniques that will help you be assertive
  • Saying ‘no’; dealing with anger
  • Coping with fear, failure and disappointment.

In passing she makes interesting points, for example, about plagiarism as a non-assertive response, a passive consequence of being unable to ask – rather than active cheating.

It is a mild irritation – for me at least – that a book written by an academic resident in England should have American spellings (behavior, color, program) but that is a small price to pay. There is a great deal in this book that should encourage tutors to think about what it is to be a student in modern higher education – and reflect on how students can be better supported. For students I would hope it would help them confront what they find difficult whilst recognising that student life can never be easy or straightforward.