Building Classroom Success - Eliminating Academic Fear and Failure

Author(s) Andrew Martin
Publisher Continuum
Published 2010
Pages 240
Price £16.99
ISBN 9781847065605
Reviewed by Miss Szerenke Kovacs
ESCalate-University of Bristol
Review published 26 April 2010

Before starting to read a book, I always ask myself: ‘What am I going to learn from it? Will I be able to use the presented ideas in real life?’ After reading the cover of the book I was easily convinced that my answer to the second question is ’yes’ and I must say that after finishing the book that ‘yes’ turned into a ‘definite yes’. And what about the first question?

The answer to that is the following:

As the title of the book suggests the book focuses on success, fear and failure in the classroom, and what teachers can do about them. The book is divided into 4 parts and 21 chapters. The author discusses achievement evolution, academic survival, the development of achievement gaps between students, the role of success, fear and failure. Furthermore, success seeking and its characteristics are also presented followed by an illustration of different forms of fear and failure in the students’ lives. The importance of self-worth and ways in which students protect them are also well described. Finally, 20 Teacher Tips act as lifebelts in building classroom success and reducing fear and failure. At the end of the book an overall conclusion, bibliography and index can be found. The overall conclusion is also as practical as the whole book, giving “big picture principles that are valuable backdrops for any specific teaching and instruction” (p: 199)

The book has a coherent, comprehensive and well built structure. The titles and subtitles clearly suggest the content of that chapter.  Each part of the book starts with a well described introduction and ends with a profound and useful summary.  The summaries also play the role of introducing the following ideas in the book. The topics are well connected to each other, never giving the impression of deviating from the main line of the argument.  The subtitles in each part make the book very easy-to-read even for those whose first language is not English.

Despite the fact that the author has a professional background, his book can be widely used. Those who work with children, such as teachers, teaching assistants, psychologists would find the book very useful to apply to their practices.  I would also recommend this book to parents who want to understand the complexity of their children’s fears and who are keen on helping children to view the classroom not as a battlefield, but a world where they can learn and improve.

The author does not assume that the reader has a background knowledge in the field; throughout the book psychological terms and expressions are well defined (e.g. the meaning of self-handicapping (p:12), self-esteem (p:35) and self-consciousness (p:159)). One of the greatest strengths of the book is that terms are not only theoretically labeled but also illustrated by students’ cases and students’ voices (p:24, p:37, p:51, p:188).  All through the book plenty of examples of the problems and solutions to these problems make the theory more approachable. The author is able to use his own experience as a student (p:120) and as a researcher (p:89) to present these issues. By asking practical questions (p:59, 61) the author relates to the reader and thus helping to transform the theory into practice. Diagrams (e.g. p:36) and tables (173) in the book also help the reader to have a more thorough understanding of the presented ideas.  

Despite the fact that the examples in the book are drawn from early-, middle- and late adolescents, the topic of the book can be applied to students of all ages, from elementary-school-aged pupils to university students. The book can also be used as a self-help guide in overcoming exam fears, avoiding failure and developing personal strategies towards academic success.

For me, one of the greatest virtues of the book is its practicality. The Motivation and Engagement Scale (p:13), examples of motivation and engagement workbooks, personal best worksheets (p 132, 133, 134), student-teacher relationship evaluation scales (p:194, 195, 196) are handy and brilliant tools that the reader can use. The 20 Teacher Tips well described and summarized in Chapter 19 make the book a perfect guide for those who want quick solutions to classroom problems, such as fear and failure.

My only concern about the book is its referencing. Some reference to previous work appears in the book, such as: “there have been a number of studies” or ”researchers have found” (p: 177), but the actual references of the presented theories can only be found in the bibliography, making it difficult to find the background theory. I would have liked to read this book with references in the text.

I can say that I really enjoyed reading this book, it was well worth reading it. In the future, I would like to see it translated into many different languages so it can be used by students, practitioners and non-practitioners all around the world.