The Social Psychology of Education: Current Research and Theory
reviewed by Susan K. Boardman - 1989
Title: The Social Psychology of Education: Current Research and Theory
Author(s): Robert S. Feldman
Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 0521396425, Pages: , Year: 1986
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As a social psychologist who has recently become involved in a comprehensive research program in a school district, I must confess to having a positive bias toward the book under review and to being yet another living example of the increasing interest of social psychologists in educational settings. This interest, as Feldman discusses, is reflected in the increasing percentage of articles appearing in educational journals dealing with topics directly related to those studied by social psychologists, a trend that can only be looked on with approval by those of us who are becoming more convinced of the importance of social-psychological issues to the study of education.
The purpose of the book is twofold: to examine the major areas of research within the social psychology of education, and to provide "as much practical, problem-solving advice for educational practitioners as possible" (p. 2). The book succeeds admirably in both endeavors. Divided into five parts, each with two to three chapters, the volume includes the following: The Individual in a Social and Educational Context, Teacher-Student Interaction, Cooperation and Conflict in the Classroom, The Social Aspects of Motivation, and Education, Culture, and Society. The book presents an excellent overview of some of the most important and interesting research currently being conducted in the field of education. For example, in an interesting chapter by Donelson Forsyth, attribution theory, a classically important area of research in social psychology, serves as a framework for understanding student reactions to success and failure in classroom testing situations. Not only does this chapter raise awareness of frequently ignored influences on student performance, but it also provides suggestions for educators to help their students develop productive attributions so as to facilitate future performance. A later chapter by Sandra Graham also incorporates attribution theory in a discussion of the relationships between teachers and student attributions of performance and their relationship to achievement motivation and race.
Other excellent work, reported by Monica Harris and Robert Rosenthal, involves a meta-analysis of various factors that mediate teacher expectancy effects. While the authors point out that additional research needs to be done on the systematic manipulation of these factors, the chapter addresses a critical issue in the field of education: How are teacher expectancies communicated to students, and what are their effects? The authors present a useful model for them conceptualization and mediation of teacher expectancy effects and, in an interesting discussion, review the potential importance of teacher behaviors to student attitudes and performance. This theme of the effect of teacher behavior on student performance is continued in a chapter by Robert Feldman and Ronald Saletsky in which the role of nonverbal communication in interracial educational settings is examined. The authors discuss the relationship between teacher racial attitudes and nonverbal behavior, stressing that prejudicial attitudes can be communicated in the classroom through facial expression and the like. As the social-psychological literature has generally shown nonverbal cues to have powerful effects on communication and subsequent behavior, the implications of these research findings are disturbing. In addition to addressing the significant issue of nonverbal communication in interracial interactions, the chapter also discusses the importance of raising educators' awareness of the potential effects their own attitudes and classroom behavior may have on their students.
A number of the distinguished scholars represented in this volume have contributed significantly to the field of education through the direction of productive research and of training centers concerned with cooperation and conflict in the classroom. These include David Johnson, Roger Johnson, Karl Smith, and their colleagues at the Cooperative Learning Center of the University of Minnesota, as well as Robert Slavin and his colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Center for the Social Organization of Schools. The study of cooperation and competition, one of the oldest traditions in social psychology, has obvious applications in the field of education. Ever since 1897 when Triplett found that competition increased the performance of bicycle riders, social psychologists have been concerned with studying its effects. In 1949, Morton Deutsch set forth a series of propositions concerning the effects of cooperative and competitive goal structures on performance in what has become a classic study in the field . Deutsch's comprehensive theory has guided much of the social-psychological research on cooperation and competition for the past four decades, and has brought him international recognition as the leading scholar in cooperation and conflict resolution. Though research and theory on these issues is well established, the systematic application of Deutsch's principles, especially within educational settings, has been relatively slow.
In an interesting chapter, Slavin discusses such application in the development of cooperative learning. A series of studies implementing the cooperative learning method, "team-assisted individualization" (a form of team learning developed to solve the problem of the heterogeneity of student ability) in mathematics instruction, is also presented. In a later excellent chapter, Johnson, Johnson, and Smith discuss the important role of constructive controversy in the classroom and its relevance to learning. The authors argue that cooperation alone is not sufficient to produce maximal productivity from a learning group and that a combination of cooperation and constructive conflict is necessary. This tenet has been supported by Deutsch's work, as well as the research presented by the Johnsons and Smith.
Other interesting work in the volume deals with the effects of classroom culture or structure on student motivation to learn. Ames discusses the effects of a competitive versus noncompetitive learning environment; Brophy
and Kher raise the intriguing notion of training teachers to socialize student motivation to learn; Baden and Maehr discuss the impact of school design on culturally diverse groups. While space limitations have prevented mention of all contributors to this volume, the foregoing is meant to give potentially interested readers a taste of the contents. The book is well referenced, well written, and well organized. Although there is some repetition in the chapter contents, it serves to underscore the critical issues under study. Furthermore, while some contributors succeed more than others in offering useful practical advice for educators, the approach is a refreshing one to take in a field full of theoretical work that is devoid of practical application.
The book is a valuable compendium for educators, researchers, and practitioners in education who want to look at educational issues from an enriched social-psychological perspective. It is from this perspective that the
study of education is transformed: Students are seen as active initiators of learning as opposed to the more traditional view that portrays students as passive recipients of knowledge. This shift in learning role perspective, coupled with the social psychological focus on teacher-student interactions, fosters a richer approach to the study of education and educational settings. It enables researchers and practitioners alike to be sensitive to the subtle complexities inherent in the classroom situation.