Facilitating engagement and learning in schools
A comprehensive and authoritative handbook on proactively managing students' behaviour in primary and secondary schools.
Louise Porter has over 30 years' experience as a child and clinical psychologist. She is an adjunct senior lecturer in Education at Flinders University and is the author of Gifted Young Children and Teacher-parent collaboration.
'I confess to approaching this book with some scepticism. After all, any author purporting to present a “comprehensive guide” to something as complex as classroom management is opening themselves up to serious censure if they fail to mention some aspect of the subject that may occur to a reader. In this case, however, Louise Porter has every right to a legitimate claim for her chosen title!
The book started from an unusual premise: “I ask you to consider how you would design a school or classroom, if you did not know ahead of time whether you would be a teacher, a parent or a student, and, if a student, whether you would be academically talented or, instead, someone experiencing learning impairments, family adversity, racial oppression and poverty” (p.3)
Porter examines the purposes of education (economic, competitive mobility, equity function and personal development) before a very detailed outline of the two basic disciplinary structures that she identifies: the approach of behaviourism and the guidance approach. Behaviourism, at its core, involves consequences as contrived by adults whereas guidance leads children to discover the outcomes of their behaviour. “Guidance does not want young people to learn to follow orders [which can lead to abuse as children do not learn they can resist adults]. Instead, it wants them to learn to be considerate – that is, to consider the effects of their actions on other people” (p.48). The different approach ideas of power relationships are discussed. “Adults who employ guidance are leaders rather than bosses … [teachers] have an overview of the tasks the group needs to achieve, can offer extra guidance when students are struggling, but on the whole trust young people … to know their own minds” (p.41).
Following a detailed study and critique of the alternative approach – behaviourism – Porter spends the final two-thirds of her book explaining the guidance approach. She describes its basic foundation, which owes much to the Rogerian philosophy that “all individuals – regardless of distinguishing characteristics such as age – have equal rights to have their needs satisfied. This philosophy forms the core of the guidance approach” (p.137). There follows an exhaustive (yes, comprehensive!) setting forth of the guidance approach, covering everything about meeting students’ basic needs from wellbeing and safety, self-esteem, affiliation and connection, autonomy and choice, through to their “luxury needs” for purpose and happiness.
A large section on facilitating learning takes account of the range in students’ approaches to tasks, the place of feedback and assessment, and individualisation. “The educational aim of guiding students to fall in love with what they are doing is the rationale for differentiation” (p.250). Porter’s commitment to this approach makes her comfortable in also including a critique of the guidance model, and her final chapters include attention deficits, aggression and bullying, collaboration with parents, teacher support and policy development.
This extremely well researched book ends with 61 pages of references, 31 pages of notes and an 8 page index. There are numerous tables, graphs, “boxes” and diagrams throughout which serve to summarise and illustrate the text at key points and I found the 'Conclusion' at the end of every chapter a helpful encapsulation of the material I’d just read. This is a daunting book, but an engaging one. It should be discussed and explored part by part (there are 5 of these, encompassing in all 25 chapters) by both experienced teachers and by those at the pre-service stage. It is a thought-provoking and challenging work that will reward the serious reader. Highly recommended.'
Julie Davies, Beverly Hills, NSW
'This is not a book to read cover-to-cover, but rather one to read selectively according to personal needs. For me, the most relevant and helpful sections were those on questions and scaling to identify solutions to students’ problem behaviours, and strategies for compassionate communication.
The text is easy to read with lots of boxes which summarise and tie together the information. I have come away with some new management ideas to implement in my classroom and I am sure it is a text that I will return to when I am seeking further inspiration for facilitating learning.'
Kate Justelius-Wright, Wahroonga Public School, NSW
'Louise Porter has written a text which should be on every teacher’s bookshelf. It has something to offer the educationalist at every point of their career, from the pre-service teacher, to the very experienced teacher, across every sector. Whilst the focus is clearly on classroom management it will be of value to School Leaders, Advisory staff and support staff.
Student engagement is a major focus in our schools and Porter reinforces the link between engagement, learning and behaviour in our classrooms. This is a very readable text which balances research with a genuine belief that teachers and students can share in a rewarding and enriching experience with the correct approach to behaviour management. There is an emphasis on proactive processes which lead to the achievement of educational and social goals in the individual student.
The text is divided into five distinct sections. The overview discusses behavioural difficulties and the impacts of teaching styles. Part Two focuses on the role of appropriate and inappropriate behaviours and the role of interventions. In Part Three, the Guidance Approach, a child-centred social response to behavioural difficulties is explored in which the role of goals, communication, support and solutions are explored. Applications are discussed in depth in Part Four, acknowledging the place of Attention-deficit, aggression and bullying within the classroom. Finally, Part 5 looks beyond the classroom and discusses in detail the role of parents, support staff and the importance of policy formation in terms of student behaviour.
There is so much to consider in reviewing A Comprehensive Guide to Classroom Management. Porter has written an expansive text which covers many areas that are of concern to teachers. She puts forward well-researched arguments and also provides the reader with critiques of each theory. Through the use of extensive tables, figures and annotated references, Porter actively demonstrates how schools and teachers can create positive learning climates that engage all students despite disadvantage or ‘disenchantment’. A Comprehensive Guide to Classroom Management is a book which reaffirms the importance of student-teacher relationships, values the role of the teacher ‘at the chalk-face’ and seeks to empower both student and teacher through facilitating engagement and learning in all our classrooms across Australia.'
Roslyn Johnson, Year 7 Classroom Teacher, Scarborough State School, QLD
'Ten years on from my teacher trainer, this book is a useful DIY refresher course in all aspects of classroom management. It is “evidence based” using recent studies, extensively referenced, although the author’s preference for a Guidance approach is clear throughout the book. Porter’s discussion on the cause of students’ behavioural difficulties in schools raises some interesting points about the onset of delinquency and the impact of coercive parenting. Reading is identified as a critical skill to avoid behavioural difficulties. Unusually, she also identifies the causal role of allergies, intolerances, persistent infections and nutritional deficiencies. However, Porter concludes that for students to progress, school quality is more important than social backgrounds.
Two classroom management approaches are analysed by Porter. Behaviourism is illustrated by Positive Behaviour Support, a three tiered program which uses reinforcements to change student behaviour to maintain order in a classroom. Most teachers will recognise Behaviourist strategies described e.g. identifying rules, redirecting off-task behaviour, token economies. Porter provides critiques of specific techniques. She observes that it is difficult for teachers to concurrently teach and monitor behaviour. Porter provides an excellent table describing the use and misuse of praise, a common reinforcer, in classrooms. She also argues that rewards have a negative effect on self-esteem.
The other class management model presented is the Guidance approach, based on an ethic of caring and meeting students’ needs. Students learn to balance others’ needs with their own. Two strategies are offered during episodes of high emotion: Time in, getting help from someone who cares or Time away, doing something soothing until you have calmed down.
The next five chapters discuss how students’ needs for wellbeing and safety, self-esteem, social needs, autonomy and purpose can be met. Although these chapters are under the Guidance Approach, teachers don’t necessarily need to be following this approach to appreciate this discussion. The next chapter gives an excellent overview on learning to achieve deep knowledge and mastery. Communicating, dealing with emotions and collaborative problem-solving are then discussed. The last chapter in this section is titled 'Critique of the Guidance Approach'. This is a misnomer since it is actually a spirited argument that behaviourism is bankrupt and unethical and Porter does not identify any shortcomings of the Guidance approach.
Part Four of this book describes how the Guidance approach can be applied. Attention Deficit disorders are described in detail, identifying causes and interventions. Aggression and bullying are also discussed with a non-punitive approach advocated. The final part of the book examines collaborating with parents, supporting teachers and formulating policy.
This book challenged me to reflect on the philosophical basis of my own class management techniques. It contains a wealth of information with handy tables summarising everything from effects of sleep deprivation to how to change language to reframe a problem. Whether you just ‘dip in’ for specific issues or read the 400 pages cover to cover, I am sure most teachers will learn something new.'
Anne Gray, Glen Huon Primary School, Crabtree, TAS