psychology as a school subject - what are the benefits?
Dual coding and the classroom
This week the annual Scottish Learning Festival took place in Glasgow, and together with five fellow educators I gave a presentation on the value of psychology to younger learners. Together, my co-presenters and I represented the University of Strathclyde, four local authorities, and Education Scotland.
I’ll share a summary of our talk in due course, but in the meantime, here are some basic reasons why I think that all schools can and should offer psychology to their pupils – at any age!
1) The study of psychology is a basic part of understanding reality.
Why would we teach learners about the external world – history, geography, chemistry, and so forth – but never teach them about…
What should students focus on? Evidence-based study habits
Despite its long history, visual imagery has at times been neglected in the study of memory and learning. Behaviourist psychologist J. B. Watson considered it to be unimportant, with mental images seen as mere shadows or 'ghosts' of the verbal behaviour involved in language (Paivio, 1969), and visual processing was absent from the classic ‘modal’ model of short-term and long-term memory. However, from the late 1960s onwards, researchers such as Gordon Bower and Allan Paivio began to promote its use as a study strategy, and explore the psychology behind it.
Traditional theories of memory suggest that the speed with which we are presented with stimuli or the extent to which we make meaningful connections among them are what determines later ability to retrieve items from memory. The focus is often on lists of words…
Psychology in the Classroom - One Year Later
A lot of the study advice that students and school pupils get is next to useless. Some is actually counterproductive, includes the learning myths, such as finding a ‘learning style’ (learning styles actually don’t exist - but this doesn’t stop many schools from pushing the idea relentlessly!)
In addition, advice often unhelpfully focuses on getting students to sit down and study, without actually telling them how to do so effectively. All too often, study tips focus on making study plans, starting early, drinking lots of water, or just generally working harder.
Cognitive psychology has shown that in order to use your study time effectively…
Interleaving - using it in the classroom
Psychology in the Classroom: A Teacher's Guide to What Works came out around this time last year. Co-authored with Marc Smith and aimed at both new and experienced teachers, it’s a guide to how psychology research on areas such as memory, creativity and motivation can be applied to classroom practice.
In the run up to working on this book, I had become increasingly interested in applying cognitive psychology to education. Although I have a degree in Psychology and had been teaching the subject at school level since the early 2000s, I hadn’t initially applied it to teaching my practice. However, as time went on my reading had increasingly focused on areas of psychology that have a link…
Psychology - background reading list
There have been a lot of discussions about interleaving and spacing on Twitter this week, which is great. It’s always good to see teachers engaging with research, asking questions, and trying to make their practice evidence informed.
As I have just been working on a systematic review of research into interleaving, I though I’d share a couple of things that I think are easily overlooked when people apply interleaving to their classroom practice (including by me, when I first came across the idea!):
Interleaving seems to be beneficial because it allows learners to contrast different problems or examples…
Exam Preparation With 24 Hours To Go: Advice On Revision (Part 2)
I’m often asked by new or prospective Psychology students (or their parents) if I can recommend some interest-based reading to extend their understanding or prepare for a degree. Here are a few options, all of which are chosen to be interesting, easy to read, and very relevant to studying Psychology or related disciplines.
They vary a lot in their style and authorship (some by researchers, other by journalists and the like), and I certainly don’t endorse everything that they say, but they are all interesting, well-written, and collectively would give a useful overview of the subject. In alphabetical order…
A week until the exam? Advice on revision (part 1)
Having only a day or two to go until your exam is not ideal, but at some point we all get to the stage where there is very little time left. Whether you have been working systematically through your learning and revision all year or have left it all a bit too late, there are still several important things that you can do at this stage. The following applies to the final day before the exam and will be expressed as such, although if you are planning ahead, these revision tasks would be best begun with two days to go!
Your main focus at this stage should be…
Spacing and interleaving in the STEM classroom
If your exam is close, it’s time to really focus. There’s no room for procrastination, but you do still have enough time (if you use it well) to seriously upgrade your level of detailed knowledge as well as your exam technique. This post explains how evidence from the science of learning can help you make the best use of the study time you have left.
The first thing you should do is to make sure you have all of the materials you need. This includes your textbook(s), classroom notes, sets of flashcards, your own summaries or concept maps based on your reading, and any available past…
Practical Suggestions for Tackling the Teacher Retention Crisis
I thought I'd share a slightly extended version of my answer to a question about spacing and interleaving from the CogSciSci email group.
The question asked what spacing and interleaving might look like in practice when teaching science (I have written about these two concepts in much more detail and in ways that apply to multiple teaching subjects in my book Psychology in the Classroom).
The spacing effect means that when study and re-study are separated...
What is evidence-based education?
The quality of teaching matters to how well pupils do at school. So how do we, as a society, encourage high-quality and experienced teachers to stay in the classroom rather than leave the profession or move into management? This question was addressed by the Scottish Government's recent report, 'Teacher Workforce Planning for Scottish Schools', and also featured in the initial findings from their panel of international advisers...
What are tests and questioning good for?
Evidence-based education is the idea that research of various kinds should be used to inform decisions about teaching and learning. It is conceived of as an alternative to teaching practice that is guided by intuition and/or experience.
An educator’s job includes a huge amount of decision making. For example, what should be taught today? What about tomorrow? What type of homework should be set, and when? How can the teacher maintain discipline effectively? Evidence-based education aims to tackle these questions pragmatically on the basis of past findings, and is sometimes referred to as a "what works" approach.
Can teachers be researchers?
The testing effect is a well-known psychological phenomena whereby people remember things better if they are tested on them. The benefits don't stem just from getting feedback on right or wrong answers - although that can help too. It appears that the process of retrieving information from memory actually helps it to be consolidated. In other words, a test can make the memory more secure and less likely to be forgotten.
So what role should tests play in the learning process? This phenomenon can certainly be applied to self-testing during revision; students who do this appear to get better grades (see Hartwig & Dunlosky, 2012). Self-questioning of a text has also been linked to…
What did memory evolve to do?
Can teachers engage in research? And if so, should they be supported in doing so?
It has been great to be involved in the launch and running of Scotland's first school-based research centre over the past two years. This work has included running a research conference for our senior pupils with external visiting speakers, establishing an ethics approval procedure for teacher projects, and managing a number of collaborations including a research fellowship for visiting researcher Anna Beck of the University of Strathclyde.
My own experience is that teacher research is valuable but not always valued. Engaging in research is one of the most valuable CPD activities I can think of, boosting my skills while making me more aware of…
Memory in education - a mission statement
Humans have evolved over the course of millions of years. Since we last shared a common ancestors with chimpanzees more than 6 million years ago (White et al, 2009), a number of hominin species have evolved - most, of course, have died out (as recently as 100,000 years ago, 4-5 homo species existed concurrently).
For most of this time, our ancestors and near relatives probably lived in grasslands environments, hunting and gathering. This environment has shaped...
Improve your focus: The 'pomodoro' technique.
I believe that memory is very important in education. This might seem obvious - of course children and students need to remember things. Perhaps it also seems threatening - reducing education to mere passive memorisation?
I don’t think so.
Improving how we use memory is not threatening, in my view, because remembering is essential regardless of your view of how teaching should be done, or what the syllabus should consist of. Whether…
The social brain hypothesis
Coursework, data analysis, revision... It can be hard to concentrate on a task all day, or even for an hour or two! Which, of course, can lead to procrastination, and to short breaks that become long breaks.
The pomodoro technique is a method of time management that encourages us to focus for 25 minute spells, each followed by a shorter break of 5 minutes or so.
WHY 25 MINUTES?
The exact time can depend on the individual - each of us has a...
What caused human brains – and those of other apes – to grow so large? One theory is that it resulted from the complexity of our environment – the day to day problems that our ancestors would have encountered in foraging and survival: Where are the fruit trees? Which ones did I pick from yesterday?
Another idea – the social brain hypothesis – is that the complexity of our social groups require a big brain to keep track of, especially when the group is large – a bigger group means more relationships to remember...