Top 20 principles from psychology for teaching & learning

The Coalition for Psychology for Schools and Education haves released a new report detailing what, in their opinion, are the most important and useful psychological principles teachers ought to be aware of.

They break these principles in five areas:

How Do Students Think and Learn?

1. Students’ beliefs or perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning.

2. What students already know affects their learning.

3. Students’ cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development.

4. Learning is based on context, so generalizing learning to new contexts is not spontaneous but instead needs to be facilitated.

5. Acquiring long-term knowledge and skill is largely dependent on practice.

6. Clear, explanatory, and timely feedback to students is important for learning.

7. Students’ self-regulation assists learning, and self-regulatory skills can be taught.

8. Student creativity can be fostered.

What Motivates Students?

9. Students tend to enjoy learning and perform better when they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated to achieve.

10. Students persist in the face of challenging tasks and process information more deeply when they adopt mastery goals rather than performance goals.

11. Teachers’ expectations about their students affect students’ opportunities to learn, their motivation, and their learning outcomes.

12. Setting goals that are short term (proximal), specific, and moderately challenging enhances motivation more than establishing goals that are long term (distal), general, and overly challenging.

Why Are Social Context, Interpersonal Relationships, and Emotional Well-Being Important to Student Learning?

13. Learning is situated within multiple social contexts.

14. Interpersonal relationships and communication are critical to both the teaching– learning process and the social-emotional development of students.

15. Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development.

How Can the Classroom Best Be Managed?

16. Expectations for classroom conduct and social interaction are learned and can be taught using proven principles of behavior and effective classroom instruction.

17. Effective classroom management is based on (a) setting and communicating high expectations, (b) consistently nurturing positive relationships, and (c) providing a high level of student support.

How to Assess Student Progress?

18. Formative and summative assessments are both important and useful but require different approaches and interpretations.

19. Students’ skills, knowledge, and abilities are best measured with assessment processes grounded in psychological science with well-defined standards for quality and fairness.

20. Making sense of assessment data depends on clear, appropriate, and fair interpretation.

Some of this is surprising, some dubious, but most is in danger of falling into the ‘How Obvious‘ camp. Before embracing or dismissing any of these principles do please read the report and following the links to my analyses of each principle. Then read Greg Ashman’s post, I do that already.

Many thanks to Pedro De Bruyckere (@thebandb) for sharing the report.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

34 Responses to Top 20 principles from psychology for teaching & learning

  1. I think that even if there is just one ‘surprising’ thing appearing in summaries such as this, their power can come with the ‘obvious’ things that are discounted or at least left out by them. It looks like the process which they went through to generate 45 principles and then whittle them down to a top 20 was pretty thorough.

    What would you most consider ‘dubious’? It’s clear that the devil is in the detail with some of them. I personally found the breakdown of the ‘Student creativity can be fostered’ principle a bit of a mixed bag.

    Could be a very good general resource for staffrooms though.

    • David Didau says:

      I’m particularly sceptical about some of the recommendations around 3. It’s not that I think the principle is wrong, but advice like “Encouraging students’ reasoning in familiar areas—that is, in knowledge domains and contexts in which students already have substantial knowledge.” can lead to dumbing down. I think instead this should be taken to mean that teachers should spend more time explaining new concepts and contexts and creating relevance through curiosity.

      And principle 4 is also problematic. I completely agree on the need for transfer but I doubt their recommendations will have much impact. Better to space, interleave and test.

      • Yes – I’m right with you on that detail of 3 – we don’t educate by creating an ‘interest ghetto’ around what they already know. We educate by taking them beyond the areas that they know to establish new ground for them.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Here’s an extract from Alfie Kohn’s post on “We don’t need no evidence” that I shared on Hunting English a while back: This “In a series of four experiments reported in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Justin Friesen et al. found that a lot of people, upon encountering facts that contradict a political or religious belief they hold, don’t ‘revise [their] belief to be more in line with the new information’ but instead flick away the facts by re-framing the issue as a moral one. And the more that people’s convictions are threatened, the more likely they are to rely on unfalsifiable beliefs.”

    We are fragile beings with fragile egos easily offended by anything and anyone suggesting we’ve been stupid all along. To add another angle/layer on this discussion here is a research paper on the question “How do theories that are generally considered interesting differ from theories that are generally considered non-interesting?” http://www.mang.canterbury.ac.nz/writing_guide/marketing/ and a summary of the points is here: http://www.sfu.ca/~palys/interest.htm

    My question: Do those who have done important research for the world also have responsibility for making their findings/message ‘interesting’ so that it is picked up and shared (rather than becoming frustrated by people being people and dismissing it)? P.S. I’m looking forward to this chat!

    • David Didau says:

      Leah – sorry, don’t know how I missed this comment, sorry.

      The Kohn quote is a great one – do you have a link to it? You may know by now that my new book covers some of this ground too.

      As to whether making research interesting is the responsibility of the researcher, I’m not sure. IS there any reason to expect a great researcher to also be a great writer? Robert Bjork is a good case in point – his decades of research into memory and forgetting is terrific but he’s done little to popularise his findings. I see that as the job of writers. There’s lots of good books out there that do a great job of popularising research from Gladwell’s output to Carey’s How We Learn to, ahem, my books 🙂

      I guess when good science and popular writing come together we get a phenomenon like Mindset. But I’m not always sure that’s a wholly good thing.

      • David – oh, no worries! Thought for a while I had the last word on this one, but a conversation is much more interesting. Here’s the link to Kohn’s post: http://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/unfalsifiable/ I’m a fan of his writing, if you’re not already following him you might enjoy his work too.

        No reason to expect a researcher to be a writer. No reason to expect a researchers to take on the task of popularising findings themselves BUT I would challenge any researcher working in the shadows to please please talk about your work in a way that you might inspire someone else, even just one other person, to write about it and to share it with people who need it because, if you don’t even try to find one magnifier, you’re robbing people of the message you have. That’s what I would say.

        And I’ve a huge respect for writers like you and Kohn who do take research and re frame it for audiences. This is important work and where researchers may be fearful or whatever of sharing their work it’s people like you who’ll go in and get it out into the public.

        I’m personally pretty relaxed about what becomes popular. I’d just say that, if we don’t think it’s good, the least we can do is to learn something from the process and then try to make something we think is good popular. The more people who do this the better, in my humble opinion.

    • Fiachra O'Brien says:

      I am always surprised when I am surprised by a piece of evidence/ analysis that human beings don’t think rationally.

      5 minutes listening to my stream of conciousness is a constant reminder of that.

      We should accept the underlying dilemma – all humans struggle to be rational anything more than a minority of the time.

      Professionals should define their aims as learning the discipline to turn it on when they absolutely should and not think they’re ever going to (or should want to be) clinically logical all the time.

      Remember, we don’t really know how to prepare students for 2030…

      Surprised?!

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