Using Pedagogical Theory in Psychology Teaching

Contributed by:
Satnam Singh
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
1. Using pedagogical theory
in psychology teaching
January 2021
2. Contents
Introduction 4
Cognitive load 5
Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012) 9
References 12
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
4. In troduction Introduction
Teachers of psychology are uniquely placed This article will focus on two of the most
to understand and apply pedagogical theories popular theories: Cognitive Load Theory
to their teaching. Psychology gives an insight (Sweller 1988) and Rosenshine’s Principles
into learning theories, cognitive processes of Instruction (2012) and apply them to
and memory which can ensure that teaching psychology teaching.
is effective. As a psychology teacher, senior
positions which emphasis teaching and
learning are very suited to your knowledge
and skill set.
The theory is based on the principles of the
Working Memory Model (Baddeley & Hitch,
1974). The basic principles are to avoid
overloading a student’s working memory.
Central Executive
Phonological Loop Episodic Buffer Visospatial Sketchpad
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
5. Cognitive load
Cognitive l oa d
There are three main types of cognitive load: However, more new information could be
presented in a lesson if dual processing is
Intrinsic taken advantage of to increase the capacity
of the working memory. Dual processing was
first suggested by Allan Paivio (1971) as a way
to facilitate learning by using a combination
of words and images. This theory is further
supported by Baddeley & Hitch (1974) who
showed that the working memory has separate
stores; the visuo-spatial sketchpad and the
Your role as a teacher is to help students
phonological loop. Their dual task experiments
to manage their cognitive load to achieve
showed that if information is visual and
effective learning.
auditory it does not interfere with memory
INTRINSIC COGNITIVE LOAD retention in the same way that two visual or
two auditory tasks would. This means that
Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the relative
presenting visual and auditory information
difficulty or complexity of what you are
can effectively double the capacity of the
asking your students to learn. Teaching
working memory.
new concepts or ideas will always lead to
a relatively high level of intrinsic cognitive For example, when teaching the working
load, this is not necessarily a bad thing! As memory model:
psychology teachers you already know about
the limited capacity of short-term memory. Get students to draw an annotated
Miller’s Magic 7 (1956) suggests that the diagram from notes (words and pictures,
capacity of short-term memory is between dual processing)
5–9 items for most people, but this can be
extended by chunking information together.
Add a third level of processing by asking
The implication for your teaching is to think
them to explain the process to their
carefully about the amount of new information
partner, whilst tracing the pathway with
you will be presenting in a lesson and try to
their finger (tactile)
limit it to between 5–9 chunks of information.
However, it is recognised that controlling the
For homework ask them to explain the
intrinsic cognitive load in a mixed ability class
model to a family member.
is difficult, as it is different for each student.
This requires careful planning and
differentiation. Test knowledge and understanding at
start of next lesson e.g. ask them to
sketch diagram from memory or give an
exam question
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
6. EXTRANEOUS COGNITIVE LOAD Piaget (1969) argues that we are motivated
Cognitive l oa d Extraneous cognitive load refers to factors
to learn when our existing schemata no longer
allows us to make sense of the world, this
outside of the task or information to be learnt
leads to the cognitive state of disequilibrium.
which may provide a distraction.
He further argues that as disequilibrium is an
Sometimes the teacher can unwittingly add uncomfortable state (e.g. not knowing, being
to the extraneous cognitive load by including unsure), we are motivated to discover what we
information or instructions that are overly need to know to achieve equilibrium in our
complicated and unnecessary. When you cognitive states once more.
plan a lesson review it and ask yourself
Learning takes place through the processes of
whether everything you have included is
assimilation and accommodation.
strictly necessary.
Assimilation occurs when we discover new
A further factor is low level disruption in the
information to add to an existing schema.
classroom, this is a serious impediment to
Once this information is successfully
learning, and can be addressed by classroom
assimilated, we have achieved equilibrium.
management techniques. Even experienced
For example, imagine a family have a pet
teachers sometimes struggle with this with
Yorkshire terrier. The child learns that this
particular classes. Do not be afraid to ask for
animal is called a dog. Whilst out with parents
help and advice. Environmental factors also
the child encounters a Great Dane, this animal
need to be considered, as it is impossible to
looks nothing like their pet Yorkie. The child is
learn in a room that is too hot or too cold.
told by their parents that this is also a dog as
Also, consider classroom displays, an overly
it has four legs and a tail; it is simply a bigger
busy classroom can be distracting, and this
version. Therefore, the child’s dog schema has
is especially true for students with Autistic
now expanded to include dogs of varying sizes.
spectrum disorders (ASD) as it can lead to
sensory overload. Accommodation occurs when a child must
either radically change their current schema or
form a new one. For example, the same child in
Germane cognitive load is the construction the previous example encounters a cat for the
of schemata and this is a desirable form of first time. They immediately think it is a dog as
cognitive load. This is when real, deep learning it has four legs and a tail. The parent has
is occurring. to explain that dogs bark and cats meow.
As psychology teachers are well aware, The child now develops a cat schema.
a schema is a cognitive representation of Germane cognitive load occurs when
all we know about an object, person or idea. students either assimilate knowledge into an
For example, a child may have a quite simple existing schema or through the process of
schema for a table; a flat rectangular surface accommodation build a new schema.
to eat or work on with four legs. As the child
becomes more experienced, they realise that
tables come in all shapes and sizes and that
some can have three legs, whilst others just
have a central pedestal. A young child is
constantly developing new schemata, as we
get older, we tend to just amend or adapt our
existing schemata.
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
7. Activity
Consider a lesson you are going to teach and GERMANE COGNITIVE LOAD
plan how you can apply cognitive load theory to
Consider whether the new information requires
it to ensure you effectively reduce the cognitive
your students to assimilate knowledge into
load of your students.
an existing schema or requires, through the
INTRINSIC COGNITIVE LOAD process of accommodation, to build a new
schema. You will then be considering the
Consider the complexity of the material you are
germane cognitive load of your lesson.
presenting, limit it to between 5–9 new items.
Carry out action research by evaluating your
lesson or ask a colleague (peer observation) to
Control and eliminate any unnecessary observe you paying attention to cognitive load.
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
9. Rosenshine’s Principles of
Ro senshine’s Principles of Instruction (2 012)
Instruction (2012)
Barack Rosenshine’s 10 instructional principles It is important to stress that no one will be
are firmly grounded in research: expecting you to use all 10 principles in every
lesson. Lessons should be seen as a series
Cognitive science – How our brains of linked learning opportunities rather than
process information discreet entities.
Classroom practice of effective
(master) teachers
Cognitive supports – Strategies and
techniques that assist student learning
T H E 1 0 I N S T R U C T I ON P R I N C I P L E S A R E
1. BEGIN EACH LESSON WITH A will be presenting in a lesson and try to limit
SHORT REVIEW it to between 5–9 chunks of information.
Psychology provides lots of opportunities for
Research has shown that teachers who begin
active learning techniques, by replicating many
each lesson with an eight-minute review have
of the studies and especially in the teaching
students with consistently higher achievement
of research methods via mini-practicals. As
scores compared to teachers who do not do this
the Chinese proverb says: ‘I listen and I forget,
regularly. This principle is linked to retrieval
I see and I remember, I do and I understand’.
practice in cognitive psychology. Bruner’s
(1960) theory of the spiral curriculum is 3. QUESTION ALL STUDENTS
also important here. In psychology, research
Black & Wiliam (2003) found that on average
methods are central to an understanding of
a teacher waits less than one second for
psychology, so regular review and integration
students to answer questions before giving the
of research methods into lessons will improve
answer themselves. This leads to questions and
student performance in examinations.
answers being rather superficial. Therefore,
2 . P R E S E N T N E W I N F O R M AT I O N I N think about the questions you are asking, plan
STEPS AND ALLOW OPPORTUNITY questions and follow up questions. Inform
FOR STUDENT PRACTICE students that you do not expect an immediate
answer, give them thinking time. Think, pair,
This principle links to cognitive load theory.
share is a good strategy for this. It is good
Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the relative
practice not to rely on ‘hands up’ as the same
difficulty or complexity of what you are
few students will offer an answer. Keep a tally
asking your students to learn. Teaching
of which students have answered questions and
new concepts or ideas will always lead to
target those that have not. Use randomisation
a relatively high level of intrinsic cognitive
methods to choose students to answer. It is
load. Miller’s Magic 7 (1956) suggests that
also essential to use prior knowledge of student
the capacity of short-term memory is between
ability to ensure that you target questions
5–9 items for most people, but this can be
appropriately, but do not be afraid to challenge.
extended by chunking information together.
For example, you could use bronze, silver and
Therefore, the implication is to think carefully
gold questions which represent increasing
about the amount of new information you
levels of challenge.
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
Ro senshine’s Principles of Instruction (2 012) Students really appreciate model examination
answers. But, how do you make sure they An important consideration to ensure student
read them? Make your model answers into understanding are ‘threshold concepts’:
a cloze activity by removing key words. You can ‘A threshold concept can be considered
differentiate this activity by either providing as akin to a portal, opening up a new and
the list of missing words or not. This ensures previously inaccessible way of thinking about
that the students fully engage with the material something. It represents a transformed way
to complete the activity. Alternatively, ask of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing
students to highlight different sections of the something without which the learner cannot
model answer, for example all the descriptive progress.’ (Meyer & Land, 2003).
material (AO1), all the evaluation (AO3), all the
A threshold concept has the following features:
application (AO2) or specialist terminology etc.
They are transformative. Once a student grasps
Many of the awarding bodies provide model
the threshold concept it changes the way
answers on their websites.
a student thinks about a subject. It is also
5. GUIDE PRACTICE highly likely to be troublesome for the student.
It may seem counter-intuitive, or at best, really
This is similar to point 8. Scaffold difficult
difficult to grasp. Yet, once understood, it can
tasks. Students need time for practice and
make subsequent learning feel more intuitive
rehearsal in order for new material to be
or ‘easy‘. It is irreversible. Once grasped, the
successfully transferred to long term memory.
student would find it difficult to unlearn. It is
New information should be presented in small
integrative. That is to say that once learned,
chunks, with the opportunity to practice with
the concept helps unify aspects of the subject
guidance and support from the teacher to
that may not have appeared related to the
offer reassurance and pick up on any errors.
student. It may completely shift the view
Students will then be confident and prepared
that the student has towards the subject.
to complete further independent study.
Unless students have a firm grasp of threshold
6. CHECK UNDERSTANDING concepts they will be unable to progress
with their learning. Any misunderstandings
How do you know students have learnt what you
identified when checking understanding must
wanted them to learn? An ineffective teacher
be rectified either at a whole class or individual
might ask ‘Are there any questions?’ at the end
level as appropriate. Some threshold concepts
of the lesson and assume that if there are no
in psychology include:
questions everyone understands the content of
the lesson. Students need targeted questions
that check for understanding throughout the The experimental method
lesson. An effective teacher uses this feedback
to assess the students’ level of knowledge and Reliability and validity
understanding and gauge whether the new
information has been successfully transferred IV and DV
into long-term memory.
Writing hypotheses
Probability levels
Ethics, etc.
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
Ro senshine’s Principles of Instruction (2 012)
The social aspect of learning involves the
teacher supporting and guiding the student Think outside of the box – homework does not
until they have gained the knowledge or skills have to be exam questions! Work smarter, not
being taught. harder, try to think of tasks which are easy to
check and do not create lots of marking. Some
Vygotsky (1978) defined the zone of proximal
examples include: Self-checking quizzes and
development as the difference between what
tests (online), poster tasks (or other creative
a learner can do without help and what he
tasks), Flipped learning etc. Tasks should be
or she can do with help. He suggests that
meaningful for students and be effective at
teachers use cooperative learning exercises
reinforcing learning.
where less competent students develop with
help from more skillful peers – within the zone 10. E N G A G E I N W E E K LY A N D
of proximal development. Scaffolding is a term M O N T H LY R E V I E W S
which describes the kind of help a teacher or
Do not leave revision until the end of the
more advanced peer will give to a student in
course. Regular reviews could be end of topic
the zone of proximal development.
tests, low stakes weekly quizzes or practice
One way to scaffold is to provide writing frames examination questions. Personal Learning
for extended writing tasks. Checklists (PLCs) are really useful for this.
Produce a checklist from the specification
The problem that many teachers have is that which covers the knowledge and skills
they fail to remove the scaffolding and students required for each unit or topic. Students
then find it difficult to think for themselves and then self-assess themselves either red (no
tackle questions in examinations. Scaffolding idea – I need to revise this), amber (OK – but
should be removed gradually, to build up I could do with refreshing my knowledge) or
student confidence, so that early in their course green (I’m confident with this). This allows
of study writing frames contain a lot of detail students to identify where their strengths
and that level of detail is gradually reduced and weaknesses are and target their revision
until students no longer need a writing frame. appropriately.
Look at your medium-term planning for
a unit of work or topic. Consider how the 10
principles fit into your plan. Carry out action
research by comparing students’ end of topic
test scores on this unit and one taught without
considering the 10 principles.
Deborah Gajic
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
12. R ef erences References
Baddeley, A. & Hitch, G.J. (1974). Working memory. Miller, G. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or
In G.A. Bower (Ed.) Recent Advances in Learning minus two: Some limits of our capacity for processing
and Motivation (Vol.8, pp.47–90). New York: information Psychological Review, 63, 81–97.
Academic Press. Paivio, A. (1971). Imagery and verbal processes. New York:
Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B, & Wiliam, D. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
(2004). Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1969). The Psychology of the Child.
for Learning in the Classroom, Phi Delta Kappan, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
86(1), 9–21. Rosenshine, B. (2012). Principles of instruction
Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of Education. Cambridge, research-based strategies that all teachers should
MA: Harvard University Press. know. American Educator, 36(1), 12–39.
Meyer, J.H.F. & Land, R. (2003). Threshold concepts and Sweller, J. (1988). Cognitive load during problem
troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking solving: Effects on learning. Cognitive Science,
and practising. In Rust, C. (Ed.) Improving Student 12(2), 257–285.
Learning – Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development
Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA:
(OCSLD), pp.412–424. Harvard University Press.
Using pedagogical theory in psychology teaching
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