Attachment: Timely topical revision

A revision stimulus for AS Attachments (Unit 1)

A couple of days ago (at time of writing) @TimesEducation tweeted a post that would make a great stimulus for some broad revision of the AS (AQA spec A) topic of Attachment.

@TimesEducation: “End of the road for childhood” as nurseries open all hours”.

Is this the future of day care?

Is this the future of day care?

After Easter I plan to simply display this tweet and invite students to speculate about the content of arguments in the article it refers to. With access to the full article I could display it and ask students to annotate the piece with their knowledge; backing up or refuting the content and suggestions made in the piece will give ample opportunities to find, use and refile their learning. There’s lots of scope to consider bias in the way the article is written and whether research has been reflected accurately and in a way that shows that research is tentative not 100% conclusive (How Science Works). The link in the blog post only gives the opening paragraph (a subscription is required) but even this has enough to get a reflective discussion going.

Some ideas for the classroom

Here are a few suggestions of how this article might be best used in the AS Psychology classroom:

  1. The first line of the article suggests that longer hours for nurseries may “risk insitutionalising young children”; a bold claim with much scope for a two sided class or small group debate.
  2. Put students in pairs – where one is the journalist and one the “expert” – and ask the journalist to imagine the article has not been written yet and they want to interview an expert as research for writing the article. A fictional section of the article, drawing on research into attachments, disruption and day care could then be written by the pair collaboratively.
  3. Ask students to write a comment (in the style of those posted in response to news articles online) about the content of the article given their knowledge of research in this area.
  4. Students could give advice to nurseries planning to open for long hours about how best to avoid institutionalisation and promote attachment and social development.

It is important that students do not start to mix up institutional care and day care; a carefully managed discussion and consideration of how and why the article is using the term “institutionalisation” should help prevent this.


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Can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Quick on the Draw!

A classic Teacher’s Toolkit activity

Reading techniques

Reading techniques

Quick on the draw is from, the now classic, (The) Teacher’s Toolkit (written by Paul Ginnis; Crown House Publishing, 2002).  It is basically an activity where students are given questions, one at a time, to answer from a piece of text. Once they have answered the first question they must bring it to be checked for accuracy before they are given the next question. This is best done as a group task where teams race to be the first to complete all the questions with the correct answers. It doesn’t actually involve any drawing, the name refers to the speed needed to be successful.

Better late than never

To celebrate her recent retirement from teaching my Mum bestowed to me her copy Ginnis’ educator’s bible and I glibly remarked that I was already very familiar with the publication (thank you) and shelved it with my much forgotten and dusty books about aromatherapy and how to make your own Christmas cards.  Over the summer, however, I dusted it off and trawled through it looking for some inspiration for September. I’m glad I did because this brought the activity described above to my attention.

In the Psychology classroom

In Psychology I often want students to use their textbook but asking them to simply read and comprehend the text can seem like a waste of lesson time. I originally thought this task would just be a “fun” way to quickly find and review textbook information, however, it proved to be so much more.

I was teaching A2 students about restoration accounts of the functions of sleep (AQA Spec A: Biological Rhythms and Sleep) and had already outlined the differing views of Oswald and Horne (with the help of a “flipped” video I made which students watched prior to the lesson) but the textbook included more depth into what specifically might be restored which students needed to consider in order to describe and analyse the theories. Asking them just to read this information (a whole textbook page) would have been unproductive and a teacher explanation would have been unnecessary. Instead I wrote 8 questions that required students to move around the whole page of text using skim reading techniques (literacy) and scanning. Once the students found the relevant material they then start reading for understanding in order to answer the question. I made sure the questions required short, specific answers for speed and to reduce ambiguity in judging the accuracy of their responses.

More than just a bit of fun

Once the students had all completed the activity we revisited the answers and the broad knowledge the students had gained was evident. The familiarity they had with the text meant they could be much more productive, and confident, in their use of the text for a task we did later drawing on this knowledge. The textbook page had become something accessible rather than the unending sea of off-putting words it had started out as. The students said they really enjoyed it (even a self confessed group-work-hater) and I have used it again since.

This activity is simple, easy to put together and works for any topic; highly recommended – thanks Teacher’s Toolkit!

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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in A2, AO1, AO2, AQA A Unit 3, AS, Study skills


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Doceri: control your board and flip your classroom

The flipped classroom

I love the idea of what is often called the flipped classroom where students learn about content outside of lessons, freeing up precious class time for more applied, creative activities. In A Level Psychology a concept that can be accessed adequately through an audio or video presentation at home, frees up “live” class time for students to do something with this knowledge.

I have played around with a number of free tools for making screen casts (video tutorials) including Windows Movie Maker and Doodlecast (for the iPad) but I recently came across Doceri which has become my new favourite thing.

Doceri is basically an app that allows you to control what is on your computer screen or your interactive white-board display, from your iPad. This alone is impressive but the app also allows you to create pages of pictures/photos/slides and hand written/drawn content to which you can add an audio narration. I have used this tool to create video tutorials where I outline and explain the strengths and weaknesses of some of the approaches to explaining abnormality (AS Psychology, Unit 2; AQA A).

I plan to ask students to watch and listen to the screen casts for homework, following a lesson on the assumptions and key features of the approach. I’m then going to use lessons, in which I would have focussed on identifying strengths and weaknesses of the approaches, to complete a variety of activities including a group “broken pieces” style (see “Teachers Toolkit”, Paul Ginnis) activity, where students will work together to categorise critical points and draw conclusions about the value of the approach. Students will also be able to use the video resources for revision later too.

Sharing on You Tube

I have previously blogged about some video presentations I made as revision resources for my students on my rather embarrassingly titled You Tube channel (psychologyguru). I have uploaded my Doceri screen casts for the biological and behavioural approaches for anyone that is interested in taking a look (follow this link to the bio video and the behavioural video).

Using Doceri in the classroom

The in-class uses of the app are also many and varied. You could just use it to navigate and control your board from around the classroom, you could pass the iPad around the room to create a mind map or you could ask students to annotate an exam answer displaying their contributions on the board for the class to see and comment on.

All in all Doceri is a useful app to create content-focussed resources for skills-focussed teachers and a bit of tech definitely worth trying out in the classroom.


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Update: Find the fake intro lesson examples

Some examples for your use

In a previous post I blogged about a different approach to the first introductory lesson of the course with AS Psychology students. The activity, Find the Fake, involves circulating round a number of summaries of pieces of research displayed on the walls in small groups. The students have to find the one piece of research that is actually a figment of my imagination.

I have had a few requests for examples of the research I used so I have finally relented and have posted some here. I’m sure there are lots more that would be good to use. I have also since the original post included some more examples that I didn’t use the first time but thought might be good.

Nim Chimpksy

There has been some debate concerning whether, as humans, we develop language because our brains are hardwired to do so or whether the use of language, with grammatical structure, is learned. In order to try to resolve this debate Psychologist Herbert Terrace carried out a study to find out whether a chimpanzee exposed to a human environment, could acquire language like a human. The chimp who was selected for the investigation was removed from his mother at 2 weeks of age and raised by a surrogate mother (a researcher) in a home environment.

The chimp was treated like a human and brought up alongside seven human siblings. He was taught sign language in order to communicate by rewarding him every time he used signs correctly to communicate. By the age of 4 years it was documented that the chimp had acquired a vocabulary of over 100 signs which had been used in 20,000 combinations in communication with the humans around him.

Project pigeon

American Psychologist B.F Skinner, is well known for his research into the effects of rewards and punishments on behaviour. He also attempted to develop a pigeon-guided missile during World War II.

At the front of the missile, a lens projected an image of the target to a screen inside. The pigeons had been trained to peck the target image and were placed inside the missile. As long as the pigeon kept pecking the centre of the screen, the missile would fly straight, but pecks off-centre would cause the screen to tilt, which would then, via a connection to the missile’s flight controls, cause the missile to change course.

The National Defense Research Committee contributed $25,000 to the research. The program was cancelled on October 8, 1944, because the military did not feel it was a high priority. Project Pigeon was revived by the Navy in 1948 as “Project Orcon”; it was later cancelled in 1953 when electronic guidance systems’ took over.

Obedient nurses

Hofling (1966) carried out a field experiment in a hospital setting. The study aimed to find out whether a group of nurses would obey an order from an authority figure (a doctor) even if this action was against the rules and meant they could lose their job. In the study, 22 nurses received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as “Dr Smith” (an investigator, pretending to be a doctor). Dr Smith asked each nurse (individually) to administer a dose of “10mg” of “Astroten” to a patient. This was not a real drug but a bottle had been made and labelled and placed in the drugs cupboard.

In the phone call the “Dr” said he would write up the paperwork to authorise the treatment later on but that the nurse should administer the drug straight away. The dosage was twice the recommended dose printed on the bottle, and the rules stated that an order over the telephone – and from a doctor who was not familiar to them – was not allowed. Despite numerous reasons to refuse, only 21 out of the 22 refused to carry out the order.

Gendered numbers

Wilkie and Bodenhausen did an experiment where they showed participants photos of babies and asked them to determine for each photo the likelihood that the baby was male. They found that when a baby photo was paired with the number 1, people were much more likely to think the baby was male.

In a separate study, the researchers had participants rate the masculinity and femininity of the numbers themselves. People readily rated the number 1, as well as other odd numbers, as being more masculine. They also rated the number 2, and other even numbers, as appearing more feminine. This last finding was replicated with a sample from India which suggests that this is consistent across different cultures.


Hazan and Shaver (1987) published a questionnaire in a newspaper asking people to write in and describe their experiences in romantic relationships and their relationship with their parents during early childhood. They did this by choosing statements that they felt best described these experiences. The researchers analysed the responses that were sent in to them.

Those responders who described their childhood relationships as positive and secure also expressed healthy views of adult romantic relationships. For example, they said they believed in true love, found it easy to trust others and were confident that they were a lovable person. People who described their early parental relationships negatively, however, were more sceptical of the existence of “true love” and tended to be mistrusting of others.

The fake

Radley (2006) carried out a study into the impact of the use of social networking sites on psychopathic tendencies. The researchers wanted to test whether communicating with people via Facebook, rather than face to face, might may be decreasing our ability to empathise with others (feel other people’s emotions) as there are less cues available (e.g. tone of voice, facial expression) to detect the emotional state of others online.

Psychopaths are unable to feel empathy, so spending lots of time using social networking sites might lead to an increase in psychopaths and potentially more serial killers in society as a result. A group of teenage volunteers, who regularly use Facebook, underwent brain scans whilst using Facebook for 30 minutes. The activity of the empathy centres of the brain were compared with a control group of teenagers who never, or rarely, use social networks whilst using Facebook for the same period of time.  The researchers found that those who used Facebook regularly showed less activity in their empathy brain centres than the control group. Radley concluded that Facebook might create a generation of Psychopaths and that further research was needed in this area to determine whether warnings should be placed on the site in the future.


Posted by on July 18, 2013 in AS, Planning and curriculum design


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Memory, depression and Psychiatry: Radio 4 comes up trumps again!

All in the Mind

I just listened to a recent episode of Radio 4’s excellent series All in The Mind (Wednesday 5th June 2013; “Memory and depression; Global mental health; Compassion training”). The memory and depression link signalled in the title first caught my eye but I was delighted that actually the whole 28 minute episode linked very nicely to A Level Psychology and could be of interest to AS and A2 student following the AQA A specification.

Could Method of Loci prevent a depressive episode?

method of LociThe first piece in the episode focusses on an interesting application of the Method of Loci memory technique (Unit 1: Memory – “strategies for memory improvement”) to helping people with depression recall happy memories, something that they usually find very difficult. The researcher (Dr Tim Dalgleish) concerned describes the memory technique very clearly and a research participant discusses the positive outcome of the study. It is suggested that the technique may provide a way to manage the cognitive bias that seems to exist in those with depression towards negative memories, by making happy memories easier to bring to mind and preventing the spiral of negative thoughts.  This research is published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

A2 students who are studying depression as their chosen disorder in Unit 4, Psychopathology, may also find this piece in the episode interesting in terms applying their learning about the Cognitive Approach to explaining depression.

Should Psychiatry be globally applied?

The second piece in this episode focusses on the idea that the access individuals with mental health problems have to support and intervention is severly limited in low and middle income countries. The piece features an interesting debate between Vikram Patel (Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Sangath Centre in Goa in India) who presents the argument that Psychiatric intervention is urgently needed and Professor Pat Bracken (Psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Mental Health Service in West Cork in Ireland) who warns against the potential dangers of applying approaches developed in Western cultures globally.

I think this is worth listening to in order to give students an appreciation of the issues surrounding imposing the ideals from one culture onto another, which can be applied in many areas of the specification. The discussion also highlights the differing views regarding whether Psychiatry and medicalisation is the best approach to understanding mental health.

Compassion training

The final section of this episode focusses on Compassion Training and the idea that thinking about someone you are experiencing conflict with in a compassionate manner might help to increase altruism. Although not part of the specification in any way students tuning into this episode might consider applying this approach themselves as a possible way to increase their compassion and pro-social behaviour and/or critique the methodology of the research described and discussed by the researcher (Helen Weng; University of Wisconsin Madison).


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Write it 3 ways: A writing plenary

Academic writing

A while ago I came across an article in the Guardian entitled “10 things academics say students get wrong in exams” (30/04/2013). Although the focus of the article is on undergraduate students seeming to fall into the trap of simply regurgitating what they have been told in lectures, I think the article is just as relevant to A Level students.

One of the things the article refers to in the list of general student errors is getting the right tone for academic writing. The article suggests that regular reading of academic articles, which exposes students to the appropriate tone, can help and also that practising a small bit of writing regularly will benefit students in their approach to writing.

This certainly seems like good advice but knowing what something looks like and being able to do it yourself are two different things, and I think students need to be able to explicitly identify the differences between writing styles suitable for different audiences in order to actually make long lasting improvements.

Audience and purpose

Students learn in English all about writing for different purposes but often do not transfer this learning to other situations. As teachers we can point out where skills transfer and give students ample opportunities to make this transfer possible.

The Guardian piece gave me an idea about how a focus on regular writing practice and being aware of the tone of writing might lend itself to being the focus for a plenary activity for A Level Psychology students.

Write it 3 ways: A writing plenary

There are a number of different ways in which knowledge about research in Psychology might be communicated to others. Some of these ways include:

  1. Reporting for publication in an academic journal or review for a science magazine/blog
  2. Newspaper reporting aimed at a more general audience
  3. Tweeting about new research developments (there is a rapidly growing community of Psychologists and Psychology related individuals and organisations that Tweet about new research developments).

The style, length and the sort of language appropriate for these different audiences and purposes varies, with an exam writing style being in line with the report for an academic audience.

I think it could be worth asking students, as a closing activity for a lesson, to write about the area of research that has been studied in each of these 3 ways and discuss how the tone differs and identify the differences in the way in which they have communicated the same information. For example, in a lesson on life changes as a source of stress (Unit 2, AQA A, AS) students could be given a prompt such as “How do our lives lead to stress?” and asked to write a short piece for each of the 3 audiences/purposes highlighted above. Alternatively in groups of 3 students could be allocated 1 purpose each and then they could compare and contrast the outcomes, focussing on identifying what is appropriate when the audience is an examiner and the purpose is to convey knowledge and understanding of research in Psychology. If you can find a piece of research that has been written about in each style/tone this could be useful for modelling.

These are just the 3 purposes/styles that popped into my head when I read the article so I’m sure this activity could be tweaked into something better!



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AS Psychology and EWT: Child witnesses influenced by gestures as well as wording

Factors affecting EWT: Age of witness

gestureAQA specification A requires students studying AS Psychology Unit 1 to learn about research into “factors affecting the accuracy of Eye Witness Testimony”, including the age of the witness. This week I came across some research suggesting that it is not just the fragility of a developing memory or the wording used by the interviewer that can have a detrimental impact on the recall of information when witnesses are children, but also the non-verbal gestures used by an interviewer.

Not what you say but how you say it

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have conducted a study where adult interviewers gestured in a misleading manner in a way that seemed to suggest that an item that was not present in a video, shown to the child participants, had been. The children were reported to have been “highly susceptible” to the gesture,  recalling incorrectly that a lady in the video had been wearing glasses when she had not been when the question was accompanied by the interviewer gesturing as if they were putting on glasses.

Implications for training of interviewers

This is particularly worrying as when talking to children it can seem quite natural to gesture explicitly to bring what you are saying to life and to engage children preventing wandering attention. This research implies that when interviewing child witnesses this sort of gesturing needs to be avoided and awareness of this influence should become part of interviewer training should this finding be replicated and validated sufficiently.

The study is summarised on the University website (“Interviewers gestures mislead child-witnesses”) and is being presented at the BPS Annual Conference this week (at time of writing).

In the classroom

As the focus of this research is directly relevant to the AQA A spec there are potentially a number of ways to use this in the classroom. Here are a few ideas:

  • Give students an overview of the research and ask them what they would they would be expecting in terms of the method and controls in place in this study in order to take the findings seriously (this could be linked to peer review as a method of validation giving a small taste of A2).
  • You could ask students to imagine that they are going to attend the BPS annual conference and prepare a list of questions for the researchers regarding this piece of research.
  • You could ask students to design their own study to further investigate the impact of gestures on witnesses (this could go beyond children).
  • Ask students to include this research in an exam style question along the lines of “Outline research into factors affecting accuracy of EWT including age of witness (4 marks)”

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