Advice for new/training teachers: 2. Teach Psychology, not the textbook

Using textbooks effectively

There are a number of textbooks available to support the study of A Level Psychology and it is fair to say that most teachers tend to use their own personal preferences when it comes to choosing a textbook. Whilst some prefer the book that has been officially endorsed by the exam board or one written by a well-known author, others opt to select a textbook based on the layout and general user-friendliness.

I personally don’t think that any of the books on offer are better or worse than any of the others, as they all have their pros and cons. As all of the books on offer contain material that is not 100% matched to the current specification (at least where AQA specification A is concerned), due to specification revisions and updates since the books were published, they should all be used as a tool to compliment students learning rather than heralded as a course “bible”.

Using a textbook effectively to support students learning, rather than falling into the trap of teaching from it or becoming over-reliant on one source of research, is important for student’s current and future study. If your students think you only know what is in the book they are unlikely to trust you or your subject knowledge. Giving students the impression that they are learning a book, rather than studying selected aspects of a broad discipline, is misleading and may potentially hinder their transition to higher levels of study (or at least make the level and amount of reading required at degree level a huge shock, in my case).

Textbook don’ts

Avoid lessons being focussed on reproducing textbook content onto grids, or other proforma, that simply transport information from one source to another without digestion or reflection. Students can make notes from learning activities and the textbook at home, freeing up class time for more productive activities.

Don’t stick rigidly to what is in the textbook if it doesn’t look right (there are errors in some) or doesn’t give students adequate opportunity to analyse the concepts and material they are studying. Be prepared to substitute research that is not specifically named in the specification with material from other books/publications that gives students greater opportunities to analyse if you feel this would be beneficial.

Don’t mistake a textbook heading that makes reference to AO2 or evaluation as exam-ready commentary. The quality of student analysis is dependent on what students do with the ideas they come across and how relevant they make them in relation to the question that has been posed by an examiner. Some students get the impression that they need to simply remember the AO1 and AO2 sections of the textbook and regurgitate what they have rote learned to be successful in the exam.

Textbook do’s

Constantly check textbook content or advice against the specification, pointing out to students where parts of the course may have been removed or added or where there has been a change of emphasis.

Use other sources (including new research findings) to compliment or challenge the content of the main textbook. New research findings may supersede older ideas or weaken previously made arguments. Students should have opportunity to study the subject as an ever developing scientific discipline rather than as snap shot reflecting the time of print. Sharing new research is an effective way to model to students your learning skills and on-going commitment to the subject (there are lots of ideas in this blog to use new research findings and Psychology in the news to do this).

Focus on equipping students with the skills to read, digest, reflect and evaluate what they have read. Explicitly teach students how to record what they have learned from textbooks in an efficient manner (see earlier post on notes).

Give students challenging reading materials (pitched above their level of study) to work with from time to time. Support them when using these materials, anticipating where students might come across barriers to achieving full understanding and giving them opportunities to put their resilience to the test when faced with difficult tasks.


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