No time for practicals…?
Most Psychology teachers wish that they had more time to complete practical investigations with A Level students. Now that coursework is a thing of the past for A Level students in this subject (well at the moment anyway), “practicals” are no longer a mandatory part of the specification (AQAA). Practical investigations however, are an excellent way to teach many aspects of Research Methods for AS and A2 and, let’s face it, are what Psychology is all about. Studying A Level Psychology without ever actually carrying out an investigation is probably like studying Art without ever actually setting foot inside a gallery or exhibition, relying instead on what other people tell you about the work on display.
The reality, however, is that if you have a limited number of lessons available to teach students the material and skills that are going to be directly assessed in an examination, there has got to be a really good reason to give some of that precious time over to a practical lesson.
Psychology Practical club/society
Many Psychology departments have Psychology clubs where students might get together out of hours to watch films related to Psychology, read and discuss subject related books, study areas that fall outside of the specification and even occasionally hear from guest speakers.
As students attending these sorts of clubs are likely to be those with a particular interest in the subject and considering studying Psychology further, this would be a great place to include a practical element. In groups or working alone students could attempt to replicate or develop research they are learning about beyond the immediate scope of the A Level. Designing and carrying out their own, ethical, investigations inspired by the films, books or wider material they come across could be an excellent way to engage these students further and prepare them for later study.
As this activity takes place out of teaching hours, students can choose to design their studies using the time they have available without eating into much needed class time. Obviously there needs to be some ground rules and all studies would have to be ethically approved before they are carried out (definitely no under 16’s for example, unless you want the rigmarole of gaining parental consent!). Student’s investigative work should adhere to the BPS guidelines so encourage students in this club to join the BPS as student members to ensure they feel more responsible as researchers.
By calling upon other Psychology students to act as participants all students will have the chance to gain first-hand experience of practical research.
Students could also create their own club/society journal and decide which reports should be published in their publication. This journal/magazine could be shared with the whole school. Better still get the rest of the science departments in your school/college on board and make this publication a whole school science journal (this might help to reinforce Psychology’s position as a scientific discipline).
Using this practical work as a learning resource for all
There are also a number of ways to draw on the outcomes of a Psychology Practical Club of this style to create learning opportunities for all your A Level students in class:
- Students who write up their reports could share the abstracts in class inviting evaluation of the method and discussion of the findings/conclusions. This would make a suitable lesson starter for both AS and A2 students.
- Students attending this club could support their peers when learning about the statistical techniques used to analyse data as they may be more confident having had more experience with data analysis (A2, Unit 4, “data analysis and reporting”).
- A selection of the research undertaken could be written up and peer reviewed as a class activity (A2 Unit 4, “the application of the scientific method”).
I am not suggesting that practical investigations should only be carried at as an extra-curricular activity but that it is one way to avoid the constraints of time and provide enrichment for students who would really benefit from and enjoy this type of work. The added bonus being that the greater experience of this group of students can benefit all students when the knowledge and experience these students have gained begins to be shared in the classroom. Anecdotes are always an engaging contribution to a lesson, so when these are student not teacher-led, all the better!