Using pictures to prompt recall and check understanding
I was recently teaching a longer than usual session (2 hours) to a large group of students (36) out of normal school hours. The brief was to teach Piaget and Vygotsky’s theories of Cognitive Development (Paper 3 Issues and Options, AQA). As I was unfamiliar with the group, the layout for the room and the level of receptiveness of the audience, I decided to keep it simple and opted for an engaging and thought provoking talk with lots of questions posed for pondering. I also used lots of pictures (and a few props) to keep their attention.
It occurred to me that these pictures, originally intended to brighten up my Power Point and illustrate some concepts, have use way beyond this initial teaching session. I love any resources that get to be used more than once with the same learners, and so a set of carefully selected images (or the real thing) could just be gift that just keeps on giving!
Pictures and Props for Learning and Assessment
Pictures have an obvious benefit for first teaching of a topic. However clichéd the saying “a picture paints a thousand words” may be, it is true. I think the benefit goes beyond simply illustrating a concept though. Priming learners with relevant images can be an effective way to create a level of understanding of a concept or theory before it has been explained and avoid misconceptions. Activating familiar knowledge, prompted by the picture, may mean that connections are made to assist the storage of new knowledge and improve retention.
For example, a google image search for a baby looking confused provided the basis for introducing Piaget’s concept of equilibration. I asked students to consider the mental state of the baby and find a connection between and another image of some weighing scales. This led us nicely to exploring equilibrium and disequilibrium and the process of adaptation when new knowledge cannot be assimilated into old schemas. I also talked about Piaget’s proposal that teachers should create opportunities for disequilibrium in the classroom to promote cognitive development.
How can pictures be used for assessment?
Displaying the pictures, without words, and asking students to annotate or verbally explain the proposals of the theory is a simple way to check understanding. The traditional request for students to recall definitions of terms and concepts in notes in a predictable sequence might be an adequate test of memory but it is not a valid test of understanding and doesn’t promote elaboration.
The picture provides the initial retrieval cue but by asking students to explain the link between the concept and the picture the students must understand as well as recall, demonstrating the depth of their comprehension by elaborating. There is no reason why this type of assessment couldn’t replace a more traditional paper based test at the end of a topic as well as providing a useful starter of plenary. I think this sort of activity also provides more opportunity for creativity, which is likely to help to develop a student’s knowledge rather than simply rehearse it.
I used a Victorian painting of an apprentice learning his carpentry trade from an “expert”. This has the potential to prompt students to recall that this is more consistent with Vygotksy’s theory than Piaget’s and explain that it is a metaphor for Vygotsky’s view that the child is the little apprentice (as opposed to Piaget’s view that children are little scientists) learning the tools of thinking through social interaction.
Pictures and Props for Revision
Revisiting the pictures for revision closer to exam time makes a simple and effective way to review a topic without creating new resources or re-teaching a topic. You could even ask students to put together their own set of images tor represent the theories and concepts they have learned about in A Level Psychology. Some of the images are pure prompts such as a picture of a teddy to cue students to recall and explain why the naughty teddy studies posed a problem for Piaget while others have the potential to be more cryptic where they are representing an abstract concept or process so there is plenty of room for creativity and differentiation.
Most of the pictures came from Google image searches and I referenced the sites in my presentation. The pictures here were I set up and taken by me. Feel free to use them and have fun creating your own.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Analysing research in written form
It is always useful to have examples of what effective AO2 might look like for Unit 3 (Topics in Psychology). I find it useful to get students thinking critically and consciously about their writing. Many students will often be able to analyse verbally to a high level but struggle to do their ideas justice when they come to write about them. Using a set structure can help but students should also have the flexibility to feel their own written style is valuable if it meets the exam criteria.
I usually get students to start by simply stating what the problem or strength is (identify) then explain what they mean and why it’s a problem (justify), finally they should take it a bit further and develop the point where possible without being repetitive (elaborate). This structure is one that has been suggested by a number of people and works quite well.
Using approaches, issues and debates in AO2
A2 Level students need to use appropriate broad Psychology-wide arguments in their analysis. This can all to often result in student essays resembling a list of issue/debate terms, as if they are playing a round of key words bingo with the examiner rather than writing well crafted essay.
Getting copies of your students exam papers from previous exam sessions is an excellent way to show students what good AO2 looks like or you can construct your own examples to model effective AO2 using approaches, issues and debates meaningfully.
Here are 2 examples that I might use as a tool to discuss with students how they might go about writing analytically.
Unit 3 AO2 examples
Essay title: Discuss genetic factors in aggressive behaviour. (Aggression)
A weakness of attempting to explain aggressive behaviour in terms of genetic factors is that these explanations are highly deterministic. If an individual inherits a particular gene that predisposes them to act aggressively the assumption is that they will inevitably be more likely to be more aggressive or violent as a result, ignoring the role of free will. Even explanations that consider the role of environmental triggers where there is a genetic predisposition are limited in this way. In the case of genetic low MAOA combined with childhood mistreatment for example, the assumption is that aggression is inevitable when both the genetic and environmental conditions are set in place for aggression. As both the genetic and environmental factors have exerted their influence well before adulthood, there appears to be little an individual can do to avoid being aggressive where they have been dealt this hand.
The determinism also seems to suggest that violence is a behaviour that cannot be helped and perhaps in some way excuses or even “medicalises” aggressive behaviour that is the result genetic factors. For example, lawyers have used the presence of low MAOA and childhood mistreatment as a defence for murder in a few cases. As the validity and reliability of the evidence to support this idea is flawed this is a potentially dangerous practice.
This would lead nicely into an evaluative paragraph focussing on issues the quality of the research studies in this area.
Essay title: Describe and evaluate Kohlberg’s theory of moral understanding. (Cognition and Development).
A weakness of Kohlberg’s theory is that it is derived from research that is androcentric. The gender bias limits the generalisability of the theory beyond the young male sample used to female populations. Kohlberg interviewed only American males in order to identify the stages we go through in our development of moral reasoning and as such it is possible that females do not develop in the same way. Kohlberg later suggested that females do not reach as high levels of moral understanding as males. Not only is this a socially sensitive suggestion, as it seems to suggest females are less capable of making high level moral decisions, it may not actually be a valid suggestion due to the gender bias of the original research studies. Other researchers, e.g. Gilligan, have suggested that females and males may reason about moral issues in completely different ways, an idea overlooked by Kohlberg.
Just in time for (the final) January modules
Preparing and teaching revision lessons can be particularly labour intensive for teachers. Hours spent making a game or quiz can feel wasted when it transpires that your students haven’t quite got round to doing their “proper” revision yet and simply want you to re-teach the entire topic, being scarily over-reliant on notes even days before an exam.
For revision lessons to be effective students need to engage in a constant cycle of retrieving, using and mentally re-filing their knowledge, with lots of opportunities to ask questions to clarify and deepen their understanding. Clearly working with past paper questions and writing and reviewing responses in relation to the mark scheme is a good use of lesson time but this doesn’t have to be all lesson.
Activities that reveal a gap in knowledge or a misconception are useful as this gap or error can be addressed straight away, whilst activities that make links between knowledge of concepts can increase the likelihood students will later retrieve the appropriate learning.
Here are a few ideas for class activities intended to achieve the revision outcomes outlined above without being time consuming to prepare. If you are working harder than your students at this stage in the course (in the run up to an exam) there is something seriously wrong!
Revision idea 1: How, what, and so, really..?
In terms of specifics about research studies students are likely to be asked about methods (e.g. how have researchers gone about investigating…?), research findings (the what) and/or conclusions (the and so…) as well as criticising and evaluating the research they have learned about (the really…?). Unless a question says “one” study students should refer to a range of knowledge.
Display broad research headings using the specification (e.g. “the impact of different forms of day care on Social Development” or “models of memory”) then ask students to divide a page into 4 columns (as per the 4 bolded terms above) and add very brief key-term-focused notes, drawing on all their knowledge in this area, under the headings keeping to one page to view.
This will help students revisit their notes and, by organising their knowledge in a different way to their original notes, should aid their retention as well as allow a teaching point about appropriate selection of knowledge relevant for the question in hand.
Revision idea 2: Have an opinion
Students who have retained appropriate knowledge and understand it are likely to be able to express an opinion about the content of their learning (as opposed to just being able to recite it when heavily prompted). Ask students generic questions that would work with any topic area and ask them to refer to what they have learned in the course to support their opinions. This might make a suitable starter or plenary to a lesson focussed on review and exam preparation.
- Which study in this area would you most like to see replicated to see if the findings still hold true and why?
- How does this area of research as a whole compare to others you have studied in terms of how scientific the approach to study is?
- How much impact do you think the knowledge you have gained from research in this area will have on you personally in the future?
- What would you be happy to tell someone who knows nothing about the areas you have studied that is definitely true related to … (insert topic) without first adding the prefix “research suggests”?
These are just a few suggestions off the top of my head, I’m sure there are many better ones. The idea is to encourage students to draw on their knowledge in a variety of ways and discourage superficial answers, rather than spend class time on rote learning which does not suit the exam questioning style.
Revision idea 3: Study list with tag lines
Students often feel overburdened by the number of studies they need to learn and recall in the exam. In my experience students like revision lists; no one likes ambiguity, so knowing what is vital and what might be a bonus if you can remember it can make the difference between feeling able to get started with exam preparations and allowing any doubt to justify putting it off a bit longer (we’ve all be there). I put together with my students a list of studies to be able to recall in some detail (in class) for each area (based on the textbook we use and the students own preference where there are multiple studies). Although this can duplicate resources that students have already had, psychologically the students like it and it also gives us as a class the opportunity to talk about each study as we go along.
I encourage students to be selective and consider how they might use a particular study productively. For example, it is not necessary to learn every study into day care and social development, as there are many, but you need a good range of findings to draw on. Asking students to be selective and choose studies to put on their list based on differing methods or contrasting findings is effective revision. Students are obviously highly likely to remember much more than is on their list but I think having the list makes them relax a bit because they trust that their knowledge is complete.
Once the list is complete come up with a “tag line” for each study which will act as a retrieval cue. For example, I always think of the Harlow and Harlow study into whether attachments are based on food as “the cloth monkey, milk monkey study” or Loftus and Palmer’s (1974) EWT study as “the bumped, crashed, smashed study”. Some studies lend themselves to a tag line better than others but having to think of a short snappy slogan that encapsulates the study is useful revision.