Category: Starters/plenaries

Piaget and Vygotsky in Pictures

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.

Vygotsky proposed that we think using the tools of our culture.

Vygotsky proposed that we think using the tools of our culture.

Naughty Teddy suggests Piaget may have underestimated the abilities of children.

Naughty Teddy suggests Piaget may have underestimated the abilities of children.

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.


Milgram: Beyond the numbers…

A new angle on Milgram

Although there is no shortage of resources available for the teaching of many of the so-called “classics” in Social Psychology, such as Milgram’s obedience studies, I thought it was still worth blogging about an article In August 2015’s The Psychologist magazine entitled “Rhetoric and Resistance”.

Stephen Gibson (Department of Psychology and Sport, York St John University) writes about the importance of qualitative data and qualitative analysis to really understand what Milgram’s research tells us about human behaviour. The article, published in the British Psychology Society’s member’s publication, has the potential to offer a familiar context for students to learn about qualitative research methods for A Level Psychology.

Experiments and qualitative research methods

It can be easy for students to get the impression that qualitative research methods are used by researchers who don’t like experimental methods and that researchers might somehow fall into two camps distinguished by those who favour “scientific” experiments and those who prefer the richness and flexibility of qualitative methods. Many experiments in Psychology aim to tell us what humans might do under particular conditions but qualitative methods are also often employed and are vital for telling us why participants might have behaved in a particular way. Both Asch and Milgram gathered extensive data from post-experimental interviews in order to try to find out why they did or did not conform or obey and the content of these interviews has given insight that numbers alone cannot provide.

Is it really obedience or something else…?

The author of the BPS article focusses on an often overlooked source of qualitative data collected by Milgram which has the potential to challenge assumptions made about what Milgram’s study revealed about human nature. In his classic obedience studies, where a participant is given an order to give electric shocks to confederate for making errors in a memory test, Milgram revealed high levels of “obedience” measured by a willingness to deliver a shock to the “learner” (the confederate) up to 450 volts. Stephen Gibson, however, suggests that the audio transcripts of the interactions between the participant and the experimenter issuing the order reveal a social process that may not actually be obedience at all. Gibson suggests that contrary to popular belief the audio reveals that the experimenter did not stick to the standardised “script” and appeared able to improvise in their interactions much more than reports of the study seem to suggest was the case. This might suggest that participants showed more resistance to the request to carry on and deliver the shock than the quantitative data might imply. The validity of Milgram’s research, therefore, may be in doubt if this source of data is taken into account.

The BPS article includes a section of the transcript of the audio from the experiment where a participant is asking for reassurance from the learner that they are ok and willing to continue. Although we might assume that the experimenter would have simply repeated that the participant must continue, the audio reveals a much more drawn out discussion involving some negotiation rather than standardised orders.

The author points out that it is the recording of this qualitative data that makes this scrutiny possible and makes the case that it is important to gather qualitative data and recordings of the interactions between participants and investigators in experiments, rather than focus solely on the outcome of the experiment.

In the A Level Psychology classroom

The article caught my eye because it offers an angle that could be useful for exploring concepts related to qualitative data analysis and the validity of the experiments such as Milgram’s (AQA AS Psychology – Social Influence 3.1.1: How well does Milgram’s research actually enable us to explain obedience?; Data handling and analysis: the difference between quantitative and qualitative data; AQA A Level – 4.1.1 Social influence; Data handling and analysis: content analysis, coding, thematic analysis).

The article ends with the following line: “If we attempt to analyse what happens in experiments without exploring the use of language, we risk missing the social processes that should be at the heart of the study of social Psychology”. I love quotes to stimulate discussion in lessons and I think this closing line from Stephen Gibson would make a great starter or plenary for a lesson on Milgram’s research which has the potential to either simply introduce the importance of qualitative research methods or as an extension for those who you are encouraging to take opportunities to develop their critical thinking skills.

The article includes extracts of the transcripts of the audio of the interaction between the participant and the confederate acting as the experimenter. If you are not eligible for membership with the BPS you can become an e-subscriber for a small annual fee and access the full article and much much more…

Demystifying the Language of Bowlby (and other theories)

Vexing vocab = struggling students

Many theories in Psychology appear riddled with new and complex terminology for often very abstract concepts. This can be hard for many students to cope with, particularly if they have struggled to decode language throughout their education.

A prime example: Bowlby’s Theory

Bowlby’s Attachment Theory (AQA) is a good example of a theory with what seems like many brand new complex terms. Teaching students about Bowlby’s ideas without considering the origins of his terminology can leave students feeling that they are learning copious amounts of brand new language. They will struggle to apply this learning if they acquire it without full understanding.

I don’t think that there is much chance of A Level students retaining knowledge of Bowlby’s Theory, or theories like this, and using the terms in the appropriate context if they don’t consider why he chose the words he did to describe his concepts. Students can easily be under the impression that theorists simply make up words and terms to sound clever and make other people feel inadequate. A term that has no semantic associations in our memory is likely to be quickly forgotten.

Laying the foundations

foundationsWhen teaching Bowlby’s theory I start with an activity where I display a list of words associated with Bowlby’s proposals about how attachments develop. For example, the list includes: evolve, adaptive, innate, continuity, hypothesis, internal, model, mono, critical, sensitive and period. I ask students in small groups to identify words they are familiar with and those they are not. I also ask them to use the words in a sentence and to identify words with several meanings or uses. As a class we then unpick the words, considering what they mean and the ways they are used; this is to ensure students are all familiar with what will make up most of the key terms for the lesson.  I generally find that many are quite confident about doing this; however, there are always a significant number of students who are not at all confident with the use of many of these quite common words.

Reducing new learning, lightening the load and maximising memory

Understanding the meaning of the list of terms above makes Bowlby’s theory quite predictable and so much easier to understand and remember. I think that unpicking the origins of these words reduces the amount of genuinely brand new learning that students are exposed to. I have found retention of Bowlby’s theory to be much better since using this approach, in no small part because they had somewhere old to put their new learning (or however, you want to describe it or analogise) and the new learning didn’t actually feel so new.

Narrowing a gap

Students who were familiar with the terminology already are able to see why Bowlby chose to combine words and use terms such as continuity hypothesis, internal working model and critical period. The consequence of this is that they also understand it better now. Using literacy skills, such as being reminded that the prefix mono refers to one thing suddenly makes terms like monotropy make much more sense and in turn increases the chance it will be remembered.

The students who are learning theses terms for the first time in this lesson are also benefiting from this approach. These students have learnt these concepts twice, which in itself is a benefit, but they have also had the opportunity to fill in the blanks in their vocabulary and to have experienced the process of decoding language when it is not familiar. This is a vital skill for good literacy and making this skill explicit has a place in every lesson in every subject.

Beyond Bowlby

I think this type of starter is appropriate for many theories in Psychology and would work well to introduce the main approaches in Psychology too.

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.

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!

An iPad app for A Level Psychology

ATP Today reviews apps for Psychology learning and teaching

This post was inspired by an article in ATP Today (the Association of Teacher’s of Psychology members magazine; February 2013), written by Emma Weaver, which covered a top ten of iPad apps for the A Level Psychology classroom.

The (free) app that caught my eye particularly was Voicethread, an app that allows the user to upload an image or video and invite comments (comments can be left in audio, video or text form) that make up the so-called “voice thread“. In the article the author suggests using this app to create recap tasks to be completed outside of class for use in the next lesson.

Using the app

voice threadBasically you add your image, slides or video, then the app allows you to invite comments from targeted users (your class for example) by emailing a link to the website (they do not need the app or an iPad). They might, for example, video themselves making their comment (which they can edit until they happy with it) or record themselves speaking their contribution to the discussion about the posted content. The Voicethread website has a really helpful video explaining it’s use and how to create a Voicethread discussion and the app itself is pretty easy to use.

Reasons to use this app (or something similar)

Here are a two reasons I think this is worth playing around with.

Increasing participation

Class discussion can sometimes be dominated by a few students who are keen to be heard but if you really want to hear from everyone, without putting those who are less confident on the spot, Voicethread might be an answer. As the comment submitted can be edited and polished (increasing confidence) until the individual is happy with their contribution – unlike class comments which cannot be taken back and refined once made – an individual who is not usually keen to share in class might benefit from being able to prepare. Sharing a students Voicethread comment in audio form allows their voice to be heard in the classroom and gives them the opportunity to make a comment they feel good about and elaborate or justify further in class.

Make lesson starters more productive

If you want to discuss a statement, question or thunkstyle conundrum (search this blog for “thunks” for some examples for the Psychology classroom) ask students to discuss this first using Voicethread. Play the resulting comments at the start of the lesson and take the discussion further. As students will already have done their initial thinking and contribution “in the cloud” you should get to the really developed bit and the teaching points you wanted to be made in class much quicker. You could also do this with a debate topic in order to avoid lengthy use of class time by using the Voicethread as the starting point for further debate and for students to show evidence that they have prepared outside of class time.

BPS membership for A Level students: a correction and a starter

Joining the BPS

Previously I have blogged about BPS resources, postings and publications and the benefit of joining the society for A Level students, especially those considering further study of Psychology. Recently, however, I discovered what I assume is a recent change to the membership eligibility criteria. A Level students cannot join as “Student Members”, as I have stated in previous posts, as this level of membership is only for those studying an appropriate undergraduate level course.

A Level students = subscribers

I checked this with the BPS and was advised that A Level students can join as “subscribers” or “e-subscribers“, as they have an interest in Psychology but lack the relevant qualifications needed for any higher level of membership. E-subscribers (only £10 per year) get an electronic version of The Psychologist magazine which can be a source of enrichment and enlightenment for those students keen to glimpse into the world of Psychology beyond the confines of A Level.

Teacher members

This level of membership has the added benefit of being open to teachers of Psychology that would not be eligible for Graduate Membership (or a higher level of membership) but are keen to represent Psychology in a way that is consistent with the aims of the society.

“BPS News” in the classroom

newspaperWhilst I’m blogging about the BPS I might as well mention a useful post on the website summarising research suggesting that some children may “grow out of autism” a claim that has unsupisingly received a lot of media attention. The post (“Can some children ‘grow out of’ autism?” posted 18/01/2013) is an accessibe summary, including commentary (useful for demonstrating “discussion of research” without needing exam materials) from Psychologists. Whether this is part of your exam spec or not, I think it’s worth using this as the basis for a brain stretching starter or plenary. Ask students what controls and design features they would hope were in place in this study in order to draw any firm conclusions about any possible temporary element to autism.

It doesn’t matter whether you can access any more information about the research than is provided in the BPS summary. The intended outcome of this sort of activity is for students to have an opportunity to draw on their knowledge of research methods and the reliability and validity of research studies (analysis and application) and apply it to a novel context and as such the specific details of this research may be interesting but are not necessary.