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.
The Psychology of Lego
Everyone loves Lego! Whether you are old or young, student or professor, this simple building tool/toy seems to have a universal appeal. This is the sentiment behind Jon Sutton’s article entitled “When psychologists become builders” (published in the August 2012 edition of the BPS publication The Psychologist and available online).
In the article Sutton discusses his and others obsession with Lego, the ability of this simple toy to stimulate development and how it has become widely used within Psychology. Sutton describes the use of Lego to stimulate thinking in business (see Serious Play), the use of Lego as a therapeutic tool for children on the autistic spectrum and the use of Lego robotics as a learning and teaching aid. The article finishes with a summary of a number of pieces of Psychological research where Lego is being used as a research tool or is the subject of the research itself.
Using Lego in the Psychology classroom
This article made me think about whether I could find an excuse to take my Lego to school . Here are 3 ways to justify letting your students play with Lego.
Lego role play: Treatments
Ask students to role play, using Lego, a therapy session for the treatments based on Psychological approaches such as CBT or Psychoanalysis to demonstrate understanding (AS or A2 Psychopathology). They will need to build a basic therapy room and position the furniture in an appropriate way before they start. Students could even video their re-enactment (in a stop motion animation style) to share with each other for revision. This sort of activity helps uncover where students have only a superficial understanding or have errors in their knowledge. The use of Lego to model also helps to make a role play a bit more light hearted and is likely to be preferred by those who are more self conscious.
Ask students to design apparatus, using Lego, to test various cognitive and/or social developments in children and discuss the validity of the tests they devise. Piaget style tests of egocentrism and conservation, Vygotsky social or scaffolding tasks or tests of Theory of Mind (and other types of Perspective Taking) would be appropriate here if you are teaching Cognition and Development for A2 Unit 3. Students could do this after they have learned about the limitations of the methods used in the research, taking these issues into account when devising their own tests.
Research Methods: Carry out a Lego pilot study
When designing a lab study ask students to model their laboratory using Lego in order to ensure that they have fully thought through the sequence of the procedure and materials needed. Ask them to present their model and use the figures to walk through the procedures inviting comment on their design decisions. This should reveal the need to visualise and mentally model. Students could comment on each others designs, physically moving or re-enacting elements, using the activity to conduct a “Lego pilot study”.
Now where did I put all that Lego…?
If like me you have a massive bag of Lego sitting in the cupboard, or gathering dust in your parent’s loft, dig it out and take it to school/college. You could even ask your students to bring in their childhood Lego for a lesson if yours was cruelly donated to a younger family member or Charity Shop by a misguided parent hell bent on de-cluttering when you moved and/or grew up.
I bet your students will be itching to get building once they see the colourful blocks in their many sizes. Right I’m off to play with my Lego and think of some more way to use it in the classroom…
News worth “tweeting” about
The BPS Research Digest tweeted (@ResearchDigest; 27/06/2012, 10:03am) a link to an article in the Guardian describing different counting techniques and how these differ in various parts of the world.
AQA A Psychology: Cognition and Development – Vygotsky
Teaching Vygotsky’s theory of Cognitive Development (A2 Unit 3, Topics in Psychology) is easier with concrete examples of the way in which culture influences what and how we think, as Vygotksy argued. Most textbooks refer, rather vaguely, to a counting system in Papua New Guinea (where parts of the body are used to represent numbers) but students usually find this quite hard to grasp without tangible examples of the specific differences.
Counting: cultural differences
The article entitled “What does the way you count on your fingers say about your brain?” (posted by Corrinne Burns; 26/06/2012, 18.11) provides a number of examples of cultural differs in counting and discusses the impact of numerical thinking. Forget the neuroscience the article cites (see earlier post on mis-reporting of neuroscience in the media) the article is full of examples of ways in which counting on fingers differs between regions such as Europe, the Middle East and China. Some of the differences included concern whether the left or right hand is the starting point or whether a closed or open fist is used to count.
In the classroom
Students could be asked to watch a short video and count the number of times a target action occurs (e.g. someone scratching their head). If they are asked not to write anything down they may choose to use their fingers as an aid. Prior to the task select some students to observe a portion of the class and how they use their fingers without letting on they are doing so). Discuss the similarities and ask students where they think any common method comes from. Sharing a few of the examples from the article about different cultural counting methods would be a nice way to introduce Vygotsky’s views about the role of culture, perhaps overlooked by Piaget.