In an effort to help teachers educate their students, a new report from the American Psychological Association outlines the 20 most important psychological concepts that can enhance elementary and secondary teaching and learning and offers tips on how to apply them in the classroom.
"Psychological science has much to contribute to enhancing teaching and learning in the classroom," said Joan Lucariello, PhD, chair of the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education and a contributing author of the report. "Teaching and learning are intricately linked to social and behavioral factors of human development, including cognition, motivation, social interaction and communication."
For instance, one of the principles outlined in the report makes clear that teachers' expectations about their students can affect students' motivation and learning outcomes. Most teachers' expectations are based on students' past performance and may be an accurate representation. In some cases, however, if an educator has an inaccurate perception of a student's abilities and communicates lower expectations (verbally or nonverbally), it could lead the student to perform in ways that confirm the faulty expectations and adversely affect the student's progress. To counteract this effect, the report recommends that teachers maintain high expectations of all students and check themselves regularly to make sure they are not treating students differently based on their expectations.
"Probably the best antidote to negative expectancy effects is to never give up on a student," said the report, Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK–12 Teaching and Learning.
The report is the result of work done by the Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education, a diverse group of psychologists, supported by APA, with expertise in psychology's application to education, including early childhood, elementary, secondary or special education.
Members of the coalition participated in a series of activities, similar to a National Institutes of Health consensus panel, to identify constructs from psychology thought to be most essential for facilitating successful classroom teaching and learning. An initial list of 45 principles was then narrowed down to the top 20.
The report names and describes each principle, provides supporting literature and discusses its relevance for the classroom. The principles are organized into five areas of psychological functioning:
• How do students think and learn? • What motivates students? • Why are social context, interpersonal relationships and emotional well-being important to student learning? • How can the classroom best be managed? • How can teachers assess student progress?
"Psychology is an intrinsic part of education and pre-service teachers often don't receive sufficient preparation in psychology," said Lucariello. "At most, teacher preparation programs offer one or two courses in psychology. These are generally disconnected in the curriculum from candidate clinical experience and can be more theoretical than applied in focus. Once in the field, in-service teachers lack handy psychological knowledge that can help."
"We anticipate that the report will spur discussions among faculty and lead to schools' reflecting on whether they're incorporating the principles into their daily practice," she said, noting the report is not just for teachers but has relevance for the whole school, including administrators, coaches and counselors.
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