Saturday, November 20, 2010

Teaching theories in psychology - how?

In my teaching of psychology, I am keen that my students should have knowledge and understanding of the science behind the concepts, models and theories that I ask them to learn. I do this by giving the students tons of research study summaries, and then ask them to use this research to back up whatever they are arguing in their essays. This is going very well. The students enjoy the studies, are getting very proficient at evaluating them critically, and are recognizing the need for scientific support for whatever claims they are making.  Here is the problem: the students are not learning theories.

I do describe the theories, I have them discuss the theories and evaluate them and explain them in their own words - but they are not retaining this information very well. I think the studies are more concrete, have a storyline, and are therefore easier to lodge and retrieve from long-term memory and so the students are focusing their energy on studies alone.  How can I connect the theories to the studies in such a way that students will remember and appreciate the theories?

Here are some thoughts. I would really like to see suggestions from readers.

  1. Include concepts and theories on a check-list of required knowledge for each unit.
  2. Always have students write a paragraph summary about each theory before looking at the research studies associated with it. 
  3. Regularly use mind-maps with a central concept which branches to theories, which branch out to studies. 
  4. Require students to name and explain relevant theories in their essays, before going for the research studies. 
  5. Occasionally ask students to defend an argument just using theories, without studies. 
  6. Engage in discussion with students about how science works and that theories and studies are equally important to the construction and validation of new knowledge. 
  7. Ask the Theory of Knowledge teacher for help making students understand the importance of theory.
Of these, I'll try 1, 4, and 5 for now. There will be a second post about how it goes. 


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. A reply to Anonymous who did not think asking the TOK teacher for help was a good idea:

    Point taken. I'm not suggesting, however, that you do psychology in TOK - rather that in TOK you could learn more about how science in general works, and that studies alone are not sufficient - that you need a theoretical framework as well.

    (I deleted the comment because it could be interpreted as slightly offensive and I don't think it's appropriate in such a public place as this)