Author: Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education – American Psychological Association
APA Style Citation
American Psychological Association, Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education. (2015). Top 20 principles from psychology for preK–12 teaching and learning. http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf
The Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE), a group of psychologists within the American Psychological Association (APA), recently announced the publication of the Top 20 Principles from Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Learning. The Top 20 document was created by psychologists representing a wide range of specialties, including education, school, development, social, cognitive, psychometrics, media, counseling, and clinical. The principles are organized into five areas of psychological functioning: cognition and learning, motivation, social and emotional dimensions, context and learning, and assessment. Each of the individual principles listed in the document includes an explanation of the concept, its relevance for instruction, specific tips for teachers, and a comprehensive list of related references. Although the top 20 principles are designed to apply psychological science broadly to PreK–12 teaching, they can also be utilized specifically to enhance the curriculum of introduction to psychology courses and help students develop skills which will help them learn more effectively in all of their classes.
I. Cognition and Learning - How do students think and learn?
1. Growth Mindset: Research shows that learners who hold a growth mindset and believe that intelligence is malleable and success is related to effort level are more likely to remain focused on goals and persist despite setbacks. A great way to start off the year in a psychology class is with a discussion of growth vs. fixed mindsets to help students understand how beliefs about intelligence can influence their own academic success. Carol Dweck’s TED talk titled, The Power of Believing That You Can Improve is an excellent way to start out the year and introduce students to how psychology is relevant to their lives (see resources for link).
2. Prior Knowledge: Prior knowledge influences growth and change in students. Facilitating conceptual growth or change requires first obtaining a baseline level of student knowledge prior to the start of each unit. One way to assess prior knowledge involves starting the unit with a short list of five to ten true/false statements and having a class discussion about the results. The results of this discussion can guide the selection of assignments and activities that will be appropriate for facilitating either conceptual growth or conceptual change. Prior knowledge can be used to help students incorporate background knowledge and draw connections between units during the course. For example, students can make connections between social psychology concepts including the fundamental attribution error and cognitive concepts such as representative heuristics.
3. Limits of Stage Theories: Cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development. It is important for instructors teaching Piaget’s cognitive stage theory to also reference the limitations of this approach. Psychology curriculum should highlight the significance of Lev Vygotsky’s theory of zone of proximal development and the critical role that interactions with those who are more capable can have on learning and growth. Instructors can use this research to facilitate learning by designing instruction that utilizes scaffolding, differentiation, and mixed ability grouping. It is also critical that the most advanced students have the opportunity to work with others who will challenge them, including other students or the instructor.
4. Facilitating Context: Learning is based on context and generalizing learning to new contexts is not spontaneous, and needs to be facilitated. Student growth and deeper learning is developed when instructors help students transfer learning from one context to another. Students will also be better able to generalize learning to new contexts if instructors invest time in focusing on deeper learning. One method of developing this skill is to have students use their understanding of a particular unit to generate potential solutions for real-world problems.
5. Practice: This principle details tested practices that will help students more effectively transfer learned materials into long-term memory. In addition to the memory unit, examples from this principle can help inform instruction throughout the course. By giving frequent formative assessments through practice problems, activities, and sample tests, instructors can help students increase their knowledge, skills, and confidence as well as help students identify areas in which they are struggling with content. Additionally, by providing practice activities at spaced intervals (distributed practice) students will achieve greater increases in long-term retrieval ability. Practice tests should include open-ended questions that require both the retrieval of existing knowledge and the challenge of applying that information to new situations or contexts.
6. Feedback: This principle highlights the importance of instructor responses and indicates the best manner in which to deliver feedback to students in order to maintain or increase motivation to learn. Providing students with clear, explanatory, and timely feedback increases learning. The principle provides guidance for generating feedback that provides students with the information they need to make improvements and grow. For example feedback should relate to the current state of a students progress and performance in reference to learning goals. Feedback should also provide students with information or tools that will help them to increase their future performance and progress toward their goals. Additionally as students work on new or challenging material frequent praise related to degrees of improvement is influential in helping students to persist toward difficult goals.
7. Self-Regulation: Skills, including attention, organization, self-control, planning, and memory strategies, improve learning and engagement and can be taught through direct instruction, modeling, and classroom organization. Teachers can model organizational methods and assist students by highlighting learning targets at the start and conclusion of lessons, using classroom calendars, highlighting difficult concepts that will require more practice, breaking large projects into manageable components, using well designed rubrics, and allowing sufficient processing time through questioning, summarizing, and practice. Psychology students can apply this research to their own study habits such as learning to practice self-control by limiting the distractions presented by cell phones and social media.
8. Creativity: Creativity is considered a critical skill for the technology driven world of the 21st century and because it is not a stable trait, it can be taught, nurtured, and increased. Creativity in the psychology classroom can include opportunities for student designed research projects, video projects, demonstrations, and model building. The subject of how psychologists measure and increase creativity and the characteristics of creative individuals is an interesting component of the unit on intelligence.
II. Motivation - What motivates students?
9. Intrinsic Motivation: This principle is directed at how instructors can increase intrinsic motivation through classroom practices, and the design of activities that support the need of students to feel autonomous and self-motivated. It is important to note that not everything of importance is intrinsically motivating to all students and that there is a place for extrinsic motivation in education. In psychology, during the unit on motivation, when intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are typically discussed, students can examine their own personal motivations and how they influence their success. Lastly, students can examine the research related to the over-justification effect. Daniel Pink’s TED talk titled, The Puzzle of Motivation, provides an excellent overview of the practical applications of the over-justification effect (see resources for link).
10. Mastery Goals: When students set performance goals, they have a tendency to avoid tasks that might expose weaknesses and end up missing opportunities that would foster the development of new skills. Those with mastery goals are more likely to be motivated to learn new skills and achieve higher levels of competence. Specific methods for organizing instruction can be used to help students choose mastery over performance goals although under certain circumstances such as competitions, performance goals may be more appropriate.
11. Teacher Expectations: The beliefs teachers have about their students affect students’ opportunities to learn, their motivation, and their learning outcomes. Teachers should communicate high expectations for all students and avoid creating negative self-fulfilling prophecies. When discussing self-fulfilling prophecies and the Rosenthal and Jacobson study during the social psychology unit, this principle can be used to show students how teachers can prevent the creation of negative self-fulfilling prophecies.
12. Goal Setting: This principle explains how students can use short-term, specific, and moderately challenging goals to increase self-efficacy and build toward larger goals. Students should maintain a record of progress toward their goals, which can be monitored by both the student and instructor. After students experience success with moderately challenging proximal goals, they will be more likely to become intermediate risk takers which is one of the most significant attributes present in achievement-orientated individuals. As a result, they will be capable of achieving larger, more distant goals. Tips based on this principle can easily be used to create engaging class assignments for the motivation unit in the introduction to psychology curriculum.
III. Social and Emotional Dimensions - Why are social context, interpersonal relationships, and emotional well-being important to student learning?
13. Social Contexts: Because learning occurs within multiple contexts, this principle emphasizes how the various communities to which students belong (e.g. families, peer groups, schools, neighborhoods), and their culture (e.g. shared language, beliefs, values, and behavioral norms), influence learning. This principle is related specifically to many concepts from social psychology (e.g. norms, attribution theory, individualistic v. collectivist cultures) and provides suggestions for incorporating culture into every unit to increase student engagement and build stronger relationships. Introductory psychology classes can incorporate opportunities for students to engage with the larger community through service learning projects, guest speakers, and psychology clubs.
14. Interpersonal Relationships: Interpersonal relationships and communication are critical to both the teaching-learning process and the social development of students. This principle provides detailed and specific guidelines for improving both teacher-student and student-peer relationships in the classroom. The discussion of improving interpersonal relationships can be clearly tied to numerous units in psychology including social psychology, treatment, motivation, and cognition. These and other units provide opportunities to each effective social skills including cooperation, perspective taking, empathy, delivering constructive feedback, and interpersonal problem solving. Teachers can also encourage students to elaborate on their responses and allow for give and take during discussions. Students should be encouraged to seek clarification from others, actively listen, and learn to interpret nonverbal cues. Teachers should both model and encourage active which can involve matching facial expressions with verbal messages, asking questions, providing elaboration in response to questions, and seeking the perspectives of others.
15. Well-Being: The emotional well being of students influences their performance, learning, and development. Various components of emotional well-being can be included across many psychology units, such as self-concept and self-esteem (social psychology), self-efficacy and locus of control (motivation and personality), happiness, and coping skills (emotion and stress). Student well being is an important factor that influences the participation, communication, and responsiveness of students. Teachers can help facilitate emotional development by stressing the importance of empathy and compassion and by monitoring their expectations to ensure they are equally encouraging to all students, regardless of past performance.
IV. Context and Learning - How can the classroom best be managed?
16. Classroom Conduct: Expectations for classroom conduct and social interaction are learned and can be taught using principles of behavior and effective classroom instruction. Numerous research-based ideas are presented for both correcting inappropriate student behaviors and for establishing appropriate replacement behaviors at both the classroom and school level. For example the first two weeks of school are considered to be a critical period for establishing effective classroom norms and procedures. Another key way that teachers can eliminate problems in the classroom is to effectively plan activities for the entire class period that includes variety and interaction.
17. Expectations and Support: Effective classroom management is based on (a) setting and communicating high expectations, (b) consistently nurturing positive relationships, and (c) providing a high level of student support. This principle highlights practical techniques to create a culture of high academic achievement and positive classroom behavior at both the classroom and school level.
V. Assessment - How to assess student progress?
18. Formative and Summative Assessment: Formative and summative assessments are both important and useful, but require different approaches and interpretations. Formative assessments are typically used as a part of everyday practice and are given either prior to or during instruction. Such tools are designed to collect evidence regarding the progress of student learning in order to provide effective guidance. Summative assessments, on the other hand, result in an overall evaluation of student learning or program effectiveness and are typically utilized at the end of a unit or course of study, thus having more limited impact on current instruction. Frequent use of formative assessment accompanied by immediate and specific instruction helps students to achieve learning goals and assume a greater responsibility of their own learning process. The analysis of data collected through formative assessment allows the instructor to differentiate instruction and provide appropriate individualized supports to increase student achievement.
19. Assessment Development: Student skill, knowledge, and ability are best measured with assessment processes grounded in psychological science with well-defined standards for quality and fairness. Formative and summative assessments need to be evaluated for both reliability and validity. The Top 20 document provides instructors with four essential questions that can be used to evaluate the overall validity of a particular assessment.
• How much of what you want to measure is actually being measured?
• How much of what you did not intend to measure is actually being measured?
• What are the intended and unintended consequences of the assessment?
• What evidence do you have to support your answers to the first three questions?
Assessments also need to be reliable which means that they produce results that are consistent indicators of student knowledge, skills, and abilities. As such, they eliminate chance factors such as student motivation, student interest, or testing conditions. Instructors can improve the reliability and validity of formative and summative assessments by aligning them to learning targets, utilizing item analysis, discussing the results with other educators, and monitoring outcomes for discrepancies across groups or subgroups of students. During the unit on intelligence and individual differences it can be helpful to demonstrate to students how the unit exams can be evaluated for content validity by indicating that the assessments are aligned with learning targets or the National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula. http://www.apa.org/education/k12/national-standards.aspx
20. Assessment Evaluation: Making sense of assessment data depends on clear, appropriate, and fair interpretation. Effective teaching requires that instructors be able to accurately interpret test results and clearly communicate the results to students and parents. Students can use what they learn about testing and statistics to evaluate the various assessments given in class for reliability and validity. Discussions of descriptive statistics are more meaningful when students examine their own assessments.
Summary: Although the Top 20 document is not an exhaustive list of educational psychological research, it does provide an important starting point for improving teaching and learning outcomes. The principles were vetted over many years based on major documents related to the science of teaching and learning. These principles are helpful for the instructor but can also be incorporated into the psychology curriculum as examples of how applied psychology can be used to solve real world problems.
Other Related Resources
Top 20 Principles From Psychology for PreK-12 Teaching and Leaning
Access the document through the APA at the following link http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/top-twenty-principles.pdf
The Coalition for Psychology in Schools and Education (CPSE): The following link will connect you with the extensive resources for teaching and learning created by this working group in the American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/ed/schools/cpse/
The following link is related to the idea of mindset and involves a TED talk by Carol Dweck - The power of believing that you can improve. (Principle 1- Mindset) http://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve/transcript?language=en
The following link to Carol Dweck’s website includes a short test to measure your mindset. http://mindsetonline.com/
The following link is related to the idea of the trait of Grit and involves a TED talk by Angela Duckworth - The Key to Success? Grit. (Principle 1 - Mindset). http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit?language=en#t-211
The following link is related to the ideas of intrinsic motivation and the overjustification effect and involves a TED talk by Daniel Pink – The Puzzle of Motivation. (Principle 9 – Intrinsic Motivation). http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation?language=en
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Rosenthal and Jacobson
Assessment (formative and summative)
Culture (individualist and collectivist)
Goals (mastery and performance)
Mindset (growth v. fixed)
Motivation (intrinsic and extrinsic)
Zone of proximal development