Review by Kathryn Morgan @KLMorgan_2
‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’
The world of education is becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of developing evidence-informed classrooms in order for teaching to be more effective; for learners to be more successful.
In addition to this, the newly established Chartered College of Teaching will soon be releasing their first research journal; aptly titled ‘Impact’ to support members to forge classrooms from deeply considered pedagogy and practice. As Dylan Wiliam @dylanwiliam has previously stated, it matters less about what school a student attends but instead more about which classroom they are in.
It is undeniable that you would want to be in the classroom of a teacher whose core practice is centred upon inquiring about what they can do differently to better help the students they teach learn? What Every Teacher Needs to Know about Psychology is a spoonful of sugar that will whet the appetite of every research hungry teacher out there.
It is almost impossible to find a teacher who isn’t battling against the issue with time and juggling an already saturated working week. How then do we create the time to engage with the wealth of research that is out there? How can busy teachers know which research is worth investing in?
What Every Teacher Needs to Know has been written with this question in mind, ensuring that there is a clear balance between the rigour and relevance of the science of psychology, whilst making clear connections in the research to its implications in classroom practice. Teachers should take it in a small ‘spoonful’ at a time and come back to it as both a point of reference and inspiration. Engage with the concepts and materials; consider your own pupils and predict an outcome that is both meaningful and measurable. Carry out some classroom enquiry; reflect. Evaluate; repeat…but come back to it.
For some, the word psychology has been almost synonymous with therapy and counselling; the psychology behind behaviours and how we feel. However, this book considers the broader science of the study of the mind and human behaviour. Psychology research, over the past few decades, has made real strides into understanding how we learn. Using these principles, What Every Teacher Should Know challenges a lot of traditional practice and ideas about teaching. If we are in the business of ‘learning’ then why are we not focussing more upon how we learn in order to make teaching more effective? The research and evidence in this book have the potential to make a profound difference in how well pupils learn.
The areas of psychology that are focused upon have been organised under three broad headings: learning and thinking, behaviour and motivation, and controversies. Within each chapter, there is a rich variety of concepts for the reader to dip in and out of and navigate in any order. It truly is an Aladdin’s cave of materials that must be given the time to read, process, understand and consider. Where connections can be made, the authors draw your attention to these with helpful suggestions for navigation but it really is up to you.
Part 1 begins by addressing the fundamental question, how students learn and think. It looks at the three related aspects of learning: retention, transfer and change and merges these with the concept that thinking must be conscious and active. From the onset, it explains that for teachers to truly gauge the extent to which something has been retained over time and transferred to a new context, we need to look at what students can do later and elsewhere.
With this in mind, a very clear distinction between learning and performance is made. Performance is what the students can do. This is all we can ever observe. Learning takes place in a student’s mind and as such cannot be observed directly.
Day in, day out, we make inferences about learning based on the performance we see. However, the chapter goes on to explain that performance at the point of instruction is a very poor predictor of learning. Often we have provided cues and prompts to increase performance. It tells us very little about what they might be able to do elsewhere and later. The book doesn’t claim or indeed even try to provide quick and easy answers to the complexities of teaching and learning but it does provoke considerable reflection and support us in asking better questions about our classroom practice.
There is no denying that on-going, quality professional development is at the heart of effective teaching. What Every Teacher Should Know is a powerful, handy, no-nonsense reference book that busy teachers can dip in and out of to support their practice and professional development. The added benefit is that because it is so accessible, it can be readily shared with colleagues to widen the discussion across teams, departments or whole schools, creating a network of evidence-informed classrooms. The possibilities are endless but to begin with, you need to take your first spoonful.