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Four mechanisms that promote learning in the social sciences

The Effective Pedagogy in Social Sciences/Tikanga ā Iwi Best Evidence Synthesis [BES] identifies four mechanisms – connection, alignment, community, and interest – that facilitate learning for diverse students in the social sciences. They are directly relevant to teaching in psychology. Each of these mechanisms provides a lens through which we can examine our practice. Each is backed by evidence that we can use when working out what to do next.

Connection - make connections to students’ lives

Students’ understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher:

  • enables cultural continuity by embedding students’ cultural knowledge and experiences in the selected content
  • makes students’ lives a point of comparison to support access to new learning
  • uses language that is inclusive of all learners and their experiences
  • selects resources that make diversity visible and avoid biased and stereotypical representations.

Students are more likely to engage with and achieve in psychology when they find themselves and their cultures valued.

By acknowledging, respecting, and valuing who students are and where they come from, teachers are in a position to build on what their students bring with them to the learning setting.

In psychology, making connections could mean:

  • acknowledging and respecting students’ points of view and questions
  • inviting students to contribute from their store of cultural knowledge, experiences, and traditions by:
    • connecting their cultural experiences to psychology
    • engaging with their cultural experiences and identities
    • exploring these personal realities in psychological discourse
  • introducing and utilising psychology theories and perspectives from other traditions, including Māori and Pasifika
  • being sensitive to the ways in which psychology discussions might connect to particular student concerns
  • enhancing the relevance of new learning by:
    • encouraging students to apply new ideas to contexts that matter to them
    • guiding students to look for psychology ideas in other learning contexts and to transfer and connect learning from other subjects into psychology.

See also:

Alignment - align experience to important outcomes

Student understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher accesses their relevant prior knowledge and uses it to minimise duplication of what is already known.

Awareness of students’ prior knowledge enables the teacher to address misunderstandings that could inhibit new learning.

If important outcomes are to be achieved, activities and resources need to be aligned to students’ experiences. Teachers optimise alignment when they make expected outcomes transparent to their students, design well-sequenced learning opportunities leading towards assessment, and provide opportunities for students to revisit important content and processes.

In psychology, alignment could mean:

  • making it clear to students where the course is going, so that they can make connections between different ideas and processes
  • promoting and modelling rigour in psychology learning
  • encouraging students to reflect critically on ideas and processes throughout their learning experiences
  • providing sufficient opportunities to learn by:
    • using engaging and pertinent examples (including real-life issues in present-day Aotearoa New Zealand)
    • reinforcing core psychology research methods, such as developing reasoned arguments and providing supporting evidence
    • having students engage in structured, meaningful, self review and peer review
  • ensuring that students focus on conceptual questions as well as on questions that require scientific or other empirical observations
  • encouraging students to identify those points in discussion where empirical matters may need to be settled, and to follow them up if they can inform the ongoing psychology learning.

Community - build and sustain a learning community

Student understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when teachers:

  • establish productive relationships with students
  • explicitly develop students’ interaction skills
  • put in place inclusive practices that acknowledge multiple abilities and contributions
  • allow students to make decisions about their learning
  • design tasks and organise experiences that require student–student dialogue and interaction.

Ka Hikitia – Managing for Success: The Māori Education Strategy 2008–2012 (Ministry of Education, 2008) suggested that involving students in decision making about their learning invites their commitment to the learning.

Learn more about Ka Hikitia in the updated Māori Education Strategy: Ka Hikitia  Accelerating Success 2013–2017.

In psychology, community could mean:

  • affirming that you as the teacher are also a learner – the ‘ako’ relationship – learning as a partnership
  • creating an environment in which the teacher–student relationship is always respectful (essential for all students, but especially so for Māori and Pasifika students)
  • maintaining openness towards a variety of psychology positions
  • encouraging collaborative inquiry
  • fostering relationships on the basis of sharing ideas (He kaiako tātou. He tauira tātou/We are all teachers. We are all learners)
  • encouraging reflective thought and action by:
    • developing shared reflective discourse
    • challenging students’ justifications
  • making use of groups, including co-operative groups, in order to foster contextual learning and integration of ideas
  • working together to develop strategies for fostering healthy debate.

See also:

Interest - design experiences that interest students

Student understanding of important ideas and processes is enhanced when the teacher:

  • makes learning as memorable as possible by deliberately designing learning experiences that are sensitive to students’ differing interests, motivations, and responses
  • provides a variety of experiences that become memorable anchors for learning and subsequent recall
  • helps students draw the learning from these experiences.

In psychology, interest could mean:

  • using accessible, challenging resources in creative ways
  • giving students the freedom to use reason to test the limits of thought and understanding
  • co-constructing the goals of discussion with students
  • choosing psychology issues, problems, and debates that are significant for students
  • negotiating learning contexts with the class
  • selecting contexts that invite conceptual questions and claims – questions and claims that can profitably be explored or evaluated by reflection and deliberation
  • encouraging students to seek and identify psychology questions and issues in a broad range of contexts, for example, family discussion, movies, news items, books, or song lyrics
  • encouraging articulate expression in a range of modes, such as:
    • collaborative oral inquiry
    • speeches and formal debates
    • essay writing
    • online discussion
    • data representation
  • encouraging students to make use of e-learning opportunities to suggest or explore psychology questions or to research perspectives.

Last updated September 12, 2017