Staying Current as a Teacher of Psychology

Whether you are an experienced psychology teacher or just starting your NQT year there are always going to be developments in the area of psychology and a need to stay current. Here I’ve collated lots of links and resources, some free, some paid, that I think all psychology teachers should consider. If you can think of anything that I’ve missed then contact me.

Magazines and Journals

Keeping up-to-date with current research in psychology, and the teaching of psychology is a great pleasure of the teaching psychology. Here are a range of magazines and journals that will keep you current with new research in psychology and from psychology classrooms.

The Psychologist is the monthly publication of the BPS which is free to members or you can access the free archive which contains most of the articles. It contains great feature articles (like Phil Banyard’s recent “Where is psychology’s non-stick frying pan?“), reviews of books and resources, and current research for all psychologists.

Also from the BPS is the Psychology Teaching Review, which is a quarterly journal published by the Division of Academics, Researchers & Teachers in Psychology. This is a peer reviewed journal that you get free with membership of DARTP or you can buy individually if you see an issue you’d like from the BPS shop.

Teaching of Psychology is the journal from the APA Division 2 for Teaching of Psychology (you get free access with membership of the division). If you teach psychology at a high school, introductory college, or higher level, you will find something of practical use in every issue of Teaching of Psychology. This indispensable journal offers creative and hands-on articles that help you use a variety of resources (for example, technology as a teaching tool) to enhance student learning.

Psychology Learning and Teaching (PLAT) is an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to enhancing knowledge of how to improve learning and teaching of psychology. To this purpose, PLAT publishes research articles, reviews, target articles and corresponding comments as well as reports on good and innovative learning, teaching and assessment practices.

As a member of The Association for the Teaching of Psychology (below) you get a magazine, ‘ATP Today’, three times a year. This contains reviews, feature articles and information from psychology teachers in the UK, for psychology teachers in the UK.

Psychology Review is aimed more at students, but it’s still interesting for teachers to have a flick through. Especially good to get a school subscription, or point it out to your students to subscribe to as well.

Books & Resources

One of the most downloaded resources in the psychology section of Brilliantly compiled by Michael Griffin with help from Resourcd and TES users, the Psychology Teachers Toolkit is crammed full of inspiring and practical ideas for psychology teachers. Loads of ideas, activities and assessment strategies for psychology teachers – there’s not a lot more you need.

The BPS will send you some great Psychology Careers Posters for free to liven up your classroom and let your students know what the ‘next steps’ are for different careers in psychology.

Teaching Psychology 14-19 is a core text for all training psychology teachers, as well as experienced teachers engaged in further study and professional development. Taking a reflective approach, Matt Jarvis explores key issues and debates against a backdrop of research and theory, and provides guidance on practical ideas intended to make life in the psychology classroom easier.

The BPS Research Digest want to demonstrate how fascinating and useful psychological science can be, while also casting a critical eye over the methods used. They don’t just pick up on the same studies covered by the mainstream media. The editor regularly trawls hundreds of peer-reviewed journals looking for the latest findings from across the breadth of psychological science.



There are a wide selection of groups, societies and associations for teachers of psychology. Some are worth the fee, some might not be, you decide. With many of these you get access to a journal or magazine free (see the above list).

If you’re only going to join one group then it has to be the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (£25 annually, discount for student teachers). The ATP organise an annual conference where hundreds of psychology teachers come together to share best practice (and a few drinks) – members get a discount on tickets. You also get ATP Today free three times a year.

The British Psychological Society (£128 annually) has a powerful voice in raising the profile of psychology, developing standards and advancing the discipline. As a member of the BPS you get a copy of The Psychologist free every month as well as access to a whole range of benefits. If £128 is a bit steep for your wallet you can join as an e-subscriber for only £12 a year where you can access digital copies of the Psychologist each month rather than have it pop through your letterbox.

If you are a member of the BPS you can further join the Division of Academics, Researchers & Teachers in Psychology. DARTP promotes the professional interests of psychologists who teach and/or conduct research, whether in a university, school, college or any other academic environment. DARTP aims to facilitate the professional development of academics, researchers and teachers in psychology.

The Society for the Teaching of Psychology ($25/~£15), a division of the American Psychological Association (APA), advances understanding of the discipline by promoting excellence in the teaching and learning of psychology. The Society also strives to advance the scholarship of teaching and learning, advocate for the needs of teachers of psychology, foster partnerships across academic settings, and increase recognition of the value of the teaching profession. You don’t need to be a member of the APA to join and you get the Teaching of Psychology journal free four times a year.

European Federation of Psychology Teachers’ Associations (EFPTA) is a federation of national and regional associations of psychology teachers in schools and colleges in European countries. Members are mainly involved in teaching psychology at lower and upper secondary levels, to school students aged c.13-19 years. Their aim is to promote pre-university psychology education in Europe by facilitating co-operation amongst Psychology Teachers’ Associations.To this end we organise conferences, facilitate student and teacher collaborative projects, conduct research, and engage with other psychologists’ associations and educational organisations in Europe


Training and INSET

The Association for the Teaching of Psychology Annual Conference is for teachers of psychology and will offer updating sessions on psychology, presentations and workshops on teaching and learning, and opportunities to share good practice. The three-day ATP Annual conference boasts over 50 workshops to enhance your CPD on a wide range of topics from teaching and learning to current research. It is the number one CPD event for teachers of psychology in the UK.

Resourcd Webinars  –  Webinar: Short for Web-based seminar, it is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software. Resourcd Webinars offer a variety of sessions from big names in psychology from the comfort of your classroom (or living room).

Glyndwr University’s MSc in Teaching of Psychology provides excellent CPD for practising teachers of post-16 Psychology who wish to obtain a Masters level qualification to maximise progression through the teaching procession. Both psychology graduates and graduates in other disciplines are eligible for this programme, which will support progressional development through an advanced study of theoretical developments and contemporary issues combined with the development of teaching and assessment skills.


Forums, e-Lists and Social Media

There’s a range of other support from forums and e-lists where you can ask questions, get involved in discussions about teaching of psychology and develop your networks.

PsychExchange @ Resourcd is the biggest forum and file sharing site for teachers in the UK. Here you can share ideas, see a massive 20,000 uploaded files from teachers, and get involved in the community.

PsychTeacher PsychTeacher is a moderated discussion list for teachers of psychology at all levels of education that is owned and operated by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Diversity-Teach Listserv focuses on issues related to infusing diversity and international perspectives into the psychology curriculum in addition to diversity-specific courses.  The forum is open to all who are interested in incorporating diversity into their teaching at all levels (including high school, 2-year, 4-year college/university, and graduate school settings).

Teaching in the Psychological Sciences is an electronic-based discussion group developed by the Department of Psychology, and Academic Computing at Frostburg State University. The primary goal of this electronic conference is to promote teaching improvement by providing a daily forum for the exchange of ideas and information.

Psychologists who Tweet – I wrote a post collating lots of psychologists, writers and linked associations in Psychology over at PsychBLOG a year ago. You’ll find loads of people you might want to follow – including me @jamiedavies!

Making it Real: Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS)

Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS) allow a learner to develop flexible knowledge of a subject area, improve the effectiveness of problem solving skills and self-directed learning skills, and increase collaboration and intrinsic motivation. Students engage in self-directed learning and assessment through which they are required to explore a scenario to which there is no definite correct response. Within collaborative groups these learners work through the scenario applying their learning to the novel situation allowing them to demonstrate a wide variety of both lower (AO1) and higher level (AO2) skills. This concept of learning through experience is central to the development of PALS and has its roots heavily it that of problem-based and inquiry-based learning which argue for the importance of practical experience in learning.

Inquiry-based learning and problem-based learning have been seen as a move forward since the 1960s where they were developed to formalise assessments within the medical school by Howard Barrows. Since then PBL/IBL has been applied to many different subjects at a variety of levels. Norton (2004) formalised PBL in Psychology through her work into PALS by providing specific guidance and examples of how these can successfully be embedded into Post-16 Education in Psychology. Over the course of ten years she developed PALS in a third year counselling module and has written guidance to practitioners as to how these can be embedded in a variety of different situations and for a variety of learners at different stages in their educational career (Norton, 2004).

When using a PALS the teacher acts as a facilitator helping to guide learners to possible solutions or signpost concepts, theories and studies that may hold part of a possible solution. A PALS distinguishes itself from PBL in the nature that within psychology learners are required to develop knowledge of several different approaches to understand behaviour of an individual (Norton, 2004). The nature of PALS allows the learner to engage with these different approaches to investigate and explore how these would provide differing explanations or treatments for the behaviour in question.

PALS foster engagement in class demonstrating to learners that the content that is delivered can be interpreted and applied in many different and novel situations. This ensures that we are meeting the learning outcomes that are expected of a psychology course. QCA state that within a psychology course some of the learning outcomes are to “develop an awareness of why psychology matters” (p3), and “develop an understanding of the relationship between psychology and social, cultural, scientific and contemporary issues and its impact on everyday life.” (QCA, 2007, p4). PALS allow a student to develop their knowledge and skillset and provide them with skills and experience that will make them better learners and improve their studentship skills, both now at A Level and by providing a solid foundation on which to build at higher education. Further to this PALS allow psychology and the studies and theories that a student has been exposed to be ‘brought to life’ illustrating to students the applied nature of the subject and improving motivation and engagement in lesson.

A PALS can be an effective tool if utalised appropriately by practitioners. The PALS need to be developed by the teacher and with classes, allowing them to develop and build upon their skills over the course of a module, course or year. In the current landscape of changing specifications and Ofsted requiring teachers to demonstrate that their students can independently lead their own learning PALS and other pedagogical tools such as this will become more important and necessary. A PALS allows a learner to both stretch and develop their learning of knowledge and skills in a collaborative way; by combining PALS with independent work or tasks following discussion the practitioner is providing a learning with a platform on which they can excel. Not only do PALS help contextualise current learning if delivered appropriately will ensure that the students start to ‘think psychologically’ and see the subject as more than just requiring rote learning of names and dates.

Would you or do you use PALS in class? Maybe you use them an never know about the evidence behind the use of them? Are they useful to use in class? Thoughts and examples in the comments as ever.


Norton, L. (2004). Psychology Applied Learning Scenarios (PALS): A practical introduction to problem-based learning using vignettes for psychology lecturers. LTSN.

(full text currently available online here)

Article based on a more formal and in-depth review of PALS by Jamie Davies found here.

It’s all in the font: fortune favours the bold (and the italicised).

As teachers we spend a lot of our time considering how we can improve the retention of the information that we are providing our learners with.  Many take this consideration down to the level of the font used for a hand-out or on powerpoints.  I remember as a trainee teacher I was told that comic sans was ‘the best’ font to use and can especially aid those with dyslexia (the British Dyslexia Association actually list it with five other fonts that are recommended).

Diemand-Yauman et al. (2011) conducted two studies looking at the effect of ‘disfluent’ fonts suggesting that the additional cognitive processing required to assimilate the information will result in a greater memory trace of the information presented (as in Craig and Tulving’s (1975) Levels of Processing).  It is suggested that these aptly named “desirable difficulties” (such as using a disfluent font) capitalise on this by creating additional cognitive burdens that improve learning.

In the first experiment 28 participants had to recall a list of 21 items of abstract information – details of species of aliens. This task was meant to parallel taxonomic learning in a biology classroom; alien species were used in place of actual species to ensure participants had no prior knowledge of the domain. This informationScreen Shot 2013-07-21 at 15.35.24 was presented using three different types of font (Comic Sans, Bondoni MT and Arial). Results showed a significant difference in recall following a 15 minute delay (t(26) = 2.3, p < .05) with those participants who were presented with the disfluent fonts scoring 14% better on average on a recall test.  A second study was conducted in a naturalistic setting using 222 high school students as a follow up to the initial laboratory study and this supported the initial findings providing further evidence that using disfluent fonts aids recall.

This research would suggest that adding cognitive burden to a student during encoding is beneficial to their later recall.  There are several caveats to consider if / when implementing this.  Diemand-Yauman et al. recognise that it is important to ascertain the point at which material is no longer disfluent but illegible otherwise one would be hindering a student’s progress.  Further to this less motivated, less able, or those with specific statemented learning difficulties could find the fonts unaccessible.

The scope of disfluent interventions is wide and these are cost-effective and easily implemented.  Unless requested by a student with specific difficulties or instructed to by my learning support department I personally use either Arial or Calibri fonts and do not think that I will be changing this practice any time soon.  However, the underlying concepts of creating resources that require students to think and increase the cognitive processes rather than just giving it to them is an interesting on that I will be implementing in my next review of resources over the summer.

Would you consider action research on this? What are your feelings about utilising so-called ‘disfluent’ fonts in class or on worksheets? Your thoughts in the comments.


Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D.M., and Vaughan, E.B. (2011) Fortune favors the bold (and the italicized): effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118, 1, 111-115.

doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012  (full text currently available online here)

Flipping Fantastic: a case study of blogs as a platform for flipped learning.

The Flipped Classroom

It is apparent that there are individual differences as to what motivates and does not motivate a learner (Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, & Rasmussen, 1994). The empirical support for active learning, generally defined as any instructional method that engages students in the learning process, is extensive (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Further, there are increasing indications that learners’ expectations of technology, and, as a result, of learning, are not being met (BECTA, 2008). Following on from this research, I considered an implementation of a ‘flipped classroom’ where students are primed with knowledge prior to the session. Flipped learning is a form of blended learning that encompasses any use of technology to leverage the learning in a classroom.

In recent years, learner-centered pedagogy has received considerable attention (Pierce & Fox, 2012; Findlay-Thompson & Saint, 2014; Warter-Perez & Dong, 2012). A learner-centered approach to teaching incorporates teaching strategies that focus on the needs, preferences, and interests of the learner. This approach is desirable because it helps learners to become actively engaged in the learning process, take responsibility for their learning, and enhances their skills to learn how to learn (Keengwe, Onchwari & Onchwari, 2009). Active learning is grounded on the constructivist theory that emphasises hands-on, activity-based teaching and learning during which students develop their own frames of thought (Keengwe et al., 2009).

The ‘flipped classroom’ instructional model was developed by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams in 2007 to provide instruction to secondary students who were missing class and therefore missing instruction. Using videos to support students’ learning has attracted the attention of a large number of researchers (Young and Asensio, 2002) and a key concept within the idea of flipped learning is the use of new technologies to support learning; or as some would label: blended learning (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004). The ‘flipped learning’ method provides an opportunity for teachers to provide more personal feedback and assistance to students, but also to receive feedback from their students about the activities that they are undertaking and what they don’t yet understand (Wiley and Gardner, 2013).

Student perceptions of flipped learning were considered by Bower (2013) who stated that a teacher no longer needs to provide a synchronous lesson to his or her students. The flipped classroom offers those educators looking to reinvent their practice a way to move from being the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” (King, 1993). There are many examples of the use of a flipped classroom in contemporary classrooms (Pierce & Fox, 2012; Findlay-Thompson & Saint, 2014; Warter-Perez & Dong, 2012).

The fundamental idea behind flipping a classroom is that more classroom time should be dedicated to active learning where the teacher can provide immediate feedback and assistance. The learner completes a task outside of the classroom that will often involve watching a video clip, sometimes narrated by the instructor. This prepares the student with information that will be built upon in class. In relation to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the learners are developing their knowledge and understanding outside of the class which gives more time in class for the instructor to develop assessments, activities and tasks that build on this and develop the higher order skills (Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956). Some educators have claimed that assessment-related activities used in the classroom convey important information about what is valued there, and hence have an influence on students’ achievement goals (Ames, 1992; Harlen & Crick, 2003).

Following on from this, the current action research considered an implementation of a ‘flipped classroom’ where students were primed with knowledge prior to sessions. Students completed a flipped task prior to the session that involved a reading task, watching a short clip, and completing an online quiz. The class resources and extension work was placed on the class flipped blog for use following the session. Therefore, embedding the technology into the session, both prior to, and following the session with the aim of creating a ‘blended’ learning environment. This method was sustained for a full term with students completing a flipped task each week prior to their first session.

Blogs as Flipped Classrooms

Initially the flipped classroom was developed on the WordPress platform using a ‘learning management’ plugin developed by Woothemes called Sensei. This flipped classroom (accessible at consisted of two areas: the weekly resource blog and the weekly flipped task. Each week I would place the classroom resources on the site for students to make use of, download and complete the extension tasks, which were optional. The flipped task was uploaded each week to be completed prior to the first session the next week. This task would always compromise of a reading task, a short (~10 minute) video clip and a selection of multiple-choice questions. These multiple-choice questions allowed me to monitor the completion of the task for each learner and provided me with scores to measure progress, but it also gave immediate feedback to the student allowing them to reflect on their responses.


Three classes of AS students taught by myself were selected to use the flipped learning approach. A comparison group of students who completed their AS course in the 2012-13 year were matched with the current students on sex and prior achievement for statistical comparison of value added scores. Qualitative responses from each of the current students were collected to contextualise any difference in progression over the course of the year and gain insight into the students preferred teaching style. Final measures of impact cannot be made until the terminal results of the AS examinations have been released in August 2014.

Some of the Impact

Students’ overall perceptions of flipped learning where measured through an online questionnaire that asked about student engagement with flipped learning, preferences for teaching style and feedback for future implementations of flipped learning. The results from the questions on perception of flipped learning over the first half-term of the year are shown in the table below (figure 1).

Table showing sub-set of results from a questionnaire on the impact and perception of flipped learning.

Figure 1: table showing sub-set of results from a questionnaire on the impact and perception of flipped learning.

The overall perception of flipped learning were positive and suggest that the students found it more engaging as a ‘homework’ task than more traditional methods as well as allowing them more time with the instructor to develop this knowledge in class. Qualitative feedback from the class on open questions about their preference for flipped learning suggested supported the responses to the quantitative questions with students stating that they ‘enjoyed’ flipped learning and ‘liked the ability to access the work anywhere’. One student even commented that ‘the flipped tasks have given me something to do when I’m bored on the bus home’.

Is Flipped Learning Flipping Fantastic?

Research related to the potential impact of the flipped model is focused on the effects of preparing learners with direct instruction outside of the classroom, prior to receiving in-class instruction. Research on the effects of priming on memory indicates that when learners are exposed to particular stimuli their memory of that stimulus is improved due to their previous experience (Bodie et al., 2006). By providing students with instruction outside of the classroom, learners are, in essence, ‘primed’ for the active learning tasks.

Teaching is not just about giving the students knowledge but also providing the learner with signposts to help develop their studentship skills and become a better learner in general (Dunlosky et al., 2013). Stretching and providing extension activities for all learners is a key theme that is embedded into any outstanding lesson, allowing students to move away from a restrictive activity and develop further awareness of an area or improve their skills. There is no doubt that Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives for the cognitive domain (Bloom et al., 1956) has had a considerable impact on educational thought and practice all over the world. If the taxonomy is embedded into the curriculum in the first weeks then students can use their meta-cognitive skills and consider with greater skill what a question is demanding of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 10.25.31Using the flipped method has allowed me to signpost different skills within Bloom’s Taxonomy to them in a structured way. Learners are aware that the tasks that they complete as part of the flipped classroom give them a foundation of knowledge that will be built upon in class. The use of Bloom’s stages within the taxonomy are further embedded within class through the use of learning tasks that used as consolidation tasks on the flipped activities. Each lesson is developed to build upon the flipped task and work up through Bloom’s taxonomy using resources such as a ‘learning ladder’ (figure 2) of different tasks grouped into the six stages within the taxonomy (Russell, 2014).

Angelo (1995) suggests that classroom learning improves when (a) students are personally invested and actively engaged, (b) they receive prompt and comprehensible feedback, and (c) they work cooperatively with their classmates and teachers. Students are actively engaged before they enter the classroom through the use of a flipped lesson. They know what they will be learning about, and bring an awareness of what the session is going to contain allowing them to interact with the starter activities immediately. Using the flipped method it gives more time in class to focus on activities, therefore, feedback is prompt and regular, from the embedding of consolidation tasks to the use of the AfL for whole class feedback and reflection. Finally, the students are able to work cooperatively, supporting each other from the initial task based on the flipped session to group work and discussion throughout, with extension work following the session.

One issue that must be raised is the access to technology and individual preferences for the use of it as a learning tool. Technology can be engaging for some learners, but it is important to recognise that students are more motivated by opportunities to progress; they are motivated by opportunities to ask and answer their own questions; and they are motivated by opportunities to learn together with like-minded peers (Tucker, 2012). Aware of this the flipped classroom was implemented for the first half-term, and only once a week to allow a range of other activities to be used.

Outstanding teaching techniques are based on the goal of “students becoming the agents of their own learning rather than the object of instruction” (Hamdan, McKnight, McKnight, & Artfstrom, 2013b, p. 4), and these techniques are designed to get at the deepest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). In a recent literature review, Hamdan et al. (2013b) recognised that teachers achieved increased student engagement, critical thinking, and better attitudes toward learning when active learning techniques, such as flipped learning were applied. This was reflected in the feedback from learners in my classes this year. The flipped classroom has given me more time in class to work with students rather than teach the entire class. This time has enabled me to differentiate between my learners better, give more one-to-one feedback to each learner and become aware of the strengths of each of my students. Flipping fantastic.



Ames, C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of educational psychology, 84(3), 261.

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon.

Angelo, T.A. (1995) Classroom assessment for critical thinking. Teaching of psychology, 22, 6-7.

BECTA (2008) Harnessing Technology: Next Generation Learning. Available:

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, F. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. Taxonomy of Educational Obiectives: The Classi?cation of Education Goals. New York: Longman.

Bodie, G.D., Powers, W.G., Fitch-Hauser, M., (2006). Chunking, Priming and Active Learning: Toward an innovative and blended approach to teaching communication-related skills. nteractive Learning Environments. 14 (2), 119 – 135.

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning. Creating Excitement in the.

Bower, M., Kenney, J., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M.J.W. & Kennedy, G.E. (2013). Blended synchronous learning: Patterns and principles for simultaneously engaging co-located and distributed learners. In H. Carter, M. Gosper and J. Hedberg (Eds.), Electric Dreams. Proceedings ascilite 2013 Sydney.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., and Willingham, D.T. (2013) Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58.

Findlay-Thompson, S., & Mombourquette, P. (2014). Evaluation of a flipped classroom in an undergraduate business course. Business Education & Accreditation, 6(1).

Garrison, D. R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The internet and higher education, 7(2), 95-105.

Hamdan, N., McKnight, P., McKnight, K., & Arfstrom, K. (2013). A review of flipped learning. Flipped Learning Network: Available http://www. flippedlearning. org/cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/LitReview _FlippedLearning.pdf .

Harlen, W., & Deakin Crick, R. (2003). Testing and motivation for learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(2), 169-207.

Jones, B. F., & Valdez, G. (2008). Nowakowski, 1., & Rasmussen, C.(1994). Designing Learning and Technology for Educational Reform. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

Keengwe, J., Onchwari, G., & OnChwari, J. (2009). Technology and student learning: Towards a learner-centered teaching model. AACE Journal, 17(1), 11-22.

King, A., (1993). From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Pierce, R., & Fox, J. (2012). Vodcasts and active-learning exercises in a “flipped classroom” model of a renal pharmacotherapy module. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 76(10).

Russell, C., (2014) Thinking Ladder. Available:

Tucker, B. (2012). The flipped classroom. Education Next, 12(1), 82-83.

Warter-Perez, N., & Dong, J., (2012). Flipping the classroom: How to embed inquiry and design projects into a digital engineering lecture. In Proceedings of the 2012 ASEE PSW Section Conference.

Willey, K., & Gardner, A. Flipping your classroom. Available:

Young, C., & Asensio, M. (2002, March). Looking through Three’I’s: the Pedagogic Use of Streaming Video. In Networked Learning (pp. 628-635).


How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?

“It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.”

Russell, 1945

I posted my Critical Thinking in Psychology essay recently where I discuss in depth critical (or rational) thinking in the context of A Level psychology. Here I want to share one of my favourite lessons of the year where I encourage my students to start thinking critically (find the lesson powerpoint at the bottom of the post or here).

One approach to increase students critical thinking skills is to get them considering methodological issues outside of the narrow framework of each subject specification and bring these issues to life. The use of activities such as ‘More cat owners have degrees’ demonstrating the dangers of misinterpreting correlational research and the possible bias caused by funding, and ‘The dangers of bread’ again illustrating issues of inferring causation from correlation act as excellent points for discussion about causation and correlation. Articles such as these teach students to be ‘savvy consumers and producers of research’ and develop the abilities needed to analyse, synthesise and applied learned information.

A key element of critical thinking is not taking results and conclusions at face value and questioning the methods that were used and any biases that these could have introduced when making inferences from results.  I have designed several activities  to make learners aware of  ‘blind acceptance of conclusions’conclusions’ and the fallibility of accepting results  without question. I have pulled all of these activities into one lesson with the aim of engaging students and creating an enthusiasm about evaluation.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.38.14Initially, I start with abstract questions to get the learners considering critical thinking outside of psychology and allow them to develop their own awareness. This starts from the moment they enter the room when the starter is the question ‘How many uses can you think of for a paper clip‘. After giggles, head scratching and some quite lateral thinking we move on to discuss what ‘critical thinking’ is.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.31.22

Before moving into discussion explicitly linked to psychology studies I ask them to write some instructions as to how to make a piece of toast. The students are a little suspicious at this point but after a few minutes you get the usual: get the bread, put in the toaster … and of course the debate on Nutella vs Marmite! Then I pose the question ‘but where did you get the toaster from …‘ and show the excellent TED video ‘Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch

From here is time to turn my new ‘questioning‘ students back to psychology …

The first activity is based on hindsight bias, or the “I knew that all along” attitude, helping students become aware of the fact that anything can seem commonplace once explained if you are not aware of the underlying methodology.

This was the rationale for the ‘Lazarfield task’ that starts with the class being divided into two groups with each half receiving conclusions from a study (adapted from Lazarsfeld, 1949). However, unaware of this, the two groups received the opposite findings. For example group one would receive:

“Better educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Whereas the second group would have:

Better educated soldiers suffered fewer adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Each group have to make inferences about ‘why’ the conclusions might be true. Following on from the task students were asked to “did the findings make sense?” and to feedback their reasons. Only at this point will the class be made aware that they had the opposite findings and how easily it is to justify a finding after the fact. A discussion about the fallibility of the “I knew that already” attitude follows in relation to the students that the students have completed. This allows for the learner to review conclusions made and consider alternative arguments, confounding variables and biases in generalisations made.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.55.09

To then scaffold students’ analysis and evaluation skills a set of critical thinking questions to frame evaluation of research was adapted. These critical thinking questions provide students with important questions that they can use to establish the credibility of a research method. It also allows differentiation across learners providing the opportunity for those with low ability to give limited responses and the more able students to expand and demonstrate their synoptic awareness of research methods and the surrounding issues and concepts.

This is one of my favourite sessions of the year – you can actually see the students thinking, discussing and debating issues. They are staring to think like psychologists, like scientists. Not accepting what is in front of them but asking important questions. What is great to see is the reaction following the session – how the students often refer back to the session.

My only warning – I asked my students to keep asking ‘but why?‘ – they do!

How do you develop critical thinking skills in your learners? Could you adapt this session to your subject? If you do – please share it in the comments.