George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Psychology in Teaching

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The purpose of education is to further develop the process of inquiry by fostering within each student an innate desire to learn. However, unconsciously teachers may be too far disconnected from their students in their pedagogical leanings.

The role of the teacher is to lead, not with ego, but with wisdom. In turn, it falls upon every teacher to familiarize him- or herself with pedagogical strategies to effectively communicate with students in a manner that promotes co-ownership over learning.

One of the first core principals I learned about teaching is modeling, either through my own examples or student work. Originally, this concept was presented by renowned psychologist Albert Bandura who posited that learning is social. Akin to a mirror, what is seen is what is reflected.

In my class, I demonstrate respect, cooperation, and active listening. If the students do not respect my rules, then I rely on Ivan Pavlov's theory of operant conditioning. There is a reward for expected behavior (e.g., praise, approval) and a consequence for negative behavior (e.g., detention, parent contact).

Yet these are tools taken from a teacher’s perspective and used to reinforce learning and behavior. They are, in effect, limited in their capacity to motivate. Without student motivation, then growth is not possible neither inside nor outside the classroom.

Referring back to Bandura, who is known for his Bobo doll experiment, he posited the necessity of self-efficacy− a central tenant of my classroom philosophy. It empowers students not only academically but also personally. It fosters growth by allowing students to speak for themselves without fear of reprisal, thus encouraging ownership over their grades and work ethic. In turn, students to have higher amount of self-efficacy, and thus persist longer and try harder to accomplish difficult tasks.

Parallel to John Dewey's theory of democratization encouraging plurality of voice, within my classroom, I am hyper-cognizant that I am not the only one in it. Students' voices must be heard and taken into account, which gives them ownership over their learning. It is a two-way process with reflexive roles of the sender and receiver, whom often times share information promoting clarity of understanding and intellectual thought.

My classroom then becomes not only a place to learn, but a place where my students can reach their full potential.


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