Inspiring critical thinking in classrooms

In 2015, I co-wrote an article for the Psychology Today blog (click here to read it in its entirety). In that article, we focused our attention on the characteristics of classrooms which inspire critical thinking in classrooms.

Those characteristics include: 1) using frequent evaluative questions to simultaneously gauge student learning and foster deeper engagement with material; 2) the encouragement of active learning, through the use of small group discussion; and 3) the creation of developmental tension. As one author cited in the article stated, “…all conscious thought has its beginning in uncertainty.”

Therefore, the use of controversial topics, and the introduction of novel ways of thinking, requires students to engage with the material in an effort to incorporate the discomfort into pre-existing knowlege. Continue reading “Inspiring critical thinking in classrooms”

Learning to ride a bike

Today, my youngest son, Jesse, learned how to ride a bike for the first time. As I watched him swerve and waver around, and then catch his balance, I felt myself well up with pride, and noticed that my lower lip had protruded outward in a pout. Such accomplishments are incredible moments, and yet they are also filled with the bittersweet realization that your children are shedding their dependencies every day.

I remember my first bicycle. It was a red Schwinn, with white racing stripes. I was six years old, and on Christmas morning, I had finished opening my presents when my father got up and said, “Oh, wait. I almost forgot.” And he came out of his bedroom pushing this beautiful bike in front of him.

The bike had training wheels on it, and I took it out that very morning and rode it up and down the parking lot of the apartment complex where we lived. Back and forth, back and forth. My head held high, there was nothing else I wanted to do than show off my new bike. Continue reading “Learning to ride a bike”

Learner-Centered Assessment Strategies for Greater Student Retention

Teachers usually have their own set of ways to teach their students and make sure that the students are actually learning. Most teachers usually don’t challenge the traditional way of teaching, which can leave some students overwhelmed and confused. When I first started teaching, without even thinking, I constructed courses that looked the same as how they looked when I was in school. Step one: Teach a unit; Step two: Give an in-class exam; Step three: Teach a unit; Step four: Give an in-class exam. Etc. My observation is that a lot of teachers do the same thing. In my own research, however, in-class exams are poor alternatives to something called learner-centered assessments.

An article that I wrote with three of my students in 2014, called Learner-Centered Assessment Strategies for Greater Student Retention examined other methods for testing students. In general, I suggest that in-class examinations test what the student has learned in your class, and nothing more. Other ways of assessment can show what the student has learned while teaching them something else in the process. The goal is for students to learn while they are completing their assessment.

Here are some assessment-based recommendations that you can use today: Continue reading “Learner-Centered Assessment Strategies for Greater Student Retention”

Using our reflections about teaching to become a better teacher

One of the things I love about psychology is that it encourages people to be courageous about looking inward and evaluating self honestly. This kind of thinking, in my opinion, should extend to your teaching practice. If you think honestly about “how things are going,” in the classroom or in the home, or inside your own motivations (i.e. are you bored with your teaching?), it provides you with an opportunity to think about what you can do differently to produce a different outcome. Be brutally honest about where the gaps are between what you want from your students, and what you are getting, and then, use those reflections about teaching to craft new approaches. When working with (or parenting) children, it is important to remember that you are in control. While there are certainly a lot of other influences on children’s behavior, while a child is in your care, you have the authority to dictate the climate and the rules in that situation.

In short, teaching and parenting is most usefully thought of as a connection between inputs and outputs. The inputs are your behaviors and decisions, and the outputs are the responses of the children. For me, the essence of being a good parent and teacher is a matter of intentionality. Think about what you intend to teach, what lesson you intend to communicate, and what type of learning you intend to inspire, and then intentionally craft lessons and practices that are most likely to produce those intended results. I wish to provide you with a quick overview of how I used this focus on my reflections about teaching and intentionality in my own teaching practice. Continue reading “Using our reflections about teaching to become a better teacher”

Discipline without spanking

The integration of my practice as an educational psychologist and my daily life as a father has compelled me to avoid the use of corporal punishment with my children. Decades of psychological research on effective parenting discipline* emphasize three main methods for teaching our children right from wrong without resorting to physical punishment.

  • The most important thing we can do as parents is to provide our children with the ability to learn from their mistakes. Think about this: Haven’t your mistakes been times when you have incommensurately grown as a person? Humans are wired to seek equilibrium in our lives. When we make a mistake, the brain’s main focus becomes the understanding of what we did wrong, and the creative search for alternative ways to approach similar situations in the future. The same processes are true for children. When we discipline our children, we trigger in them a desire to understand what happened, so that they can get back to feeling like the world is a comprehensible place.

Continue reading “Discipline without spanking”