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6 ways to make your lessons more psychologically smart

6 ways to make your lessons more psychologically smart

3 min read
  • Becoming evidence-informed
  • The science of learning

Every moment of a lesson matters. Each minute spent doing something that doesn’t lead to learning is sixty seconds wasted. However, there are a lot of psychologically smart activities that occur in a lesson that likely do not lead to student development. Fortunately, emerging research is shining a light on what works in the classroom.

Through the use of cognitive research and our understanding of the science of learning, we can help accelerate learning. So, what does a psychologically smart lesson look like?

1. Ask pre-questions

Pre-questioning involves asking students questions before they learn the relevant information.

recent study found that students who had been asked pre-questions not only learnt more about those topics, but also remembered the rest of the lesson better as well. This effect is thought to have occurred because such questioning focuses students and creates a sense of intrigue surrounding the information they’re about to learn.

2. No fancy PowerPoint animations

Teachers often spend a lot of time jazzing up their PowerPoint presentations to include animations, music and sounds to help keep their students engaged. However, a recent study actually found that students learnt more from quite simple and basic PowerPoints.

Essentially, the ‘bells and whistles’ of fancy animations often acted as a distraction, as the brain can only process a certain amount of information (and the extra stimuli takes up space that would otherwise be filled with valuable content).

3. Use both pictures and words

Dual-coding theory shows the power of combining both words and pictures in learning new material. Research has found that students who revised with this technique performed twice as well in a problem-solving task when compared with those who had revised with just words. This occurred because supplying the brain with both words and pictures means that it has two different ways to process the information.

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4. Lots of quizzes

Teachers should include activities that use Retrieval Practice in their lessons. Retrieval practice, often referred to as the “testing effect”, is where students complete an activity that forces them to recall information in order to generate an answer. This could involve quizzes, multiple choice tests, or simply getting students to answer questions. Research has shown that students who used Retrieval Practice remember information for longer.

This method can also protect students against the negative effects that stress can have on memory – with 72% of students reporting that Retrieval Practice made them feel less nervous about their upcoming exams.

5. Have students teach someone at the end

Recent research has demonstrated the effectiveness of getting students to teach each other at the end of a lesson. In one particular study, 100 students were split into two groups. One group had to read a passage and were led to believe that they would later have to teach another student on its content whilst another group were told that they would be tested on the passage.

The researchers found that students who had been expecting to teach the material to someone else remembered more of the material such that they performed over 12% better in the test. They also stored the information in a more efficient way and were more likely to be able to recall the most important facts. Find out more about this technique in our blog about the protégé effect.

6. Set the right amount of homework

Teachers need to ensure that they get the right balance with setting homework. Research investigating 7,451 teenagers in Spain found that the regularity of homework being set is more important than the amount. Furthermore, students who spent 90 minutes a day doing homework achieved the highest grades.

However, they also found that the additional gains beyond setting 1 hour of homework a night probably did not justify the extra time that it took to complete it.

Final thoughts

There is a wealth of research out there that can help teachers plan and prepare psychologically smart lessons. Gimmicks and fads come and go – they often promise the world and then fail to deliver.

By being evidence-based and research-informed, it is easy to create a psychologically smart lesson that helps students realise their potential and maximise their learning. You can find even more classroom strategies on our free email course, The Science of Teaching and Learning. Find out more about the topics of the 7 emails and sign up to receive free CPD in your inbox here.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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