BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Twenty Psychological Principles for Successful Teaching and Learning

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Top 20 Principles from Psychology for Pre-K-12 Teaching and Learning” by Joan Lucariello, Sandra Graham, Bonnie Nastasi, Carol Dwyer, Russ Skiba, Jonathan Plucker, Mary Pitoniak, Mary Brabeck, Darlene DeMarie, and Steven Pritzker for the American Psychological Association, 2015,
In this report from the American Psychological Association, Joan Lucariello and nine colleagues synthesize key psychological principles and explain their implications for PreK-12 educators. The full report (see link below) has considerable detail on each one.
• Principle #1: Students’ beliefs and perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning. Students with an “incremental” or “growth” mindset tend to focus on learning goals and are willing to take on challenging tasks to expand their intelligence or ability. Students with a “fixed” or “entity” view of intelligence feel the need to continually demonstrate or prove their ability and are hesitant to take on difficult challenges. Teachers can foster a growth mindset by encouraging students to attribute success and failure to effort and strategy and avoiding ability-based praise or criticism.
• Principle #2: What students already know affects their learning. Prior knowledge can be “Velcro” for new knowledge, but what students “know” may also be erroneous. Teachers can gain insights on students’ current knowledge – and their misconceptions and knowledge gaps – by giving pre-assessments and putting the data to work in unit and lesson planning. Getting students to change their misconceptions requires especially careful lesson planning.
• Principle #3: Students’ cognitive development and learning are not limited to general stages of development. Recent research has debunked earlier stage theories of learning and shown that students are capable of advanced thinking if specific knowledge and skills are in place. Baseline assessments are helpful in guiding how instruction should proceed, and heterogeneous grouping can foster peer learning.
• Principle #4: Learning occurs within a specific context (e.g., a classroom, a lab, a textbook) and transferring or generalizing learning will not happen by itself. Teachers need to make real-world connections, teach in multiple contexts, and take the time to develop students’ understanding of deep, underlying concepts that can be applied in new contexts.
• Principle #5: Acquiring long-term knowledge and skill is largely dependent on practice. Students experience a plethora of stimuli every day that lodge in short-term or working memory. Moving the most important items into long-term memory takes deliberate practice – attention, rehearsal, practice testing (the retrieval effect), spaced repetition over time, and interleaving material from different subject areas.
• Principle #6: Clear, explanatory, and timely feedback to students is important for learning. Specific learning goals are the starting point, followed by feedback on what students have right and wrong that guides them to knowing what to do, becoming self-correctors, and taking ownership for their own learning.
• Principle #7: Students’ self-regulation assists learning, and self-regulatory skills can be taught. Students need to learn planning, attention, self-control, and memory strategies.
• Principle #8: Creativity can be fostered. Being able to generate ideas that are new and useful in a particular situation is an important 21st-century skill, and it’s not a fixed trait that you either have or you don’t. Teachers should allow for a wide range of student approaches to completing tasks or solving problems (create, invent, discover, imagine if, predict), emphasize the value of different approaches, and avoid the tendency to see highly creative students as disruptive.
• Principle #9: Students tend to enjoy learning and do better when they are more intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated. The long-term goal is to get students to the point where they engage in activities for their own sake – where success and mastery are sufficient motivation to work hard and stick with the task.
• Principle #10: Students persist in the face of challenging tasks and process information more deeply when they adopt mastery rather than performance goals. Mastery goals are about acquiring new skills and improving levels of competence, while performance goals are about showing one’s ability and doing better than others. Teachers should emphasize progress over past performance (versus normative evaluation and comparison to others), deliver feedback privately, get students working in cooperative groups, and encourage students to see mistakes as opportunities to learn versus evidence of low ability.
• Principle #11: Teachers’ expectations about their students affect students’ opportunities to learn, their motivation, and their learning outcomes. “These beliefs shape the kinds of instruction delivered to students, the grouping practices that are used, anticipated learning outcomes, and methods of evaluation,” say the authors. “If faulty expectations are communicated to a student (whether verbally or nonverbally), that student may begin to perform in ways that confirm the teacher’s original expectation.” Teachers need to continuously self-check, for example: Where are students sitting the classroom? Are all students participating in discussions? Is written feedback delivered equitably?
• Principle #12: Setting goals that are short-term, specific, and moderately challenging enhances motivation more than establishing goals that are long-term, general, and overly challenging. At least until middle adolescence, students aren’t skilled at thinking concretely about the distant future (e.g., succeeding in college). Teachers need to set goals that move students toward high achievement and gradually “stretch” the goals.
• Principle #13: Learning is situated within multiple social contexts. These include families, peer groups, neighborhoods, communities, and the larger society. The more teachers know about the different contexts, the better they will do at creating a classroom culture that facilitates learning.
• Principle #14: Interpersonal relationships and communication are critical to both the teaching-learning process and the social-emotional development of students. “Given their social nature, classrooms provide a critical context for teaching social skills such as communication and respect for others,” say the authors. “Developing successful relationships with peers and adults is highly dependent on one’s ability to communicate thoughts and feelings through verbal and nonverbal behavior.”
• Principle #15: Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development. Teachers’ choice of vocabulary, effective modeling, and explicit teaching can help students develop a healthy self-concept and self-esteem; self-efficacy and locus of control; happiness, contentment, and calm; a capacity for coping in healthy ways with everyday stresses; understanding, expressing, and controlling one’s own emotions; and perceiving and understanding others’ emotions.
• Principle #16: Expectations for classroom conduct and social interaction are learned and can be taught using proven principles of behavior and effective classroom instruction. Teachers need to start at the very beginning of the year and re-teach behavioral expectations throughout the year. Certain well-established programs like PBIS are very helpful.
• Principle #17: Effective classroom management is based on structure and support at the classroom and schoolwide level. This means teachers are: (a) setting and communicating high expectations; (b) consistently nurturing positive relationships with a high ratio of positive to negative statements; and (c) providing a high level of student support.
• Principle #18: Both formative and summative assessments are important and useful, but require different approaches and interpretations. Formative assessments are on-the-fly and used to improve instruction and learning in real time. Summative assessments measure learning at certain points in the year. Clear learning targets are important to both.
• Principle #19: Students’ skills, knowledge, and abilities are best measured with assessments that have well-defined standards for quality and fairness. Some important questions on the validity of formative assessments:
- How much of what you want to measure is actually being measured?
- How much of what you didn’t intend to measure is actually being measured?
- What are the intended and unintended consequences of the assessment?
- What evidence do you have to support your answers to the first three questions?
Reliability is another key criterion of good assessments – are they consistent indicators of students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities?
• Principle #20: Making sense of assessment data depends on clear, appropriate, and fair interpretation. This comes back to what the assessment was designed to measure, ensuring that the data are used in ways that improve teaching and learning.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


06/10/2019 - Guddy
It is very useful for me as a b.ed student.
11/21/2017 - Goodluck michael
It is good idea