Jarvis, M. (2005) The psychology of effective teaching and learning

Jarvis, M. (2005) The psychology of effective teaching and learning. Cheltenham, UK: Nelson Thornes.

I found the first six chapters of this book to be a useful overview of theory and research related to a variety of topics: teaching and learning theory, cognitive development, intelligence and academic ability, learning/thinking/studying styles, thinking skills, and motivation. The chapters on emotional factors in learning, technology, stress, and research were less useful.

I will post some notes on the items I found most interesting or valuable in this volume.  I do have some things to reflect on about some of it, but will address that in another post about the book on research in education that I read just before this one.

Chapter 1:

This chapter gives a brief overview of conceptualizations of teaching and learning from various theoretical viewpoints.  It’s a useful companion to the chapters in Knowles on the history of teaching/learning.  Knowles goes in to a lot more depth, but stops short of the past 30 years or so.  This chapter is less detailed (especially as concerns the histories of the various strands of theory), but does highlight developments in the last couple of decades.

Chapter 2:

This chapter looks at cognitive development.  The author presents a couple of different theoretical approaches and critiques them. Both this and the previous chapter place a fair amount of emphasis on constructivism and social constructivism; this chapter also presents the idea of modular development as an alternate theory of cognitive development (ie that development of different areas or modules can proceed at different paces). The chapter is useful for anyone wanting an overview of Piaget’s and Vygotsky’s theories of cognitive development,

Chapter 3:

In this chapter the focus is on intelligence. The author explores the issue of IQ tests and of the construct of intelligence; he presents arguments against intelligence being a fixed trait, and discussed the fact that IQ tests have been used to exclude and label people. However, he still finds use for them.  He also presents several theories of intelligence, including Gardiner’s multiple intelligences. I found the discussion of how various theories or approaches to intelligence are compatible and can be used to inform each other very interesting.

One theoretical approach detailed here, with which I was not familiar, is Robert Sternberg’s notion of triarchic intelligence.  This theory proposes three elements of intelligence: componential (these are the basic mechanisms necessary for intelligent function: knowledge acquisition components, performance components, metacomponents), experiential (how experience affects our ability to engage in cognitive tasks; first we learn to deal with the demands of a new situation, then we automate the process), and contextual (considers the context/culture in which we carry out mental functions).  These ideas have been used to propose a triarchic model of teaching, in which teachers should, besides the acquisition of knowledge, be focused on critical-thinking, creative, and practical activities–use of all these types of activities will engage the different subcomponents of intelligence, and thus improve learning.

The last part of the chapter looks at research evidence on the question of whether intelligence is innate/fixed, or whether it can be affected, and how.

Chapter 4: 

The first part of this chapter makes a useful differentiation between cognitive style, learning strategies, and learning style.  Cognitive style is general understood to be innate, and refers to the way in which an individual thinks (the author cites Riding and Raynor 1998 on this wording).  Learning strategies are understood to be context-dependant ways in which a learner reacts to a given situation, and are understood to be habits, and thus more or less amenable to change.  Learning style is hard to define, according to the author, because the term is inconsistently used in the literature; he uses it as an overarching term to include both of the above terms.

The chapter explores a variety of ways of classifying cognitive styles and learning strategies.

Cognitive Style classification systems:

  • Field dependence/independence: field-independent individuals tend to see/process information or problems on their own merits; field dependent individuals make more use of contextual information
  • Feldman & Silverman (1988): four dimensions of learning styles: active-reflective, sensory-intuitive, visual-verbal, sequential-global
  • Riding (1991): two dimensions: visual-verbal, wholist-analytic
  • Honey and Mumford (1992): four unidimensional scales: activists, theorists, pragmatists, reflectors

Learning Strategies classification systems:

  • deep vs shallow learning
  • strategic learning

The author reviews evidence for the usefulness/reliability of each measure he presents, and discusses application of results in educational settings.

Chapter 5:

This chapter looks at ways to categorize thinking skills.  It introduces Bloom’s hierarchy of thinking skills, and discusses different types of thinking as conceptualized by different scholars. The chapter discusses the concept of metacognition, and looks at how teachers can approach their work with an eye toward developing thinking skills.  He outlines and critiques several approaches to teaching/improving thinking skills for children; some of these are very interesting, although not really applicable to my work.

Chapter 6: 

I found this chapter very helpful in organizing my own thoughts on the professor/teacher’s role in creating and supporting a motivating environment.  The chapter begins with a discussion of the importance of motivation in learning, and then presents several theoretical concepts related to motivation, each of which is analyzed and critiqued.

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: this is a theory most people have heard of, but don’t necessarily really know much about.  The author critiques the theory, but points out that it is a humanist theory–looking at the whole person, not just cognition–which is an important point when thinking about motivation. 
  • Self-determination theory (Deci), p. 122: motivation arises from the individual’s own desire to achieve a goal; this desire comes from the fulfillment of: competence needs (“we have an innate need to believe in our own competence”), relationship needs (“we have an innate need to achieve and maintain satisfactory relationships with those with whom we come in to regular contact”), and autonomy needs (“we have an innate need to choose our own course of actions”).  The self-determined learner is thus motivated by the fact that all of these needs have been satisfied; the teacher in this scenario is thus interested in helping the student to fulfill these needs, and thus be motivated.
  • Attribution theory: By attribution the author means “the cognitive processes whereby we explain the causes of events” (p.124).  Scholars who explore attribution theory look at the learner’s understanding of they were successful or unsuccessfull at a task (causal inference).  Weiner (1992) identified three aspects of attribution; the author points out useful applications of this theory for the classroom.
  1. Locus of control–does the learner see him/herself as responsible for outcomes (internal locus of control), or does s/he attribute causes to an external source (external locus of control)? One’s conceptualization of locus of control can have an effect on how one prepares for and reacts to events. 
  2. Stability: are the causes of success or failure stable, or do they change from one situation to another?
  3. Controllability: to what extent are the results or situation seen as within the learner’s control?
  • (Academic) Self Efficacy: “People’s judgments of their capabilities to organize and execute courses of actions required to attain designated types of performance” (Bandura 1986, quoted on p. 127).  Self efficacy is not the same as self esteem–self esteem has to do with how much we like ourselves, and tends to be stable across situations/contexts.  Self efficacy can vary across contexts, and refers to beliefs, not feelings.  Teachers are primarily interested in a person’s academic self efficacy: how well that person believes s/he can perform in an academic setting.  This can be very situationally dependent: a learner might feel very self-efficacious in one subject, but not in another.  Aspects of self efficacy as identified by Bandura are: previous experience (positive? negative? neutral), direct persuasion (ie, by others), observational learning (if others are doing well, we will feel able to do well, also), and physiological cues (how do we feel physically? stress, anxiety, confidence, etc, can effect our analysis of how well we can handle a task).  One important thing to keep in mind when working with students, according to this theory, is to provide specific goals/targets that are meaningful, short-term, realistic, and concrete (p. 129). The author provides specific instances of how this theory can be applied by educators.  
  • Goal-oriented theory: Are learners oriented toward mastery or helplessness (seeking out learning goals independently so as to improve understanding, or seeking out favorable feedback on performance)?