Major Findings from Educational Psychology

A sort of greatest hits one-line summaries from educationalists like   Dewey, Bereiter, Piaget, Egan, Vygotsky and more. Sorry for the lack of context, will try to expand on some of these in the future. Another way to say it is that these are the things I believe.

New knowledge must be connected to old knowledge, and then applied.

Humans are social in nature and learn best interactively.

The mind has a developmental imperative that cannot be ignored.

Education should be all about individual development, not societal selection.

The purpose of school is to help young people live in the present and prepare them for the future.

Learning that ignores the emotions and the society of learners is not true learning.

True education possesses a rhythm that is composed of two beats: freedom and discipline. Both are needed.

School should give students an array of authentic, powerful, cultural and cognitive tools.

Schools now have contradictory goals: academic excellence, individual development, and socialization.

Students should work on real problems that encourage them to figure out the world they live in.

Educators need a far more sophisticated model of understanding and knowledge.

Thinking, productive, strenuous, creative thought, must be at the heart of instruction.

Still the Best Guarantee

The single best guarantee of ensuring a successful, fulfilling life for a young person is still a rigorous, well-rounded liberal arts education. That is a bit miraculous, given the scale and pace of the current social, economic, and technological changes we are witnessing. But it is true.


A brief rationale: knowledge remains the key to academic and professional success nowadays, but not in its pure form. As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can do with the knowledge. But that is precisely the goal of a quality liberal arts education: to teach young people “The best which has been thought and said,” as Matthew Arnold described the cultural canon, and simultaneously to familiarize them with the ways in which educated people think about, discuss, critique, and generally engage with the ideas and issues that have formed civilization. There can be no greater task and challenge for both educators and students, there is no conceivable cognitive, aesthetic, emotional or social capability or sensibility that a truly excellent liberal arts education cannot provide.

Does the classical paradigm need to be brought into the 21st century? Absolutely. Far more women, people of color, the voices of the common people and dispossessed…all must be put firmly into the core of the canon if the liberal arts are to retain their relevance in modern times. And some heartfelt mea culpas would not be inappropriate either. Just as importantly, the humanities need to explore new ways to respond to the digital age. It very well might be that the age of print is behind us: so what shall lovers of Dickinson and Flaubert do, hide away in libraries waiting for the world to end? Young people today are more in need of the insights and experiences of history’s greatest writers, thinkers, and artists than ever before. The question is how to get them interested in slow, subtle and deliberate thinking and feeling when their devices are leading them in precisely the opposite direction.

Above all, we should never forget the shining core and promise of a genuinely deep, broad humanistic education: to ‘educare’ , “lead out”, from every learner, in consonance with the contours of the most profound ideas, art, and language of our civilization, their intellectual and aesthetic best. Education is for eternity, not just to get a job.


Are you familiar with the concept of self-efficacy? If you are a teacher, you should be. The concept was developed by Albert Bandura. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Bandura defines it as a personal judgment of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”.

Self-efficacy has obvious connections to education: we want our students to believe that they can achieve the various tasks we set them, as well as accomplish their own goals. Bandura tells us there are at least four sources that affect students’ belief in their efficacy in specific tasks or domains.

The first and most influential is the actual outcome of past experiences. “I always fail these math quizzes, no way will I pass this time!” The second is vicarious experiences. The performance of others who we believe to be similar to us can inform us as to the likelihood of our success on a task. The third is verbal input or persuasion from significant other people. Others’ opinions on our ability or chances of success, especially if we highly respect them, can greatly strengthen or weaken our own self-efficacy. The fourth source is one’s affective state while facing a challenge. Feeling excited at the prospect of performing a difficult task may indicate the potential to perform well; however, anxiety and hyper-vigilance can reveal a lack of competence.

There are at least three educational practices we can implement to help strengthen students’ self-efficacy.

1. Frequent optimal challenges. Not too difficult, not too easy, and specific, achievable, concrete and short-term goals.

2. Constructive feedback. I’ll talk more about this in another post.

3. Nurturing coping resources. Help students develop various ways of coping with achievement related stress.

We should always remember that what the students do and how they feel about their own learning is far more important than our actions and theories about what should happen in the classroom. If the student has high self-efficacy, the sky’s the limit, it’s that simple.

A caring and educationally-minded parent somehow hears of your magic list (see prior post) and asks what, as a parent, they should look for in the instruction of their child’s teachers. What is something specific and easy to grasp that they can be on the lookout for, as an unmistakable sign that their child is on the right track for overall academic success? You answer that the big goal is better thinking, but that this is impossible without better reading; that for the foreseeable future success in school and beyond is indistinguishable from the ability to rapidly parse and infer long passages of text. This skill in turn, except for the lucky few, can only be acquired by a patient and detailed regime of teaching reading strategies. Therefore the best indicator of effective teaching is the presence of high-quality reading comprehension activities. (With some adjustments, this is true even for mathematics instruction.)

The Most Important Skills

An alien comes to your door and asks, “What are the most important academic dispositions and capabilities you want to teach your children? Please use very simple language!” My answers are: 1) the habit of daily, sustained and critical reading; 2) the desire and ability to write smooth, thoughtful, and creative prose in a variety of genres; 3) the capacity and willingness to engage in intelligent discourse, listening carefully and offering one’s own opinions without fear and 4) underlying all these performative acts their wellspring: the ability and disposition to think logically, creatively, and practically. I hesitate to say whether this brief and simple list has ever been taken in its pure form as the blueprint for an actual educational programme.