Psychological science often gets “lost in translation,” Jim Diaz-Granados, PhD, told participants at APA’s 2015 Education Leadership Conference.
The public often reduces psychology to Freud’s couch and
padded rooms and views the discipline not as a science but as
the realm of intuition, said Diaz-Granados, executive director of
APA’s Education Directorate.
But as a “hub science,” psychology has much to offer in so
many fields. “Public health, neuroscience, medicine, education
— psychology is very relevant given that we study behavior,”
Finding ways to ensure that psychological science gets
put to use was the theme of this year’s Education Leadership
Conference. The event brought what Diaz-Granados called the
Education Directorate’s “brain trust” — almost 150 psychology
educators, members of APA governance groups and others —
together in Washington, D.C., Oct. 17–20 to discuss “Translating
Psychological Science to Educational Practice, Policy and the
Public.” Participants explored ways of increasing understanding
of psychological science and expanding its use in the classroom
Participants, who included several graduate students, also
visited elected officials and staff on Capitol Hill to urge Congress
to help solve the student debt crisis by restoring graduate
students’ eligibility for federally subsidized loans.
With unsubsidized loans, graduate students start accruing
interest the moment they sign a loan agreement, said Nabil
H. El-Ghoroury, PhD, executive director of the American
Psychological Association of Graduate Students. “We’re
burdening the next generation of psychologists with a lot of
debt,” he warned.
Using psychology in the classroom
Education is one realm where psychological science’s contribution
is frequently lost in translation, said Daniel Willingham, PhD, a
psychology professor at the University of Virginia.
Psychological science has much to offer teachers, but they
don’t always receive that information in ways they can put into
use in their classrooms, said Willingham. A 2012 survey from
the American Federation of Teachers found that teachers’ top
complaint about their training was that it was too abstract,
There have been efforts to make teacher training more
practical, with more examples of how theory plays out in class.
But that’s not enough, said Willingham.
Instead, teacher training programs should strip down
their cluttered curricula and replace often-confusing and
contradictory material on theory with what Willingham called
“empirical generalizations” — findings about teaching and
learning that are almost always true regardless of settings,
populations and subject matter. These include several “bedrock”
principles: Learning requires attention and practice, learning
a new skill is rapid initially but then slows down, and probing
memory improves retention.
Another priority should be training teachers to put these
kinds of empirical generalizations to use. “One of the ways
psychological science goes wrong in practice is when teachers
hear an accurate empirical generalization but end up applying it
in a way that it wasn’t meant to be applied,” said Willingham.
Take the fact that active learning enhances retention.
Researchers want teachers to use this finding by linking new
learning to what students already know. “Teachers sometimes
think that means that if kids are moving around and doing
something with their hands, that’s active learning,” said
Willingham. “But that’s not what the principle means.”
Dr. Brian Baird Dr. Tammy Hughes Dr. Daniel Willingham