As a short review activity to begin my first Grade 12 (Year Two) class for the year I asked my students to come up with “5 Tips for IB Psych’ Success” that I could then share with the Grade 11 (Year One) students. I thought their list was pretty spot-on, so I thought I’d share it here.


#1. Ask Questions

I would like to do a study that correlates questions asked in a course and progress made. In my anecdotal observations I would say that those students who ask the most questions improve the most in IB Psychology and also outperform their expectations when it comes to exam time.

As a teacher, I love love proactive students, but a vast majority of my own students are far too passive.

I ask my kids all the time to make my job easier by asking me questions. This saves me guessing or explaining stuff they already know! It’s almost as if sometimes they think I don’t want to talk about psychology!

For me being proactive isn’t about raising hands to answer questions, it’s more about raising a hand to ask questions.

But asking questions doesn’t necessarily mean of me as teacher. It can also be students asking questions of each other, and even asking questions of themselves.


#2. Make Connections

“Why are we learning this?”

This to me is the most important question a student can ask and I LOVE hearing it in class. I challenge my students to ask me this whenever they’re not sure, because if there’s no point in learning something, well then we shouldn’t bloody well be teaching it. So if a student can connect what we’re learning to the “real world,” then it suddenly has more relevance and meaning.

I think it’s important to reflect as much on the “what” we’re learning as the “why” we’re learning it.

In our discussion a couple of students highlighted the fact that the course is more enjoyable when they can relate what we’re learning to their everyday experiences. When pressed for examples, one boy told me how he now sees schema everywhere. I also remember a basketball girl telling me how during a game she made a bonehead play and screamed at herself, “Damn it! My prefrontal cortex isn’t working properly!” I think psychology has an advantage over other subjects in that its relevance to the real world and students’ lives is more apparent than in other subjects – I try my best not to let this advantage slip.

I have to warn my students all the time that they’ll get sick of hearing about my family, my stories and my childhood, because I inherently relate everything to my own experiences. But I’m equally curious to hear their stories and hear their questions about how they’re relating what we’re learning to their own experiences. I have to beg and plead for this, as typically our students are rather reserved.


#3. Collaborate

I play this teaching game like a coach on the sidelines, not an actor in the spotlight. What this means for students is that every lesson they are required to work together to solve problems and answer questions. If they don’t work together and try to help one another out, then their progress and learning will be stifled. While I’m always nearby to answer questions as they arise, students will get more out of it if they’re teaching one-another.

I think part of being a good teacher is knowing when to step into the spotlight, as well as went to step out of it.


#4. Take effective notes

Some teachers emphasize effective note-taking as a key for success because they rely predominantly on lecturing, so it’s imperative that students get the information down as it’s spouted out or they’ll miss it. Personally, I don’t adopt this approach. Why give all the information verbally when I could write it all down (in a textbook 🙂 ) so students have the luxury of reading and re-reading at their leisure?

But this is not to say that taking good notes isn’t important (and that I don’t stand at the front of the room and explain things from time to time), as note-taking is part of comprehending and understanding new material. In our discussion one of my students talked about the importance of putting things in their own words and paraphrasing information, as opposed to writing it down verbatim (this also comes back to #2).

I use note-taking scaffolds in my workbooks because I see them as like training wheels: they’re needed until the students get the hang of it, but the end goal is that they’re not needed.

I don’t teach note-taking per se as I see my role as teacher as preparing students for success in life, and I can’t remember the last time I had to sit and listen and take notes in order to learn something. However, I do think it’s imperative that we’re teaching kids how to learn, which is why in my workbooks and in my unit plans I try to incorporate a range of graphic organizers and strategies for comprehending and understanding information. The goal is that by the end of the course they can be using these strategies independently. This is where I also think that the levels of learning and the metaphors of building blocks and relationship chains can be effective tools for students.


#5. Practice writing SARs and essays

This is my least favourite, but it’s important nonetheless. There’s a lot to understand about how to write effect IB Psychology exam answers and not a whole heap of time to learn about it, so writing extra practices is a very good strategy for exam preparation.

Again, in the workbooks I’m making to accompany the textbook I’ll be including example SARs and essays, along with practice questions, writing tips and strategies and activities that will show students how to apply their psychological prowess for the most rewards.


So there are our class’s Top 5 Tips. I like this list so much that I think I might use it as my reporting framework – when it comes to report writing time I’ll just look at these 5 criteria and make comments on students in relation to these. It might also be helpful for more informal chats with individual students throughout the course, too.

Have you got another you’d add to or swap in this list?