How Are Teachers Using Psychology In The Classroom?

teachers psychology

Posted September 2019 by Clifton Stamp, B.S. Psychology; M.A. Rehabilitation Counseling, M.A. English; 10 updates since. Reading time: 5 min. Reading level: Grade 9+. Questions on teachers using psychology in the classroom? Email Toni at:

Using psychology in the classroom has always been an essential component of education, helping teachers to refine and develop instructional methods and create learning-rich classrooms. The principles of educational psychology help teachers understand their students’ motivations, social and environmental contexts, their learning history, as well as their strengths and weaknesses. Educational psychology is the common subfield of psychology that informs instruction in the classroom, although other disciplines within psychology are present. It teaches and examines essential principles of human behavior that can shape learning. Psychology also helps teachers use measurements and assessments correctly, to better gauge where students are in their learning.

Developmental psychology is also used in the classroom. Development psychology looks at the psychological, emotional and intellectual characteristics of individuals according to their age and stage of life. Y0ung people show the most change and variability in their essential characteristics, as their personalities and bodies are in ongoing states of major changes. In fact, the human brain doesn’t finish its full development until the late teens and early twenties. Understanding how people change and grow throughout the lifespan is critical to making education work.

Teachers Using The Top 20 Principles of Psychology in the Classroom

In 2015, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report on the most important principles of psychology in the teaching environment, all the way from pre-kindergarten through high school.

  • Students’ beliefs or perceptions about intelligence and ability affect their cognitive functioning and learning. Students who believe they are not “good in school” have trouble learning, but that difficulty may be due to their mindset. How we perform is deeply affected by our beliefs about our own ability. Teachers have a tremendous ability to help students learn by keeping treating all students as capable learners.
  • What students already know affects their learning. Students have already learned a lot before they get into any particular classroom. Understanding what a student’s learning history is helps shape what we teach in the present. This is the basis of foundational learning.
  • Students’ cognitive development and learning are not limited by general stages of development. Developmental and life-stage psychology uses stage theories as a way to  grasp very generally what students may be expected to be able to do. It’s critical to understand that some students may not fit well into theoretical frameworks and that neither the student nor the framework has failed. Understanding people is always superior to attempting to validate a framework.
  • Learning is based on context, so generalizing learning to new contexts is not spontaneous; rather, it needs to be facilitated. One of the most useful principles of psychology in education states that new skills and knowledge spreads outward and become usable by students across different contexts. However, the generalization of new specific skills won’t happen unless teachers help students learn how to generalize those new skills. More succinctly, students will learn to fit new knowledge and new skill into new frameworks and contexts only if shown how to make those initial generalizations. A teacher must guide students as to how new abilities and new learning spreads out to other applications outside the learning context.
  • Acquiring long-term knowledge and skill is largely dependent on practice. Successful practice leads to long-term gains in knowledge and skills. “Practice, practice, practice” became a truism because it’s accurate. For example, the skills of four-function mathematics cannot be learned and retained by only an hour every day in class. Practice requires repetition of successful performance. However, in keeping with number 6 below, repetition must be accompanied by feedback, to make certain students aren’t committing the wrong lessons to memory.
  • Clear, explanatory, and timely feedback to students is important for learning. Feedback is never simply a grade or a few scribbled notes.  A grade, whether good or poor, provides no reflection. Students must have feedback for correct and incorrect demonstrations of learning. The timing of feedback is critical. Feedback must occur as close to the measure of performance as possible. For example, it doesn’t help a student to receive feedback on their errors on a unit of algebra long after the class has moved on. Teachers are consistently overworked, so feedback measures must take the place of other, more traditional but less effective grading measures.
  • Students’ self-regulation assists learning, and self-regulatory skills can be taught. Self-regulation refers to a student’s ability to control their emotions and behavior to such a degree as to allow learning to happen. Self-regulation goes beyond teaching students to merely comply with classroom rules.
  • Students tend to enjoy learning and perform better when they are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated to achieve.
  • Teachers’ expectations about their students affect students’ opportunities to learn, their motivation, and their learning outcomes. The expectancy effect is well-known in educational psychology. Typically, students who are instructed by teachers who believe that each student is capable of learning a task or skill, or mastering a domain, will perform far better than teachers with negative expectations.
  • Emotional well-being influences educational performance, learning, and development. Students face challenges in their family and social lives that teachers are not always aware of. Challenges and ongoing emotional experiences moderate and shape learning. One of the hallmarks of trouble within a socio-emotive system is a sudden drop in levels of performance. When a student’s grades or other measure of performance declines steeply, it’s often due to a painful or distressing emotional state.

Classes in educational and developmental psychology are required courses for university teaching degrees, for good reasons As well, teachers must complete so many hours of continuing education every year that examine developments in psychology. Like any other field that concern human beings, psychology is not static. Applications of the principles of psychology change as our understand of human behavior in the classroom changes.

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