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Psychology in Teaching the Social Studies.

There are definite principles of learning from educational psychology that teachers need to follow in teaching social studies. Each pupil needs to accept the objectives, learning opportunities, and appraisal procedures as purposeful. With the implementation of the psychology of education, pupils may accept the values of teaching and learning

A good social studies teacher needs to be a student in studying and using principles of learning from educational psychology. These principles of learning need to be appraised and applicable for teaching a given set of learners. Pupils differ from each other In interests, talents, abilities, styles of learning, and in intelligences possessed. It behooves the social studies teacher to make use of the latest findings in educational psychology in providing for individual differences among pupils. Each pupil needs to learn as much as possible. What is achieved presently is important to pupils now and at progressive levels of schooling, and in the work place of the future. The teacher needs to fit the psychology used in terms of characteristics and traits of individual learners. A school of thought in psychology may be appropriate for one pupil and not for others. Whichever school of thought in educational psychology is used in teaching, there are selected principles of learning that should be emphasized. These include the following:

1. learning should be meaningful to pupils. Pupils might then understand that which has been taught and learned.

2. learning needs to be interesting so that pupils are attentive and eager to learn.

3. quality sequence needs to be in the offing for ongoing lessons and units of study. Pupils then need to experience ordered content that moves gradually in an ascending order of complexity.

4. pupil purpose needs to be in the offing so that pupils individually experience reasons for learning and for achievement.

5. good attitudes must be developed so that an inward desire to learn is in the offing (Ediger, 1997).

Humanism as a Psychology of Instruction

Humanists have much to offer teachers in providing for the needs of learners (See Maslow, 1954). They are very interested in paying attention to the emotional needs of pupils. If pupils have negative feelings toward subject matter, the chances are that much learning will not occur. With positive feelings, individual pupils have a much better chance of being successful now and in the future. The self concept of a pupil then is very important in teaching and learning situations.

To develop adequate self concepts among learners, certain facets of a person's life must be provided for. There are pupils who come to school who are hungry. Approximately, 25% of children in the United States live in homes below the poverty level. Certainly, there are hungry children in any area/region who come to school. In some ways, the public schools have taken care of food needs of selected low socioeconomic level individuals with a free/reduced price breakfast and noon meal. Even then, there are seven days in a week, not five. There are also schools that provide no breakfasts, nor the noon meal. Sometimes, in after school programs, there are snacks in a latch key program for children whereby otherwise coming to an empty home would be in the offing. But, too many pupils are not in a latch key program, due to a lack of available school programs. Food needs must then be taken care of before pupils can learn and be successful in school. I am associated with the food pantry here in Kirksville. There are phone calls that call for food delivery from destitute persons. When delivering the food to these homes, the house and the surroundings have a thorough poverty-like appearance.

Besides food or nutrition needs, pupils also need to have proper clothing for the occasion and of the proper size. Ill-fitting clothes are an embarrassment. Dirty, ragged clothing worn by a few children is not conducive to learning nor is it accepted by others. There are selected churches and schools that have clothes available for the needy. These items of clothing should be available to pupils in the school setting, as needed.

If primary pupils are tired, they should have opportunities for rest at certain intervals. For early primary grade pupils, a definite period of time should be available during the day for relaxation. Sometimes, young children will fall asleep on their own floor mat during rest time, although the teacher does not wish this to be the case. Usually, I recommend, of course, sleep needs be met in the home setting so that pupils may achieve vital objectives of instruction in school. However, if a pupil is extremely tired, he/ she may fall asleep in school. Can a pupil learn in these situations? Teachers need to consult with parents for the necessity of pupils going to bed on time so that the child is fully rested by wake-up time.

Once these physiological needs have been met such as adequate nutrition, proper clothing, and rest, there is a need for pupils to feel safe and secure. In neighborhoods where danger is involved through crime and drug dealing, pupils in these home settings lack feelings of security. Homes that have domestic violence may also lack provisions for a safe environment for children. Even in the wealthiest of neighborhoods where parents do not get along with each other and divorce is contemplated or being pursued, pupils may feel threatened with "Who will take care of me then?" I grew up in a very stable home in a General Conference Mennonite Community where there was no divorce and yet instability in my feelings came about as to, "Who would take care of me?" When I was in the fifth grade, my mother had a devastating stroke that left her in a vegetative state for twenty-two years. She was completely paralyzed on her right side and could not speak well enough to communicate with others. Children are indeed vulnerable. The teacher is one person who can be a caring, understanding person. He/she must do the best possible to provide for the safety and security of each and every child. Adequate supervision in the classroom and on the playground is very important.

As an additional need, pupils must possess feelings of belonging. The teacher needs to work in the direction of having pupils work collaboratively in committees so that each may achieve feelings of being a member of a group. Merely placing pupils in groups will not do the job. Pupils need to be taught to accept and respect each other throughout the school day and year. Harmonious relations among pupils are very important when pupils are in a social setting in the classroom and in school. Learners also need teacher assistance to work cooperatively in committee projects and activities. Individuals should not dominate group work endeavors, but work as a team. Ideas presented need to be accepted as important, with the intention of modification of content if needed. Sharing, cooperation, and caring are key concepts when pupils work on learning opportunities collaboratively (Ediger, 1994, 31 and 32).

Within committee endeavors, pupils individually need recognition for talents and abilities possessed. All desire to be recognized. If a pupil is proficient in art work, construction endeavors, dramatic experiences, or music, these need to be recognized and integrated into lessons and units in the social studies. Multiple intelligences need recognition and brought into teaching and learning situations (See Gardner, 1993).

Pupil input and choice are important in learning, according to humanists. To develop an adequate self concept, empowerment of learners is vital. An approach that might be used in teaching social studies then is to stress use of learning centers. There needs to be an adequate number of centers and tasks at each, so that pupils may select which to complete and which to omit. Tasks need to emphasize diversity in learning opportunities in order to provide for the needs of each pupil. Choices need to stress whether the pupil wishes to work with concrete, semi-concrete, or abstract materials. In learning, individual and/or collaborative endeavors also need to be in the offing for learner choice. The teacher initiates and introduces each center briefly to provide readiness for pupils. Knowledge of activities is also important for pupils before working at a chosen center. The teacher is a motivator and encourages pupils to succeed at the diverse centers. The teacher does not lecture, but assists each pupil as the need arises. The following is an example of tasks (learning opportunities) at an art center for the social studies, as printed on a card:

1. develop a mural with two other committee members. The mural must have a title and relate directly to the social studies unit presently being studied.

2. do a pencil sketch on a famous individual studied in history.

3. make a map covering a geographical region being studied.

4. construct a model Bedouin village.

5. plan a meal using ingredients at the center concerning foods of the nation being studied.

As a further example of pupil choice in the social studies, learners with the teacher's help may plan a contract within an ongoing unit. Here, the pupil with teacher guidance cooperatively plan what the former is to achieve. The learning opportunities planned in the proposal should be clear and challenging. This is a time for the pupil to have much input into the proposal. When supervising student teachers and cooperating teachers in the public schools, I noticed the following planned for a proposal:

1. read a library book on the Middle Ages and write summary statements of what was read.

2. view the video-tape entitled "The Middle Ages." Write a dramatic activity with play parts to be used in a presentation in class.

3. consult different reference books and a CD ROM on the Middle Ages to develop a menu for a banquet in a castle.

4. plan with the music teacher to learn and sing songs in class concerning the Middle Ages period of time.

5. gather information on the internet and write main ideas acquired on the Middle Ages.

The due date should be indicated for project completion with both the pupil and the teacher signing the agreement.

Humanism, as a psychology of learning, places the focal point on the pupil in teaching and learning. The needs of the pupil must be attended to, be it physiological, psychological, and/or instructional (Ediger, 1995, 152-154). A basic facet of humanism is to emphasize meeting needs of pupils. This point of view is of utmost importance in teaching and learning situations.

Behaviorism and the Social Studies

Behaviorism is quite opposite of humanism, as a psychology of learning. Behaviorists advocate specificity in selecting objectives for pupils to achieve. Measurement is a tenet of psychology that is basic to understanding behaviorism. The methods of science are involved here in that pupils are to achieve measurable results from instruction.

State mandated objectives stress tenets of behaviorism in that objectives have been chosen on the state department of education level for teachers to emphasize in teaching. The objectives are written in precise terms so that teachers know what is to be taught. Either the pupil does or does not achieve the objective(s) as a result of instruction. The following are examples:

1. the pupil will list in writing three causes of World War Two.

2. the pupil will write a fifty-word paragraph on affects of World War Two.

The above named objectives then provide the social studies teacher with exactness as to what should be taught. Only what is written in the objective is to be stressed in teaching. The teacher then selects learning activities that align with the measurably stated objectives. Ultimately, a time for evaluation is given to notice if the objective(s) have been achieved by pupils. After instruction then, either the pupil can/cannot list in writing three causes as a minimal level of achievement, and/or write a minimal level fifty word paragraph on the affects of World War Two. The tests are valid and reliable if they pertain to content therein that relates directly to the stated objectives. Measurement of learning Is very important to behaviorists in that numerical results from pupils on tests need to be an end result. Numerals that can be given for pupil achievement on tests may be stated in percentiles, standard deviations, and/or grade equivalents. For example, a pupil was in the fiftieth percentile from results on a test, meaning fifty percent were above and fifty percent below his score compared to persons having taken the test. Precision, exactness, measurability, and specificity are key concepts in the thinking of behaviorists when advocating instruction with measurable results.

It becomes relatively easy to report pupil achievement to parents when taking about numerical results, such as a percentile rating. It is a much more complex way to report pupil progress to parents when using portfolios, a very open-ended approach to evaluation. With numerous pupil products and processes in a portfolio, there are many variables to look for in evaluation of results. The chances are that the contents in the portfolio do not harmonize with measurably stated objectives. If they make the attempt to do so, it is impossible to obtain a precise score on the portfolio contents since a test is not involved to ascertain pupil achievement. The raters of the portfolio will tend not to agree in evaluation results. Thus, reliability is lacking (Ediger, 1996, 23-25). Behaviorists believe very strongly on testing pupils to ascertain achievement with learning activities aligned precisely with the stated objectives. Test items, too, need to relate directly with the written objectives in order for validity to be in emphasis. Ideally, pupils would receive the same test results if the test is given again or if alternative forms of the test are administered to pupils.

Problem Solving in the Social Studies

Problem solving has been a major goal in teaching since John Dewey (1859-1952) advocated this approach in his laboratory school at the University of Chicago in 1896. Here, pupils identified lifelike problems in context. Dr. Dewey advocated integrating school and society. Thus, what pupils studied in his laboratory school emphasized problems that existed in society that need identification and solutions (See Dewey, 1916). Pupils with teacher guidance were heavily involved in problem selection in a contextual situation. Each problem needed to be clarified so that pupils were clear in what is going to be worked on in terms of securing solutions. Pupil/teacher discussing of data or information to be gathered was addressed. Content acquired here needed to relate directly to the problem to be solved. Relevancy is important when securing the necessary information in answer to the problem. Critical and creative thought is needed to appraise what is accurate from the inaccurate, as well as facts from opinions. The answer arrived at due to deliberation is a hypothesis that is tentative. The tentative hypothesis needs to be tested in a lifelike situation. Thus, the hypothesis may be rejected, modified, or accepted as is.

With problem solving, pupils are involved in sequencing their very own progress. A psychological sequence is involved here due to pupils being actively engaged in each flexible step of problem solving. The same is tree of humanism whereby pupils individually choose sequential tasks to pursue. The teacher in problem solving as well as in implementing humanism is an observer, guide, helper, and assists learners as the need arises. Behaviorism operates in a completely different manner. Here, the teacher sequences objectives for pupils to achieve. He/she orders the learning opportunities to align with the stated objectives. Appraisal techniques are valid if directly aligned with the objectives of instruction. Thus, a logical curriculum is in evidence since the teacher uses logic in sequencing learning opportunities.

Metacognition in the Social Studies

Metacognition is a complex skill for pupils to achieve. With metacognition, pupils are taught to monitor their very own experiences. The following are examples of self monitoring or using metacognition in ongoing lessons and unit plans:

1. the pupil asks himself/herself if the content presented in a social studies class was understood in a meaningful way. What is not understood may be clarified through teacher guidance.

2. the pupil attempts to identify the salient from what is of lesser importance.

3. the pupil analyzes subject matter read and discusses it as to its degree of accuracy.

4. the pupil looks for gaps in information in order to achieve synthesis.

5. the pupil evaluates and appraises content acquired.

6. the pupil identifies words that cause problems in word recognition.

7. the pupil rehearses meanings to words identified so that forgetting is not as rampant.

8. the pupil recalls vital facts, concepts, and generalizations.

9. the pupil attempts to achieve main ideas by relating concepts and generalizations acquired.

10. the pupil monitors his/her general achievement and notices what is missing and needs guidance to achieve more optimally.

Pupils who monitor their individual progress are aware of content and skills leaned as well as those that need more emphasis to become increasingly independent in learning.

Learning Styles of Pupils in the Social Studies

It is obvious that pupils differ from each other in terms of which kinds and types of leaning opportunities are most beneficial. There are pupils who benefit more from reading activities as compared to others. These pupils prefer reading as a major experience in the social studies. Others prefer more of the kinesthetic ways of learning such as in art work, construction activities, and dramatizations in learning social studies content. Still others may prefer to learn social studies subject matter through music and musical endeavors. In supervising student teachers and cooperating teachers in the public schools for many years, I have noticed the following learning opportunities in classroom, involving the teaching of social studies:

For those who do well in reading, pupils like to learn through

1. reading of library books and the basal text.

2. reading when using internet content.

3. reading from encyclopedias using traditional references as well as from CD ROM.

4. reading primary source data, such as letters, from a person who traveled to or lived in a foreign nation, when the latter unit is being studied (See Ediger, 1998, The Holy Land).

5. reading magazine articles concerning the nation being studied.

6. reading journal entries, diary items, logs, and summaries written by pupils in the classroom.

7. reading autobiographical content on The Middle East, for example, such as the writings of Henry Van Dyke in the early 1900s (Van Dyke, 1896).

8. reading of biographies of leaders in the unit taught.

9. reading content as it appears in print on a film strip.

10. reading subject matter in unpublished papers in book form on the Middle East, as an example.

Pupils who do not do well in reading need to be assisted to appreciate and enjoy reading in the social studies as well as across the curriculum. These pupils may need help with word recognition and comprehension skills in order to understand content read. Application and thinking skills are important to stress in reading.

For those pupils who like to reveal learnings through kinesthetic approaches may do the following:

1. make a college of ideas acquired.

2. develop a mural to indicate content achieved and gained.

3. complete a pencil sketch on facts, concepts, and generalizations from an ongoing lesson or unit of study.

4. use creative drama, formal dramatizations, and role playing activities to breathe life into what was studied.

5. do a water color activity about main ideas developed.

6. construct a model of concepts studied.

7. apply subject matter acquired by making a diorama.

8. participate in an ethnic dance of a nation being studied.

9. play representative games of a country.

10. complete a relief map of a geographical region contained in the unit being pursued (See Ediger, 1996, 44-45).

All pupils need to have ample opportunities to participate in kinesthetic activities in the social studies. These kinds of experiences provide variation in learning opportunities for pupils. They also assist in clarifying ideas and make learning meaningful.

Pupils who excel in musical experiences should have opportunities to learn in the allowing manner:

1. learn historical content through lyrics contained in music.

2. write subject matter acquired as lyrics to musical compositions.

3. develop musical compositions for content learned.

4. engage in creative movements to musical selections.

5. play/make musical instruments as used in nations being studied.

6. discuss how music differs from one nation to another.

7. compose a paper on feelings developed as a result of listening to musical recordings of other nations.

8. sing songs of countries being studied in social studies.

9. complete a scrapbook on composers of other nations.

10. have a resource person who has lived extensively in a foreign nation explain and play a native instrument from that country.

Cooperation between the social studies teacher and the music teacher may need to be more in vogue as compared to what it has been in the past. This is especially true when pupils choose music as an avenue to learn about the social studies as well as indicate content acquired through musical endeavors.


Social studies teachers need to use a variety of methods and procedures to assist each pupil to achieve as optimally as possible. Learners individually possess diverse learning styles and intelligences. The teacher becomes a psychologist by using tenets from educational psychology to design the social studies curriculum. Each objective pupils are to achieve needs to be selected carefully. Learning opportunities for pupils to achieve objectives need to provide for the interests, needs, and purposes of individual pupils. Individual and collaborative learnings (Ediger, 1998, 11) should be in the offing. Evaluation procedures should provide information as to how well each pupil is doing in achievement. Sternberg (1997) provides guidance in giving different levels of achievement that a pupil might accomplish in an ongoing lesson or unit of study, such as the following example in the social studies:

Memory: Remember a list of factors that led to the US Civil War.

Analyze, compare, contrast, and evaluate the arguments of those who favored slavery as compared to those who opposed it.

Creativity. Write a page of a journal from the viewpoint of a soldier fighting for one or the other side of the Civil War.

Practicality- Discuss the applicability of lessons from the Civil War to countries today that have strong Internal divisions, such as the former Yugoslavia.

The social studies teacher needs to assist each pupil to learn as optimally as possible in the curriculum.


Dewey, John (1916), Democracy and Education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Ediger, Marlow (1997), Social Studies Curriculum In the Elementary School. 4th edition Kirksville, Missouri: Simpson Publishing Company, 184204.

Ediger, Marlow (1995), Philosophy In Curriculum Development. Kirksville, Missouri: Simpson Publishing Company, 152-154.

Ediger, Marlow (1994), "Grouping Pupils in the Elementary School," At Tarbiya-Education Magazine Nr. 113, 31-32. Published by the Qatar National Commission for Education, Doha, Qatar.

Ediger, Marlow (1996), "Portfolios, pupils, and teachers," The Philippine Education Quarterly, 25 (1), 44-45.

Ediger, Marlow (1996), Elementary Education. Kirksville, Missouri: Simpson Publishing Company, 23-25.

Ediger, Marlow (1998), "Supervision In the Reading Curriculum," Experiments In Education, 26 (10), 175, published in India.

Ediger, Marlow (1998), The Holy Land. Kirksville, Missouri: Simpson Publishing Company.

Gardner, Howard (1993), Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: The Basic Books.

Maslow, Abraham (1954), Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Sternberg, Robert J. (1997), "What Does It Mean to be Smart?" Educational Leadership 54 (6), 20-24.

Van Dyke, Henry (1896), The Story of the Other Wise Man. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Dr. Marlow Ediger, Professor of Education, Truman State University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Marlow Ediger,. Route 2, Box 38, Kirksville, Missouri 63501-9802.
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Author:Ediger, Marlow
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2000
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