Laura Peacey, guest blog author – teacher of psychology, Deputy SENDCo and Designated Teacher. Subject Lead for PiXL Psychology
As it’s a relatively new GCSE subject and not a subject offered in all centres, many pupils and parents often have little prior knowledge of this fascinating subject. So, what is psychology? And why should you teach it at GCSE? In this blog, I outline the approach to teaching GCSE Psychology that we've used in our school, and share some tips you might find useful.
What I like most about the OCR specification is the simplicity of its planning and delivery guides along with a wealth of supporting documents, particularly for those tricky topics such as neuropsychology. Pupils also particularly like the range of core studies covered across the course and the predictability of learning two studies in each of the six areas of psychology.
GCSE Psychology overlaps with many other GCSE options whilst allowing pupils to cover a range of complex issues not covered elsewhere in the curriculum. In the OCR GCSE there is a focus on mental health, which encourages greater awareness in young people and can therefore reduce stigma and discrimination for those with mental health conditions.
What pupils learn in the classroom is relevant to their development and behaviour and in turn helps them to understand the behaviours of others. Why do we chunk information? Which techniques aid revision and memory consolidation? What are the benefits of sleep? Pertinent questions which can be better understood through the study of psychology.
Each year students love Freud’s study of the wolfman (one that is not too easily forgotten!) and psychological problems as it is relatable by many. Whilst teaching psychological problems I show short clips from a BBC documentary called ‘Don’t Call Me Crazy’. Even in their final Y11 lesson students ask if they can watch more. A full length version is available from ClickView (a paid subscription is required).
In GCSE Psychology, for each topic students study two core studies to support the content of related theories. In the development topic, students learn about theories of development and the role of learning. In her 2006 book ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck argues that abilities such as intelligence can either develop as a result of hard work, or that our talents are innate and will reach a certain level regardless of learning.
Those with a growth mindset believe intelligence can be developed through experiences and if we work hard and learn skills then our abilities and therefore our intelligence will improve. If students receive praise such as “good job, you worked very hard” a growth mindset is likely to develop because this implies that high performance is due to the amount of effort made. Blackwell et al.’s (2007) study into fixed and growth mindsets provides support for Dweck’s theory. Students with a growth mindset were found to have stronger learning goals, hold more positive beliefs about effort, and had greater motivation levels. Blackwell’s study is on page 23 of our Core Study guide.
Pupils find the study by Blackwell tricky, both to engage with and to remember – mainly due to its length. To overcome this, I sandwich the developmental psychology topic in between psychological problems and criminal psychology as pupils typically find these topics more interesting.
When teaching Blackwell’s study I ask pupils to create a story board of the study and set the OCR consolidation task as homework. We then look at examination papers to see what type of questions they may be asked before finishing the lesson with a Kahoot! quiz.
Students also find neuropsychology tricky. But in OCR Psychology it is embedded into all the topics, so it is always applied and is not a standalone topic. As neuropsychology appears in several sections of the GCSE specification, I use these opportunities to consolidate previous learning. OCR has published CPD support materials for tricky areas which are a great resource.
A common question parents ask during open evenings is ‘can I study this?’ As a relatively new GCSE option many parents did not have the opportunity to study Psychology at GCSE or even A Level. There are so many applications to the real world including mental health, memory including dementia and amnesia, sleep and dreaming. Many pupils report that they have conversations with parents about the content they learnt in lessons.
SLT are very supportive of the subject and recognise the amount of interest that the subject receives each year. This has meant that the department now has five GCSE classes after school each week across Year 10 and 11.
Roughly one-fifth of our A Level students studied GCSE Psychology. Whilst the GCSE does give students a good foundation of knowledge, particularly in research methods, most of the topics taught, and all OCR core studies, are different at A Level. The elements of research methods which students need to know at A Level are taught in class, so students who did not study GCSE Psychology are not disadvantaged.
As GCSE Psychology is an additional GCSE and taught from 3-5pm after school, previously student profiles would be reviewed before offering spaces to pupils, as taking on an additional GCSE is no small feat. However, our policy has recently changed, and all students will now be offered a place, subject to numbers.
My top tip would be to review the specification and consider the order you would teach paper 1 and paper 2. I would also recommend accessing past papers and mark schemes to see the style of questions.
Finally, take a look at the planning and teaching resources for mapping guides, delivery guides, teacher handbooks and a wealth of teaching resources. You could also sign up to their free CPD courses for everything you need to know to get started.
Join the conversation by sharing your ideas and experiences of introducing GCSE Psychology in the comment box below.
If you have any queries, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter @OCR_Psychology. You can also sign up for subject updates and receive email information about resources and support.
Laura graduated with a BSc with honours in psychology and teaches at a college in West Cambridge. She has 11 years teaching experience in both GCSE and A Level Psychology for AQA and OCR. She was previously Head of Psychology and is currently deputy SENDCo and the Designated Teacher. Laura is also an experienced A Level examiner and is the subject lead for PiXL Psychology. In her spare time, Laura enjoys exploring the world and spending time with family and friends.