Approach and Pedagogy

Charles Stangor

How to use this book

Welcome to psychology – the diverse and complex study of us. If you have any interest in people and what makes them tick, and want to learn what the evidence says about human nature, this is the field for you. Before you dive into the material, here is a bit of background on the way this book is structured, and how to learn the material effectively.

Introductory psychology is usually split into two courses, because of the amount of material to cover. For example, about half of the chapters in this book would be used in the first introductory psychology course, with the other half in the second. The specific division of the course into topics varies between institutions. Many instructors cover the foundational material in Chapters 1 and 2 in both courses.

Introductory psychology as a topic is studied by an enormously diverse group of students; many will go on to degrees and careers in other areas, while some will pursue psychology. Some students take their courses in traditional classrooms, while an increasing number are studying online. Demographically, introductory psychology students are adults of all ages, walks of life, and cultural backgrounds. The intent of this textbook is to use plain language as much as possible, avoid jargon, provide up-to-date information on some of the main topics in psychology, and provide a Canadian focus.

As you will see, this textbook contains chapters that appear to be stand-alone – for example, Sensation and Perception is a separate topic from Lifespan Development. Each of the chapters, for the most part, represents a separate area of research and/or practice within psychology; all of these areas have psychologists who specialize in researching and teaching these topics. In this textbook, you are getting a snapshot of a number of specialized topics in an extremely diverse field, and you will get an understanding of how these topics relate to the history of psychology, and of how and what has evolved as the “critical” perspectives in the study human nature. There are things that link all of the chapters together, and these are discussed in Chapters 1 and 2. All psychologists, for example, use the scientific method in their research and teaching. As you work your way through the textbook, remind yourself of the foundational material in Chapters 1 and 2, and reflect on how it applies to the topics discussed in each chapter.

The textbook chapters contain:

  1. Chapter openers — These showcase an interesting real-world example of the material in each chapter and create an interest in learning about the topic.
  2. Psychology in everyday life — These features are designed to link the principles from the chapter to real-world applications in business, environment, health, law, learning, and other relevant domains.
  3. Research focus — These are well-articulated and specific examples of research within the content area, each including a summary of the hypotheses, methods, results, and interpretations. This feature provides a continuous thread that reminds students of the importance of empirical research and also emphasizes the fact that findings are not always predictable ahead of time (dispelling the myth of hindsight bias).

In addition, to help students organize the material, each chapter contains learning objectives, key takeaways, and exercises and critical thinking activities.

Reading and active learning

The first time you read a chapter, focus on these organizational prompts and skim through the chapter to see what it includes and how it is organized. This initial reading will then help you to understand what you will be learning.

Your second reading of the chapter should be more thorough and will take a lot longer. In your second reading, you should take notes as you go. relying on reading alone to learn something is not a very effective strategy. It is much better to put material into your own words, link it to your personal experiences, and actively think about and reflect on what you are reading. This is why highlighting as you read is not a good way to learn something – everything gets highlighted and nothing gets retained.

 

 

This picture shows two grey pencils with a yellow background.
Figure 0.1 Taking notes increases retention.

It may take you more than hour to read and take notes on one chapter. This is not unusual. However, it is a good idea to work for about 45 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. This brings us to an important point: remove your cell phone from your work area and confine your interactions with it to your 15-minute break. Multitasking impedes learning. If you read while allowing your phone to send you social media notifications (and let’s face it – who doesn’t check them?) then you might as well not be reading at all. Your brain cannot process the material you need to learn in the chapter if you keep distracting it with Instagram or any other media. It will take longer, will increase stress, and you will make more mistakes. Instead, reward your 45 minutes of good, solid focus with a 15-minute phone break, and then repeat. Incidentally, the people who think they are good at multitasking actually perform worse than people who don’t think this. Do yourself a favour, and learn to study without your phone, tablet, or distracting electronic device.

After your second reading of the chapter, review your notes, and test yourself. Construct a few questions about the chapter material and see if you can give an answer without referring to your notes. The last part is important – students often underestimate their level of knowledge because they don’t test themselves without looking at the material. After you have completed this process for every chapter as you encounter it you will be in good shape for revising before the exam. Do not leave this process until the exam because it will likely overwhelm you and be very stressful. As well, it is unlikely that you will have time to cram; each chapter will take several hours.

 

Notetaking

Not all students learn how to take notes in high school. Indeed, you may be coming back to higher education after many years since high school! Here are a few tips on notetaking. First – you might experiment with taking notes by hand versus on a laptop or similar. Many of us are now unused to handwriting, however, the act of writing things out by hand – which can slow down your thought processes – can also facilitate learning because of this deliberation and time for reflection.

Second, don’t write out what the textbook says verbatim (i.e., word for word). Instead, put it into your own words, and don’t use complete sentences. Don’t waste your time; use bullet points. Keep all of the information about one topic together. Draw a picture that helps to explain a concept or jog your memory – drawing is a great way to increase your memory. Use colour; for example, draw a pink circle around all of the points related to one topic, and then do the same for the next one in another colour. If you come across words you don’t understand, find and write a definition into your notes. Do not proceed unless you understand the point you are taking notes on.

Your notes may be handwritten, include drawings, have colour, and so on. Here is an example of what your notes might look like for the first part of Chapter 1:

Finally, as you work through the chapters you will note that there are no chapter summaries. This is intentional. It is a much better learning strategy for you to construct your own chapter summary if you wish. You should be able to do this easily after your second reading of the chapter when you make notes. However, it is not essential. Chapter summaries really only give you the “headlines” without too much of the content. They are easily learned and can give a false impression of the depth and breadth of one’s understanding of the chapter material.

I hope you enjoy learning about psychology!

Image Attributions

Figure 0.1: Two Gray Pencils on Yellow Surface by Joanna Kosinska is used under the Unsplash license.

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