Standards for the High School Psychology Course.
by Morganett, L. Lee
The latest contribution to the content standards boom that began in
the 1990s comes from the American Psychological Association (APA), which
recently published "National Standards for the Teaching of High School
Psychology." This Digest discusses (1) the origin and purposes of the project
to develop standards for high school psychology courses, (2) the presentation
and organization of the standards, (3) teaching for active learning of
psychology, and (4) resources for psychology teachers.
ORIGIN AND PURPOSES OF THE STANDARDS.
The nationwide content standards movement plus the growing popularity
of high school psychology courses (over 800,000 high school students annually
enroll in psychology courses) prompted the American Psychological Association
in 1995 to commission the Task Force for the Development of National High
School Psychology Standards. The task force was composed of experienced
psychologists and secondary and university psychology educators selected
by the APA Education and Science directorates. The final product, "National
Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology," was published in
These standards are intended to help teachers improve the quality of
teaching and learning in psychology courses. The standards are advisory
only and will be used voluntarily by interested curriculum developers and
teachers. Used appropriately, these new psychology standards can be a valuable
tool to help both new and experienced high school psychology teachers become
more effective in their teaching. People who make decisions about the teaching
of psychology also will benefit from having a resource that provides an
overall organization and approach for teaching psychology.
The standards for high school psychology stress student development
of skills necessary for living in a rapidly changing world. The authors
recommend that students learn to "think critically and synthesize large
quantities of new information, show sensitivity to diversity, and develop
attitudes and skills that promote lifelong learning" (APA 1999, 7).
ORGANIZATION OF THE STANDARDS.
The following key terms are used in the presentation and organization
of the psychology standards. "Domain" refers to a cluster of related content
areas. A "Standard Area" pertains to a major topic or unit representing
a subdivision of psychology. "Content Standard" refers to what students
should comprehend after completing a specific unit in the psychology course.
A "Performance Standard" refers to what students should be able to do in
relation to the "Content Standard." A "Performance Indicator" provides
different ways students may demonstrate that they have achieved the standard.
Using these five key terms we can examine how the task force organized
the content of psychology for teaching purposes.
Five domains exemplify the usual content areas of psychology: the Methods
Domain, Biopsychological Domain, Cognitive Domain, Developmental Domain,
and the Sociocultural Domain. Within each Domain are specific Standard
Areas, 15 across the five Domains. Each Standard Area comprises various
Content Standards, 70 across the 15 Standard Areas. Each Content Standard
is further divided into specific Performance Standards. Finally, each Performance
Standard offers various possible performance indicators, ways students
can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of each Performance Standard.
The Performance Indicators are only suggestions. Teachers may develop
their own Performance Indicators if they wish. For example, the Cognitive
Domain includes the Standard Areas of learning, memory, thinking and language,
and states of consciousness. Content Standards for the Standard Area of
Learning pertain to characteristics of learning, principles of classical
conditioning, principles of operant conditioning, components of cognitive
learning, and roles of biology and culture in determining learning. Under
the Content Standard category of characteristics of learning are the Performance
Standards: discuss learning from a psychological viewpoint, and recognize
learning as a vehicle to promote adaptation through experience. Four possible
performance indicators are listed under this Performance Standard: Discuss
learning from a psychological viewpoint. They are:
* Listing the important historical figures in learning.
* Defining learning as relatively permanent changes in behavior resulting
* Distinguishing learning from performance.
* Demonstrating the use of theories of learning in applied examples
(APA 1999, 53).
This presentation and organization of the standards can help psychology
teachers gain an overview or structure for teaching psychology and break
down the teaching task into smaller, more manageable units and lessons.
TEACHING FOR ACTIVE LEARNING.
To encourage students to become lifelong learners, the psychology standards
stress teaching for active learning. The following design principles promote
1. Active learning should involve the entire class. For example, demonstrations
that involve only a few students may constitute active learning for the
students engaged in the activity, but not for the class as a whole.
2. Active learning is most effective when students understand the relevance
of the exercise to the subject at hand, the content of their course work,
or the students' everyday lives.
3. Active learning stimulates learning at higher cognitive levels. These
methods not only require students to know and comprehend, they also prompt
them to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.
4. Active learning methods vary in the time they require in class and
out of class. An instructor can design short activities for a few minutes
of class time or design an entire course with active learning as the sole
5. Active learning exercises involve feedback to students, but not necessarily
in the form of grades. Such feedback may come from the instructor or from
other students in the class; either way it should be planned into the activity,
ideally during or soon after the learning experience.
6. Active learning approaches must allow for student reluctance to participate.
Teachers must respect students' right to privacy and not compel them to
participate in activities that would have negative social consequences
(APA 1999, 7-8).
RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS.
"National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology" includes
suggested sample outlines for five-unit, seven-unit, and ten-unit psychology
courses. A sample lesson plan format based on the organization provided
in the Psychology Standards includes example lessons. Also, the "National
Standards" reference list is a valuable resource for psychology teachers.
Section five of the book features a list of recommended popular books
organized by the five domains. The section on technology discusses uses
of computer software and the Internet. The section on the Internet addresses
using electronic mail, electronic mailing lists or listservs, and the World
Wide Web. Also included are Internet sites for psychology teachers as well
as computer software and the names and addresses for obtaining the software.
The following Internet sites are recommended for secondary-level psychology
* American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org
* American Psychological Society http://psych.hanover.edu/aps
* Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology http://www.lemoyne.edu/otrp
* Society for the Teaching of Psychology http://teachpsych.lemoyne.edu/
* Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools http://www.apa.org/ed/topsshomepage.html
To obtain a copy of the "National Standards for the Teaching of High
School Psychology," contact the American Psychological Association, Sherrill
Simons, Education Directorate, 750 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002;
(202) 336-6076; e-mail address: [email protected] A copy of the standards
can be obtained on the World Wide Web at: http://www.apa.org/ed/natlstandards.html.
Hard copies of the psychology standards are available at no cost by writing
to Sherrill Simons at the address above.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of resources includes references used to prepare
this Digest. The items followed by an ED number are available in microfiche
and/or paper copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS).
For information about prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite
110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400
and (800) 443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly
in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through
EDRS. However, they can be located in the journal section of most larger
libraries by using the bibliographic information provided, requested through
Interlibrary Loan, or ordered from commercial reprint services.
American Psychological Association. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR THE TEACHING
OF HIGH SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association,
Johnson, David E., and Simone L. Schroder. "Annotated Bibliography on
the Teaching of Psychology." TEACHING OF PSYCHOLOGY 25 (November 1998):
307-314. EJ 584 744.
Puente, Antonio E. TEACHING PSYCHOLOGY IN AMERICA: A HISTORY. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association, 1992. ED 362 087.
Rileigh, Kathryn K. "Teaching Communication Skills in Psychology." TEACHING
OF PSYCHOLOGY 25 (November 1998): 279-282. EJ 584 735.
Stomfay-Stitz, Aline M. EDUCATION, PSYCHOLOGY, AND SOCIAL SCIENCE. Paper
presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association
(New York, NY, August 12, 1995). ED 407 307.
Wittrock, M. C. "Generative Teaching of Comprehension." ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
JOURNAL 92 (November 1999): 169-184. EJ 438 170.