The Scando Review
The Scando Review
What is psychological literacy?

What is psychological literacy?

From a very young age, we humans learn to read, write, count, and now, code. Around the world, we continue to make progress in ensuring that these basic literacies are imparted to every child. These literacies can become even more powerful tools for personal growth and social good when we supplement them with an understanding of ourselves and of people around us.

However, most of us have had limited explicit instruction on understanding our emotions, our feelings and our thoughts. We were neither guided to reflect on the things going on in our head nor were we taught how to deal with issues such as anger, jealousy, and hatred.  It is high time we fixed this.

Psychological literacy is simply the intentional application of psychological science to meet personal, professional, and societal goals. Psychological science is the systematic study of the human mind and behaviour. It considers how biological, social, and even environmental factors affect how we think, act, and feel. From the climate crises to relationship breakups, we face challenges at multiple levels – some global, some personal, and some global and personal. Regardless of the magnitude of our challenges, understanding our minds is perhaps the starting point to finding lasting solutions.

We believe that psychological literacy is one of the most important literacies we need to thrive in the 21st century because the quality of our lives is equal to the quality of our minds. Having said this, there is more to psychological literacy than having knowledge of psychological theories.

Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions on the planet and it can also be a very challenging one.

In a 2010 study by the American Psychological Association (APA) led by Dr Diane Halpern – a former president of the APA – psychological literacy also includes ‘valuing the intellectual challenges required to use scientific thinking and the disciplined analysis of information to evaluate alternative courses of action; taking a creative, amiable, and sceptical approach to problem solving; applying psychological principles to personal, social, and organisational issues in work, relationships, and the broader community; acting ethically; being competent in using and evaluating information and technology; communicating effectively in different modes and with many different audiences; recognising, understanding, and fostering respect for diversity; and, finally, being insightful and reflective about one’s own and others’ behaviour and mental processes’. Therefore, psychological literacy is also about critical thinking. We envision a world of psychologically literate educators.

Effective teaching involves not only presenting topics in ways students understand but also motivating them to want to learn.

Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions on the planet and it can also be a very challenging one. Teachers are expected to care for their students – who are all individually at different stages of learning – and their family. They must comply with administrative tasks and think about their professional development. They must equally meet the expectations of school leaders and those of the parents. It is not surprising, therefore, that teachers often face burnout issues. To top it all off, the COVID pandemic has not made it any easier.

Psychological literacy can help teachers deal better with some of these challenges. However, this is not only about self-care for teachers. Psychological literacy can also lead to better student learning.

Effective teaching involves not only presenting topics in ways students understand but also motivating them to want to learn. It involves meeting students where they are in their learning journeys and tailoring instruction appropriately. It is also about creating an environment in which students are led to believe that if they work hard and receive proper support, they can reach high levels.

Through this column of The Scando Review (TSR), we hope to bring interesting and educative articles that will enhance teachers’ understanding of how children and adolescents learn and develop; how they are likely to be similar to and different from one another; what topics and activities are likely to engage them in the classroom, and so on.

While there is always space for intuition and improvisation in the art and craft of teaching (if not, then teaching becomes too rigid and boring) going by what ‘feels’ right may not always be the right thing to do. Teaching should be an evidence-based practice. As a practitioner, in addition to using their intuition, teachers can also rely on the ever-growing evidence base from the science of psychology, even when there is a lot yet to be discerned about the human mind and the brain.

While psychological research continues to deepen our understanding of how we learn, much of this research remains out of reach for most practising educators. One reason is that because there is so much research being published, it is hard for a busy teacher to keep up, let alone figure out what to take seriously and what not to. Through this column, we hope to share ideas, evidence and perspectives that are most essential and valuable, making it easier for teachers to filter out and focus on knowledge that will improve student learning.

As teachers immerse themselves in research about human nature and learning, it is important to be reflective and critical about what they come across in these columns. Here are some tips for teachers to consider:

1.         Relate and connect what we share here with your existing knowledge and experiences. It is always a good idea to connect new information to something you have previously experienced.

2.         Think about how some of the ideas shared here are contradictory to your existing beliefs or your intuition. Sometimes existing and rigid mental models can be detrimental to your learning process. Research has shown that many students in teacher education classes reject research findings that are inconsistent with their personal beliefs and experiences. Always remember that effective learners keep revising their existing knowledge base by accommodating new ideas and concepts.

3.         Bring abstract concepts to life through concrete, real-life examples. Discuss new ideas with your colleagues and come up with real-life case studies and examples. Such a process will help you internalise new concepts and ideas.

4.         Try to elaborate and expand on what you come across here. Go beyond what you read and listen to here. Draw inferences and try to come up with your own application scenarios, specific to your teaching and learning environment and students.

5.         Check in with yourself every now and then. You do not have to finish reading or listening to an article in one go. You can pause for reflection. Always try to summarise whatever you come across in your own words. Ask yourself questions about it.

When all is said and done, the goal here is not to memorise more facts. Instead, the goal is to become the best teacher and the best learner one can become. Whether you are an experienced teacher or just getting started in the profession, we hope TSR and this column help you genuinely make a significant difference in young people’s lives.

Now, here is something to get you thinking. We have often come across the statement that some children are ‘left-brain thinkers’ and some are mainly ‘right-brain thinkers’. Children described as left-brain thinkers are told that they have strong mathematical and logical skills. Those who are described as right-brain thinkers are told that their talents are more on the creative side of things (as if mathematics and logic do not involve creativity!). However, did you know that this is a myth?

Thanks to modern imaging technologies, we are now able to look more deeply into the human brain, and there is evidence that the left and right sides of the human brain do have some differences and specialities. Yet, it is also true that both sides of our brains interact and collaborate with each other in very complex ways, through the corpus callosum, for even the smallest and simplest human tasks. So, for all practical purposes, there is no such thing as left-brain or right-brain thinking. The reality is a lot more complex.

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Happy teaching!