Cognitive Psychology’s Simple Recipe for Being a Good Teacher

Want to be a good teacher? It all seems oh-so-simple! All you gotta do is,

Good Teacher

(1) Create an emotional bond with your students, and

(2) Present the information in an interesting way, so that students are cognitively engaged, and think about the meaning – or the deep structure – of the material.

Here’s cognitive and educational psychologist Daniel Willingham, from his wonderfully helpful Why Don’t Students Like School?

The emotional bond between students and teacher – for better or worse – accounts for whether students learn. The brilliantly well-organized teacher whom fourth graders see as mean will not be very effective. But the funny teacher, or the gentle storytelling teacher, whose lesson plans are poorly organized won’t be much good either. Effective teachers have both qualities. They are able to connect personally with students, and they organize the material in a way that makes it interesting and easy to understand …

When we think of a good teacher, we tend to focus on the personality and on the way the teacher presents himself or herself. But that’s only half of good teaching. The jokes, the stories, and the warm manner all generate goodwill and get students to pay attention. But then how do we make sure they think about meaning [the deep structure of the material]? That is where the second property of being a good teacher comes in – organizing the ideas in a lesson plan in a coherent way so that students will understand and remember [i.e., according to cognitive psychological principles about how students retain and transfer information].

I think this explains very nicely a good deal of the approach to information literacy instruction adopted by myself and my esteemed co-blogger, one Ms. Dani Brecher. The work I’ve done on information literacy instruction and student engagement, about connecting with students as people in the classroom, and the joint work Dani and are have done about cognitive psychology and organizing information literacy instruction, is in many ways, a direct response to Willingham’s quote. This is why I take the following questions,

(1) How can we create a connection with students in the classroom, so that they are engaged with information literacy learning?


(2) How can we  incorporate what we know about the cognitive science and psychology of learning into information literacy instruction, so that we can tailor our sessions to how students learn?

to be the central questions for information literacy educators in the future.

The rest is just pointing and clicking.



Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

2 responses to “Cognitive Psychology’s Simple Recipe for Being a Good Teacher

  1. Great blog post! That sounds like a very fascinating book by Willingham. I’ll make sure to reblog this post on as it brings up a very interesting point.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pingback: A Simple Recipe for Effective Teaching | Academic-Zone

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