Monthly Archives: December 2020

Praise for Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

I think this is the first time I’ve posted about one specific book, but I just finished Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and I feel moved to talk about it. I think this is an amazing and important book, and I hope that sharing some thoughts might encourage others to read it.

I approached this book with apprehension because I knew I would be reading about atrocities and this wouldn’t be a comfortable or pleasant read. And I was right: the violent historical and current events Wilkerson describes are hard to read and think about. But this discomfort is deliberate and effective. Wilkerson doesn’t avoid or turn away from any of the realities she describes, and I think her scholarship and documentation are excellent (note: I’m not a historian and I don’t have the background knowledge to evaluate her historical scholarship, so I would like to read more historians talk about her work).

Wilkerson convinced me of her main (I think) premise: it is useful to think about the United States as a caste system (in the same context as the caste system in India and the caste system the Nazi’s established before WWII). I’ve been involved in many discussions that get stuck as the group tries to define what racism means (and doesn’t mean), and what exactly systemic racism means (contrasted with personal acts of racism, or racist attitudes, etc.) Thinking about the US as having a caste system based on race since before the beginning of our country can help cut through some potentially “wheel-spinning” discussions about definitions of racism and allow a group to get to productive discussions about what happened and is happening in the US (and maybe what to do about it).

Here is a somewhat random list of other details from the book that jumped out at me:

  • Pg. 231 – I had no idea about the history of the idea and practice of vaccination, and how that story intersects with US history! (here’s the reference Wilkerson provides)
  • Pg. 251 – Wilkerson describes the AMAZINGLY brave research done by Davis and the Gardners – Deep South: A Social Anthropological Study of Caste and Class – I’m anxious to read more about that study and their recommendations.
  • Pg. 283 – this quote floored me: “Knowledge without wisdom is adequate for the powerful, but wisdom is essential for the survival of the subordinate.” (Wilkerson quoting Patricia Hill Collins)
  • Pg. 385 – check out the big brain on A. Einstein! I’ve never read about his thoughts on civil rights before: “We must make every effort [to ensure] that the pas injustice, violence, and economic discrimination will be made known to the people… The taboo ‘let’s not talk about it’ must be broken. It must be pointed out time and again that the exclusion of a large part of the colored population from active civil rights by the common practices is a slap in the face of the constitution of the nation.”

AP Psychology Self-Study Plan

Many (all?) AP Psychology teachers are dealing with near constant pandemic related interruptions this year, so there is a high level of concern about getting students ready for the AP Psychology test. Here’s what we know about from College Board what the test will look like (I think this is the most recent information, but I could be wrong):

From the College Board AP Psychology Discussion Board

“2021 AP Exams will cover the full scope of course content and skills.:” 

An updated testing schedule with two contingency testing dates for each subject—one in the second half of May and one in the first half of June—will support schools that want more instructional time before testing. Exams on the contingency dates will also be full length, covering the full scope of course content.

  • Full-length digital contingency exams can be taken at home, if authorized by the AP coordinator, in the event that a school is closed or coronavirus-related risks prevent a student from testing at a school.” 

More Information in February – The exam schedule and information about the contingency testing options will be posted to AP Central® in early February, and announced via email to AP teachers, AP coordinators, and administrators.” 

Now that we know that all the units in the AP Psychology CED will be assessed on the AP Psych test, this puts Psychology teachers in a bit of a pickle. How can teachers “cover” all the units this year with very limited instructional time? Given the interruptions so many AP Psych teachers are experiencing, it might be useful to figure out a way students can “cover” a chapter or unit on their own. This “self-study” idea can help students prepare for the test AND it can free up some time in AP Psych teachers pacing/instructional calendars. 

Full disclosure: 

  • This plan will work better for some students than others. Students who are already “self-regulated learners” (short summary on pg. 15 in this Andrade/Brookhart article ) will have an easier time following a plan like this one than other students. All students, especially students whose self-regulation skills aren’t strong yet, would learn better from you in your classroom (and it would be a heck of a lot more fun). But that’s not the situation you and your students are stuck with this year: students need to get ready for a full AP exam that covers all the units, and you only have so much time you get to be with your students. 
  • I include recommendations for a couple non-free resources that I co-authored in this plan.

Here’s an plan about how to help students “cover” some content they will need for the AP Psych test on their own (without adding a bunch of work to your already too-long to do list!)

Short list of the steps in the self-study plan: 

  1. Pick a chapter you think students might be able to learn on their own. 
  2. Find an overview you think students can handle
  3. Have students test themselves using AP-style multiple choice questions BEFORE they study the chapter in depth
  4. Students study a more detailed source with information about relevant concepts
  5. Have students test themselves again using AP-style multiple choice questions AFTER their in-depth studying 
  6. Finish their self-study by creating a list of the most important terms from the chapter and create their own examples for each term 

More detail about each of these steps: 

  1. Pick a  chapter. Look at your plans for the rest of the year and pick a chapter from one of the units that you think your students might be able to “cover” on their own. My suggestions: states of consciousness, motivation/emotion, the thinking/language part of the cognition chapter, personality, or intelligence. These are important chapters (and there will be some items on the AP exam devoted to content from these chapters), but they are somewhat “discrete.” Understanding content from these chapters doesn’t depend on understanding concepts from other chapters, and they are concise enough that students might be able to tackle them on their own
  1. Choose a good “introduction” for students. It will help students to get an overview of content about the chapter without you having to make a video, write an overview, etc. A pre-made video might work well as an overview. The Crash Course psychology series is high quality, and these videos move fast. If there is a video on AP Classroom already made and released for the chapter you chose, that might work well too. Students should watch the video to a “big picture” overview of what this chapter is all about. Some AP Psych teachers already made some EdPuzzle and other resources for some of these videos that might be useful for students to complete after watching the video (go to EdPuzzle and search for Crash Course Psychology). 
  1. Test yourself, version 1:  Students should try to answer the multiple choice questions at the end of the chapter in the test prep book and the textbook they are using for your class. Yes, they should try to answer these questions BEFORE they do in-depth studying of the content. Trying to answer these questions will help set them up for success when they try to learn the material (see relevant research in Make it Stick)  Let them know that it doesn’t matter if they get the questions right or wrong at this point – what matters is that they try to answer the questions, check their answer, and THINK THROUGH why the right answers are right and the wrong answers are wrong. They want to get a sense of what multiple choice items are like from this chapter. 
  1. Dive in: read and take notes. Reading and taking notes from the textbook students are using for you class might work, but sometimes this amount of reading and information is overwhelming for some students. It might be a good idea for students to start with the shorter summary of the chapter they can find in an AP test-prep book. There are several good test-prep books. Allyson Weseley and I tried to summarize the relevant concepts from each AP Psych chapter in our book Barron’s AP Psychology. These chapters are about 15-20 pages long, and students should be able to work their way through these summaries and take notes on the concepts listed in that chapter. Instruct students to write EXAMPLES of each concept – examples will help them more than definitions. (The AMSCO/Perfection Learning book by Chuck Schallhorn might work well for this step too). 
  1. Test yourself, version 2: Now it’s time for students to really do some retrieval practice. They should to figure out what concepts they’ve encoded into their long term memories and what they still need to think about in more detail. I think the best set of items for them to use is from the book Kristin Whitlock and I wrote: Barron’s AP Psychology Q&A. This book has 600 brand-new AP Psychology items written in the AP Psychology exam item format. Each chapter has about 50 items, and students can use this set of items to test themselves to see what concepts they “get” and which concepts they need to go back and read about more. The questions are purposely written in different categories (research methods, scenarios, perspectives, etc.) and students will get a wide range of practice answering them. 
  1. Final step, write out your own examples: At this point in their process, students should be able to make a list of the important concepts from the chapter (the “key terms” list from the textbook they use for your class or the terms listed in the test-prep book will work). By each of those terms, students should be able to write out their own example of that term (and if they can figure out how to apply the term to their own lives, that’s even better! Self reference effect!) If students can do this, they are probably ready to go! 

Again, this process will probably work best for students who are already motivated (self-regulated learners), but any student who gets through at least some of the steps will benefit, and getting students to do a self-study plan like this one may help relieve some of the pacing pressure facing AP Psychology teachers. Good luck out there! Hope this is useful! 

Dynamic Drawing Example: Operant Conditioning

I received some feedback about my Dynamic Drawing post recommending that I provide a more fleshed-out example of how I might use the idea in a classroom. Around the same time, a psychology teacher-buddy (hi Winnie!) asked me to make a video for her class. So I decided to combine the projects!

I made this set of slides for my friend: Operant Conditioning diagrams. Here’s how I might use them in a high school psychology class:

  1. Slide 2 and 3: I want students to know that there are 4 kinds of operant conditioning, and it can be a bit tricky to keep them straight.
  2. Slide 4: one scheme that can help prevent confusion is to associate the word “positive” with “+” or addition and “negative” with “-” or subtraction If students associate the words positive with “good” and negative with “bad,” that will end up causing them trouble later on.
  3. Slide 5: students should associate the term “reinforcement” with an organism repeating a response and “punishment” with an organism NOT repeating a response. This will be more helpful than thinking about a reinforcement as a reward (or something “good”). Keeping the focus on whether the response, the behavior, is repeated or not will be important later.
  4. Slides 6 and 7: these are “dynamic drawing” videos that walk students through simple “sequence” and “matrix” diagrams that can help them figure out examples of operant conditioning. If students can draw these diagrams for themselves on a blank sheet of paper, the diagrams can be useful if they are asked to unpack an operant conditioning example. Modeling how to draw these diagrams might help students learn how to draw them on their own.
  5. Slides 8 through 11: this is a good opportunity to emphasize that knowing how the organism responds after the stimulus (the “R2” in the sequence diagram) is absolutely essential. If we don’t know how they organism responds, there is no way we can figure out what kind of operant conditioning occurred!

Here’s the video from slide 6 – the sequence diagram:


Here’s the video from slide 7 – the matrix diagram:


My friend said she planned on using these videos with her high school psychology class, so I hope to get some real feedback from students about how useful these videos and diagrams are. By the way, if any of you want to make similar videos, here’s the very complicated “filming rig” I made out of a cardboard box (I put my cellphone on top with the camera pointing down through the hole).