Psychology 390A-390B. The Teaching of Psychology (6-4)

Einstein at the chalkboard!

Professional Course: Discussion, lecture, practice. Prerequisite: advanced graduate standing in psychology or a closely related discipline and consent of instructor. Methods and problems of teaching psychology at the undergraduate and graduate levels; curriculum design and evaluation. Practical experience in the preparation and presentation of material. (S/U grading only; deferred grading only, pending completion of sequence.)—II-III. (II-III.)

Mentor:   Dr. Dean Keith Simonton, Distiguished Professor of Psychology


This professional course is distributed over two consecutive quarters, winter and spring. At most, only eight of you can be enrolled in any given year, and you must complete both quarters to receive credit for the course. Hence, you should only take this course if you are 100% sure you are going to complete the two-quarter sequence. To drop out early means that you will impose an unfair burden on your fellow students, who will have to cover for your absence. Even worse, you will have denied the opportunity for someone else to enroll in a course that can have a long waiting list.

Winter quarter: You will first select the textbooks to be used in actual instruction in the spring so that we can get everybody copies as soon as possible. We will then discuss both the philosophy of teaching and the mechanics of instruction, with emphasis on covering introductory psychology courses at the lower-division level. Next we will devote the remainder of winter quarter to practice lectures to enable all of you to receive feedback from both me and your fellow graduate students. The course syllabus for winter 2015 is found here.

Spring quarter: Now you get to perform what you practiced by team teaching a regular introductory class. For example, whenever eight of you are enrolled in this professional course (the enrollment maximum), you will be distributed between two sections of Psychology 1. Hence, each of you would have responsibility for one quarter of a course. Because a 4-unit quarter course is supposed to have approximately 40 in-class hours, that means that you each would be responsible for about 10 of those hours. You would also write the multiple-choice exam for your course module. Teaching evaluations will be collected at the end of each of your modules so that the undergraduates can give you feedback beyond that provided by me. For sample syllabi from recent 390 Psychology 1 sections, please go here. Please note that 390B meets in the classroom for introductory instruction rather than in a separate seminar room.

Although you do not receive a letter grade in this course, your performance will clearly undergo qualitative evaluation both winter and spring quarters. The resulting overall evaluation can become the basis of any letters of recommendations that you may later ask me to write when you apply for temporary or ladder-track positions that place some degree of emphasis on teaching effectiveness – positions that predominate in community and liberal arts colleges.


Resources can be grouped into three categories, namely, websites, videos/audios, publications, documents, and presentations.



  • The Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Division 2, American Psychological Association. The single most important general resource.
  • Introductory Psychology Resources. The single most important source focused on teaching introductory psychology (but still under construction)
  • Teaching Resources, Association for Psychological Science. Many useful links.
  • Teaching Resources, Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Division 8, American Psychological Association. The resources are more broad than implied by the SPSP designation.
  • Teaching Resources, Social Psychology Network. Ditto.
  • Teaching Statement, Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University. Something to think about. Your thoughts will be needed when you apply for jobs!



  • Discovering Psychology: Updated Edition “A video instructional series on introductory psychology for college and high school classrooms and adult learners; 26 half-hour video programs and coordinated books”
  • Free Science Online A comprehensive resource treating almost every “intro course” imaginable!


  • Gross Lucas, S. (2008). A guide to teaching introductory psychology. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. A very useful nuts-and-bolts book, with special focus on lectures and demonstrations. Strongly recommended to help you prepare your lectures.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (Ed.). (1997). Teaching introductory psychology survival: Tips from the experts. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Chapters by Philip G. Zimbardo, David G. Myers, Robert J. Sternberg, Carole E. Wade, and many others.
  • Benjamin, Jr., L. T. (Ed.). (2008). Favorite activities for the teaching of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. A wide assortment of tried and tested “demonstrations, experiments, discussions, and simulations.”
  • Simonton, D. K. (2006). Nothing more than a university professor engaged in teaching, research, and service: Nor less. In J. G. Irons, B. C. Beins, C. Burke, B. Buskist, V. Hevern, & J. E. Williams (Eds.), The teaching of psychology in autobiography: Perspectives from psychology’s exemplary teachers (Vol. 2, pp. 85-91). Washington, DC: Society for the Teaching of Psychology, American Psychological Association. A presentation of my general orientation to teaching, including my teaching philosophy and how I dealt with teaching while maintaining an active research program.


  • Textbooks and Lectures. Form that will be completed at first seminar meeting: You may want to bring your own copy.
  • Psc1 Schedule Template. “Handout” for seminar presentation on first meeting.
  • General Observations on Teaching. Outline for seminar discussion on second meeting.
  • Course Tips. Outline for seminar discussion on third meeting.
  • Lectures Rating Sheet. Form used to evaluate practice lectures in winter and actual lectures in the spring.
  • Personal statement. My formal first-person response to a question regarding “my most important accomplishment as a teacher” when  unsuccessfully nominated for US Professor of the Year by the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies. Second-person citations resulting from successful teaching nominations are posted at Distinguished Teaching Award, UC Davis Prize, and Daniel Award. These all give accounts of some solutions to a key problem: How to deliver effective undergraduate instruction at a research university where the instructor must face “publish or perish” pressures.


  • Teaching and the Big Five. Teaching Personality and Social Psychology Pre-Conference for the meeting of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology, Los Angeles, 2003. A speculation on what it takes to be a great teacher. To be presented in seminar on third meeting.