T.E.A.C.U.P…and why I don’t use it.

Travis DixonRevision and Exam Preparation, Studies and Theories, Teaching Ideas

If it works for you, go for it. But I personally don't use TEACUP in my course for a few basic reasons.

Yesterday I posted about how to evaluate psychological theories in three simple steps. I mentioned John Crane’s popular acronym T.E.A.C.U.P, which stands for: testable, evidence, applications, construct validity, unbiased and predictive validity. (It can be found on John’s website, too).

This is an alternative to my “Let’s make a DEAL” framework for evaluating theories. You can see that my DEAL framework has two of the same critieria: evidence and applications.

But I don’t use TEACUP for a few reasons. Here’s just a few:

#1. Time

If I had more time in IB Psychology I might be able to let students explore and discuss the T, C, U, P aspects of a theory. But honestly, for any theory I have about four hours. In that time we can cover the theory itself, at least two related studies, practical applications and perhaps some limitations. I simply find I don’t have time to go any deeper than this.

#2. Reality

I’d be interested to hear from teachers who use TEACUP if their students are actually able to independently make critical comments regarding construct validity or the predictive validity of any particular theory. In my experience, the reality is that most students work hard enough as it is to (a) comprehend the theory and (b) explain the evidence. Even the applications and limitations are the realm of the extended students, and are actually all they need to get top marks. The reality is that very few students are able to do anything more than repeat someone else’s evaluation of the critical points regarding the TCUP, which is why other sites give the answers instead of posing critical thinking questions.

#3. Critical Thinking

I believe that genuine critical thinking is independent and spontaneous. I know that the ability to explain strengths and limitations of the theories I teach in IB Psychology is largely irrelevant past exam day: what I’m teaching is the ability to independently evaluate arguments and evidence. Therefore, I’m not interested in students reading others’ evaluations of studies and theories – I want them to be able to come up with their own. This is the skill that I’m trying to develop and will hopefully last a lifetime.

Being able to recite the construct validity of schema theory will be useless for 99.9% of IB Psychology students beyond exam day – so why would I teach it?

The DEAL framework gets students in the habit of asking questions like:

  • How do we know? (Evidence)
  • Why is this important? How can we use this? (Applications)
  • Are we sure about that? (Limitations)

These are basic questions that are comprehensible for all students and applicable to any subject or discipline. This is why I think DEAL is a superior critical thinking scaffold.

“IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide” deliberately excludes evaluations of studies and theories as this is counter-productive to our aim of teaching critical thinking. Other texts have always done this and it’s gotten us answers that are “too descriptive” and 4% 7s, so it’s time for a fresh approach. This is the rationale behind our critical thinking extensions in every lesson – we pose critical questions to create the thinking!

#4. I don’t need it 

If students are able to come up with critical points about the TCUP aspect, then that could fall under “limitations” in my DEAL – it’s the same thing. Just the other day when teaching the working memory model I had a student ask, “How does this explain other senses, like smell and taste?” This is the type of genuine and critical questions that some students are capable of independently asking without set frameworks.

So as with all things in life, providing scaffolds becomes a balancing act: you want some frameworks there for kids to build themselves up with, but it’s nice to have enough flexibility to they scaffold doesn’t feel like a cage. This is why, personally, I prefer DEAL over TEACUP.

#5. DEAL has more applications

The other reason I like to limit my focus to DEAL (describe, evidence, applications and limitations) is because I take this same approach for all topics and studies in the course: it’s not something special for just theories. The order of their appearance in an essay might change depending on the question, but the core ingredients are there: it’s also the same approach whether an essay question is asking for a discussion or evaluation. And the rationale for these three is pretty basic and is already covered in my earlier post.

I also like EAL because I can probe students with three simple questions I’m continually asking in my course when giving feedback on student’s work:

  1. Yeah, but how do you know that? (Evidence)

  2. OK, great, and so why is this important? (Applications)

  3. That seems like a good point. But is this definitive? (Limitations)

As I mentioned earlier, the end goal is to get students to internalize these questions so they become habitual when they’re analyzing any argument.

Teaching and learning is all about what works for you. If you’ve had success with TEACUP then by all means go for it. I’m sure it’s served many teachers and students very well over the years The purpose of this post is simply to provide a different perspective and some new ideas.

As always, feedback welcome.