5 teacher tips for evaluating studies

Travis DixonTeaching Ideas

Evaluating studies can be approached as a transferable skill, not just more content added to the course.

This post goes with my other post about why it’s a bad idea to evaluate studies “as you go.” 

Tip 1: Drip-feed critical thinking extensions when students are ready…

I introduce evaluative points of studies when individual students are ready for it. In all of my lessons I follow the very basic CHACER structure. The E is for Extend and it’s in these critical thinking extensions (which are in the textbook and their workbooks) that challenge extended students to think about issues such as external validity, construct validity, etc. These terms and ideas are drip-fed for the extended students throughout the course so they learn how to independently apply them and ask the right questions.


This is an example of a critical thinking extension that goes with every lesson in our textbook, “IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide.” You can see that it tries to introduce terminology while challenging thinking.

What if a student never reaches the extension questions? That’s fine. Many of my students don’t reach the extension part of most lessons and so they’re introduced to these complex and challenging ideas later in the course. But that’s OK; this is a normal part of teaching any group of kids. There’s no point rushing them into it – if they can’t yet understand how a study demonstrates a concept (which does take time for many students), it’s literally impossible for them to properly evaluate a study, as evaluation hinges on understanding applications.

The CHACER model is one way I embed differentiation in my teaching. To me, it’s a pedagogical no-brainer.

Tip 2: Structure your course with approaches and options integrated

I’m not worried if some students don’t regularly reach the Extend part of a lesson, because they could still score top marks in an essay because my course integrates the approaches and options. So even if they’re not evaluating a study, they’re still learning about a behaviour from multiple perspectives, which is more than likely going to be relevant in an essay question and can still be used to show “critical thinking.”

Tip 3: Introduce evaluative concepts later in the course

I don’t  feel pressure to evaluate early in the course as I know later in my course I’ll have a quantitative research methods unit. I used to teach things like external validity and internal validity at the start of the course because this is how they were introduced in other materials I was using.

But I’ve since realized that this makes little sense; it makes much more sense to save this time for later in the course when they’ve got a bank of knowledge of studies to draw from and connect evaluative principles to. So it’s in this quantitative methods unit (right before the IA) that I do whole class teaching of evaluative concepts like ecological and population validity.

Tip 4: Remember critical thinking is a transferable skill, not something to remember

It’s essential to remember that critical thinking is a skill, and not something to remember. So if critical thinking is taught effectively students will be able to independently evaluate any study they’re using in any answer – they won’t have to remember what the strengths and limitations are, they’ll be able to apply their critical thinking to their memory of the methodology and their application and figure it out. So what this means is that during exam revision, and not during the course itself, students should have the skills to identify strengths and limitations of the studies.

Tip 5: Only evaluate key studies

As students prepare for their exams they will be identifying a few key studies that could be used in multiple topics. This will especially be the case if you’re taking an integrated approach. For example, I have three examples of hormones and behaviour that pop up in different parts of the course – to evaluate studies related to all three as we go would waste precious time. Instead, as I’ve saved over 70 hours of course time by integrated approaches and options, in the increased review time at the end of the course, the students can select the one example of hormones they want to answer and apply their well-developed critical thinking skills (that they’ve developed slowly over the whole course) and apply them to their chosen study.

Like so much in my approach to teaching, these tips are all about working smarter, not harder.

I have to say this alternative approach I’ve taken is working excellently in my new course. and I am seeing a deeper understanding of the concepts we’re covering. Moreover, these concepts are far more in-depth than any I’ve covered before using other materials. I also haven’t had a single lesson in two months about evaluating a study, and for the above reasons, I’m not in the slightest bit worried.

As always, thoughts welcomed and I welcome my ideas being challenged.