Unit 13:Why is Each Child Different?

Welcome to Unit 13

Let us continue from Unit 12 and review why education psychology is important for primary school teachers and educators.

  1. In Unit 1 you learned about the UNICEF mandate on Child Centred Development
  2. In further Units on a framework for quality education you saw how there are many elements relation to child centred learning which have psychological implications.

Take a look at the two lists below about child centredness:

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In this one, there is a shift from behaviourist student control to humanist/values led classrooms, from students being passive to being active, from an individual culture to a collaborative culture. Are any of these things based on psychology?

Child Centred Golden Rules

Now this list of Golden Rules for Child Centredness says that every learner is different and learns differently, students taking more responsibility, using active and experiential methods, developing self awareness. Anything psychological here?

We have worked with 2000 Nepali teachers from government schools and almost NONE of them had any idea about child centred learning and the shifts in teaching they needed to make, or WHY it was important. So let’s explore these issues now.


Look at this clipart image of children, how are they each different, what do you see?

How are children different

Quite simply, you can see:

  • Different ages
  • Different genders
  • Different cultural backgrounds (possibly)

But there may also be:

  • Different motivations
  • Different learning styles
  • Different learning needs

Let’s now take a look at some of these psychology related items in turn, and REMEMBER or look back at the short video in the previous unit defining education psychology.

Difference 1: Child Development Stages

It is clearly obvious to say that a child of 8 years old is physically different from a child of 5 years! Bigger, taller, stronger, more dexterous, etc. But are they different psychologically?

Let’s make a fundamental connection NOW though between Brain, Biology, Behaviour. Certainly the child’s brain has grown, but in what way? Merely larger physically or something else?

Biologically the brain is creating billions of neural pathways, synapses, as it develops. These are the “chemical wires” of memory, emotions, motor skill, and they are developing because of the child’s interaction with it’s environment which it is learning from.

But the brain is not just a passive receptacle to take what it is given, it has needs and a series of stages to go through in order to reach its full potential. These needs are based on it being stimulated in particular ways, and we all intuitively know that a newborn infant is learning (developing its brain) through touching, grabbing, biting, sucking, squeezing etc. But soon this “stage” ends and the child (brain) has different needs from interaction with its mother especially language, visual stimuli, objects,  to name but a few. Clearly something has happened and a switch has been made to a different mode of learning. What could it be? Will it change yet again? Will it continue when the child goes to school? Does the teacher affect it?

Take a look at this short video as an initial overview:

Piaget Stages of Cognitive Development


  1. What have you learned from this video?
  2. What are the implications for a teacher?
  3. What are the implications for the primary education system?
  4. How must teachers and teaching adapt to this?
  5. How does child centred teaching/learning accommodate child development stages?
  6. What might the implications be if the pedagogy is teacher centred and NOT child centred?


Taken from Education Psychology, K Seifert & R Sutton

“After observing children closely, Piaget proposed that cognition developed through distinct stages from birth through the end of adolescence. By stages he meant a sequence of thinking patterns with four key features:”

1. They always happen in the same order.

  1. No stage is ever skipped.
  2. Each stage is a significant transformation of the stage before it.
  3. Each later stage incorporated the earlier stages into itself. Basically this is the “staircase” model of development mentioned at the beginning of this chapter. Piaget proposed four major stages of cognitive development, and called them (1) sensorimotor intelligence, (2) preoperational thinking, (3) concrete operational thinking, and (4) formal operational thinking. Each stage is correlated with an age period of childhood, but only approximately.

Now go to this “Big Book” you downloaded earlier and read about this on pages 45-47

Another short video on applying Piaget child development stages in the classroom:

And finally in this section our own recommendations for teaching at each stage:



Difference 2 Motivation

Motivation can be most simply defined as “the inner drive or urge/desire to do something”. So if we can identify what motivates a person to behave in a certain way we can begin to understand that person. More importantly if we can identify what motivates a child to learn we can apply this to the lessons we teach.

Now a quote from The Big Book, the Educational Psychology book you have previously downloaded:
“Students assign various meanings and attitudes to academic activities —personal meanings and attitudes that arouse and direct their energies in different ways. We call these and their associated energising and directing effects by the term motivation, or sometimes motivation to learn. As you will see, differences in motivation are an important source of diversity in classrooms, comparable in importance to differences in prior knowledge, ability, or developmental readiness. When it comes to school learning, furthermore, students’ motivations take on special importance because students’ mere presence in class is (of course) no guarantee that students really want to learn. It is only a sign that students live in a society requiring young people to attend school. Since modern education is compulsory, teachers cannot take students’ motivation for granted, and they have a responsibility to insure students’ motivation to learn. Somehow or other, teachers must persuade students to want to do what students have to do anyway.”

At this stage it gets complicated because there are many different approaches to and theories of motivation. It is a complex topic and not possible to cover the six major theories;

  1. motives as behavior change
  2. motives as attributions about success
  3. motives as goals
  4. motives as interests
  5. motives as beliefs about self-efficacy
  6. motives as self-determination

So we will focus a little on the top two on this list which we have successfully used on our courses in Nepal.


  1. Take 3 yellow stickies and write on each one, ONE way you would recognise that a child was motivated to learn in class. You should have 3 different “observations”.
  2. Now take 3 more yellow stickies and write on each one ONE way you would recognise that a child was NOT motivated to learn in class.
  3. On each of these yellow stickies write a possible CAUSE or reason for the child being motivated or not motivated.


What you will almost certainly have listed at first on the 6 stickies are observable behaviours, external things that can be seen such as:

  • +Handing in homework on time
  • +Putting hand up to answer questions
  • +Helping a friend to learn
  • -Not doing homework
  • -Staring out of the window watching others playing
  • -Not involved in discussions

Some of the causes you have written might include things like:

  • Teacher encouraging the student
  • Trying to win student of the week prize
  • Curiosity and interest in the subject
  • Teacher never encourages the student
  • Friends laughing at her
  • Find the subject too hard

Can you see any differences in the types of causes?

Overall so far you are observing student BEHAVIOURS which relates to the psychology topic known as “behaviourism”. This approach focuses almost exclusively on what can be seen or heard and does NOT distinguish between these behaviours and what might be going on inside the students head!

One useful distinction though is to consider the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic driven behaviours (motivations) as follows:










Now go to p107 in The Big Book (Educational Psychology) and start to read the section on Motivation as Behaviours. Take your time, and especially study carefully Fig 14 about Operant Conditioning. Don’t be worried by this terminology, all it is doing is describing how what the teacher does can reinforce a particular behaviour in the child. Look at the words Positive Reinforcement, Negative Reinforcement, Punishment, and Extinction especially and try to understand them.

So far we have described an approach to motivation in which a teacher observes a behaviour in a student and then assumes or ascribes a cause for that behaviour. This is the crux of behaviourism. But there is a completely different approach that we now want you to consider that is very useful for dealing with students at an individual level. This is called Motivations as Attributions and is based on something called Attribution Theory.

Don’t be put off by the title, it is quite different from behaviourism because it involves the teacher finding out from the student the causes/reasons they “attribute” to either success or failure. So the teacher needs to find out what the student gives as reasons for passing or failing a test, handing in homework or not handing it in, paying attention in class or not paying attention.

Clearly there are differences in attribution of these pairs of statements based on failing a test for example:

  1. The test was too hard vs I didn’t have time to study
  2. I don’t like the subject vs You make it too complicated
  3. I am no good at maths vs I didn’t understand the lesson

Can you see what the difference is?

Here is a technical quote from The Big Book again:

“Attributions vary in three underlying ways: locus, stability, and controllability. Locus of an attribution is the location (figuratively speaking) of the source of success or failure. If you attribute a top mark on a test to your ability, then the locus is internal; if you attribute the mark to the test’s having easy questions, then the locus is external. The stability of an attribution is its relative permanence. If you attribute the mark to your ability, then the source of success is relatively stable—by definition, ability is a relatively lasting quality. If you attribute a top mark to the effort you put in to studying, then the source of success is unstable—effort can vary and has to be renewed on each occasion or else it disappears. The controllability of an attribution is the extent to which the individual can influence it. If you attribute a top mark to your effort at studying, then the source of success is relatively controllable—you can influence effort simply by deciding how much to study. But if you attribute the mark to simple luck, then the source of the success is uncontrollable—there is nothing that can influence random chance.”

Now take a look at some of the slides from our course:

Attribution 1









Attribution 2jpeg



Here is a general summary of the attribution concept:

Attribution 3

This is tough going, now relax and watch this short video:

And finally, two things to read:

  1. The Big Book (Educational Psychology p115-116)
  2. Attribution Theory article

Well done!
Your reward is entering Unit 14:Psychology And The Curriculum which gets much simpler!