Developing Undergraduate School Psychology Courses: Tips from the Trenches

By Schilling, Ethan J.; Grapin, Sally L. et al. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, March/April 2016 | Go to article overview

Developing Undergraduate School Psychology Courses: Tips from the Trenches


Schilling, Ethan J., Grapin, Sally L., Hyson, Daniel M., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


For many years, the field of school psychology has faced a pronounced deficit in its workforce that is likely to persist in the near future (Castillo, Curtis, & Tan, 2014; Davis, McIntosh, Phelps, & Kehle, 2004). Specifically, recent projections by Castillo and colleagues indicate that the field may experience a 2%-4% shortage of practitioners through 2025. These shortages are exacerbated by the drastic underrepresentation of practitioners from racial, ethnic, and linguistic (REL) minority backgrounds (Proctor, Simpson, Levin, & Hackimer, 2014). While nearly 50% of public school students in the United States (U.S.) identify as REL minorities, only 9% of practitioners come from similar backgrounds (Curtis, Castillo, & Gelley, 2012; National Center for Education Statistics, 2015). These data indicate that proactive measures must be taken to bolster recruitment efforts in the field, especially among traditionally underrepresented groups.

One barrier to increasing practitioner recruitment is that school psychology is a lesser-known branch of applied psychology among undergraduate students than other subfields. For example, Bocanegra, Gubi, Fan, and Hansmann (2015) found that undergraduate juniors and seniors reported less exposure to and knowledge of school psychology relative to counseling and clinical psychology. In addition, similar studies have identified common misconceptions among undergraduates about the roles and responsibilities of school psychologists (Gilman & Handwerk, 2001; Stinnett, Bui, & Capaccioli, 2013). For example, students may mistakenly perceive clinical psychologists as more likely than school psychologists to conduct therapy, assessment, consultation, and research (Gilman & Handwerk, 2001). In response to this problem, offering undergraduate coursework in school psychology may be an effective strategy for increasing awareness of the field and educating students about the roles and functions of practitioners (Grapin, Lee, & Jaafar, 2015; Proctor et al., 2014). Given these considerations, the purpose of the present article is to outline practical considerations and recommendations for offering school psychology courses that are appealing, stimulating, and accessible to undergraduate students. The intended audience for this article includes faculty, staff, graduate teaching assistants, practitioners (who may serve as adjunct instructors), and any others interested in teaching undergraduate courses in school psychology. Toward the end of the article, the authors (all of whom have taught school psychology undergraduate courses) describe lessons learned based on their previous experiences.

GUIDELINES FOR TEACHING UNDERGRADUATE PSYCHOLOGY COURSES

Although literature on the development of undergraduate school psychology courses is scarce, much more is known regarding best practices for teaching undergraduate psychology courses in general. This body of knowledge offers a robust foundation for designing high-quality undergraduate school psychology courses. In 2011, the American Psychological Association (APA) released its Guidelines for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology, which serves as a broad roadmap for instructors teaching a wide variety of undergraduate psychology courses. This document delineates five major principles for instructors to follow in the development and delivery of high-quality courses. These principles are discussed briefly below in reference to their application to courses in school psychology.

Principle 1: Students are responsible for monitoring and enhancing their own learning. APA's (2011) first principle stipulates that students in undergraduate psychology courses must take charge of their own learning as well as take proactive measures to shape their education. In developing specialized courses in fields such as school psychology, it is especially important to attend to individual differences in student needs and interests. …

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