Projects per year
I am a psychology teacher, teacher educator, author and researcher. Having taught psychology at secondary school level for over 15 years, I now work as a Teaching Fellow at the University of Strathclyde. I am the module leader for PGDE Secondary Psychology – the only course in Scotland which trains new Psychology teachers to work in schools.
My other specialist areas of teaching are the psychology of learning, memory and metacognition, and I lead Strathclyde’s MSc module 'Frameworks for Understanding Learning' and the BA elective module 'Memory, Belief and Misconception'.
In addition, I teach on general education courses including the University's 'Introduction to Teacher Education' programme for S6 pupils across Glasgow and nearby areas, and an in-service PG Certificate programme in collaboration with Crescent School in Lahore, Pakistan.
My research interests focus on teachers' professionalism and research engagement, as well as the practical applications of memory research to education. Most recently I have completed a systematic review into the ‘interleaving effect’, practical studies of beliefs about learning with student teachers and practising secondary teachers, and field experiments on school pupils that look at how learners benefit from interleaved examples. I have also collaborated on research into practitioner enquiry and nudge psychology.
I have written or co-authored five school psychology textbooks, one of which is now in its second edition. These books provide vital resources for Higher, National 5 and GCSE level. I have also written resource books for teachers such as ‘Psychology in the Classroom’ (2018, co-authored with Marc Smith), and 'The Teacher's Guide to Research' (2019). I have written a short guide to learning and study for school pupils and university students entitled ‘How to learn’ (2018), and a book on applying the psychology of creativity, entitled ‘Creative thinking’ (2019).
I am currently engaged in several knowledge exchange projects that involve supporting teacher research engagement in schools and local authorities. I have also led and co-led CPD sessions for teachers, and written an online course on metacognition for teachers, which is provided by the website Seneca.
In summary, my areas of professional interest include:
- Research into memory, metacognition and teacher professional learning.
- Professional expertise in evidence-informed approaches to learning and revision.
- Use of meta-analysis and systematic review.
- Teaching of school (pre-tertiary) psychology, including online teaching.
- THe psychology of learning, including learning theories
- Professional, textbook and exam board writing
- Delivery of CPD in schools (topics: Memory; Practitioner Enquiry)
- Public speaking
- Professional learning, including via MOOC online and blogging.
I am interested in how the order in which examples are studied can influence students’ learning of concepts, and have conducted research based around the spacing effect, and interleaving. More broadly, I believe that an understanding of human memory and the processes involved in learning should form part of a teacher’s professional knowledge, in part to to help insulate them against top-down interference in their pedagogical judgements. I developed an undergraduate module entitled ‘Memory, belief and misconception’ which explores teachers’ professional understanding of memory and their belief in learning myths, and I also work actively in promoting and supporting teachers’ research engagement (including ‘practitioner enquiry’).
My research therefore has two main, interconnected strands:
1) The application of cognitive psychology to education, and in particular long-term memory, metacognition and transfer.
2) Teachers’ engagement with and use of research in their practice, including practitioner enquiry.
From 2016 I have been working on a PhD by research alongside my teaching, and this is near completion. The main focus is 'interleaving', the order in which examples are studied can affect learners ability to remember and use new concepts; shuffled examples can be more beneficial for learning than examples categorised by type. As part of this work I have completed a systematic review on the interleaving effect in memory/transfer as it applies to education. I have registered this review with PROSPERO, prepared a research article, and published the protocol of the review:
Firth, J., Rivers, I., & Boyle, J. (2019). A systematic review of interleaving as a concept learning strategy: A study protocol. Social Science Protocols, July 2019, 1-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.7565/ssp.2019.2650
I have also applied my scholarship in memory and metacognition to my teaching (for example my new module 'Memory, belief and metacognition' - see below), and to the world of mentoring and coaching of new teachers in the form of a book chapter which will be published during the coming academic session:
Firth, J. (forthcoming, Jan 2020). Supporting new beginning science teachers to promote effective learning. In Salahjee (Ed.), Mentoring science teachers in the secondary school: A practical guide. Abindon, Oxon: Routledge.
I have also published the interim progress from my PhD and related research in the form of two articles:
Firth, J. (2018). Teachers’ beliefs about memory: What are the implications for in-service teacher education? Psychology of Education Review, 42(2), 15-22.
Firth, J. (2018). The application of spacing and interleaving approaches in the classroom. Impact, 2, 23-26.
My view of teachers’ research engagement is expressed in my article for the edited volume Flip the system UK. My chapter explains how an understanding of memory can be empowering, and can help teachers to become experts in learning.
Firth, J. (2017). Experts in learning. In L. Rycroft-Smith & J. L. Dutaut (Eds.) Flip the system UK: A teachers’ manifesto (pp. 20-28). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
But how best to achieve that? The process of teacher research engagement is supported by two books that I have written/co-written; Psychology in the classroom explains the theory and practice behind applying concepts such as memory, creativity and resilience to teaching, while The Teacher’s Guide to Research covers both engaging with research (applying it to practice) and engaging in research via practitioner projects or collaboration:
Smith, M. & Firth, J. (2018). Psychology in the classroom: A teacher's guide to what works. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Firth, J. (2019). The teacher's guide to research. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Additionally, I continue to work with colleagues to research the process of teacher research engagement. In this, I am influenced by social identity theory, a psychological approach which explains that people self-stereotype according to their perceived social roles.
One such research project is the school-university research partnership 'SURE', which includes 4 faculty colleagues and other education professionals including school-based co-researchers. This group has been conducting research into PEF funding via semi-structured interviews with Scottish headteachers; the findings should help to shed light on why educational professionals do or do not base their practice on evidence. Another collaborative teacher research engagement project with colleagues Anna Beck and Philip Tonner is currently at the writing up stage.
More recently, I have been awarded a research grant, jointly with faculty colleague Saima Salehjee, and will use this funding to work on a new, independent research project into the barriers which prevent professionals from engaging with evidence, and the use of nudge psychology to overcome these barriers.
Finally, I continue to engage in scholarship relating to the teaching of Psychology at pre-tertiary level.
I am a research-engaged teacher, at the forefront of a movement of teacher research engagement throughout Scotland and beyond, advocating for practitioners to both make use of research, and to consider gathering their own evidence through practitioner enquiry or research projects.
My teaching experience consists of delivering psychology courses at school level (mainly Higher and GCSE). This included high school (S2-S6) work and online teaching, and I have also worked as an examiner, and authored or co-authored six psychology school books, most recently:
Firth, J. (2019). Higher Psychology: Practise and pass. Glasgow: Leckie & Leckie.
Firth, J. (2019). National 5 & CfE Higher Psychology student book (2nd Ed.). Glasgow: Leckie & Leckie.
Firth, J. & Smith, M. (2017). AQA GCSE Psychology All-in-One Revision and Practice. London: Collins.
I teach trainee psychology teachers as the sole tutor for PGDE Secondary Psychology, Scotland’s only course which prepares psychology teachers for work in schools, as well as working with other primary and secondary trainees across various modules. Many of my modules and lectures focus on learning theories; I have written and delivered a module for our full-time MSc in Educational studies, ’Frameworks for Understanding Learning’, and I contribute to other courses at the School of Education via lectures on this topic, including giving lectures to the whole PGDE cohort at Strathclyde in groups of up to 500 students.
I have experience of writing and developing courses for specific groups outside of the main student cohort; in particular, I co-wrote and taught on the PG Cert which we offer to in service teachers in Pakistan (including travelling ot Lahore on teaching trips), and have co-written and taught our unique 'Introduction to Teacher Education' for visiting S6 pupils. More recently, I have proposed, written and taught an entirely new module, Memory, Belief and Misconception (X9296), which began teaching in 2019 to a class of 50 undergraduate students.
I have supervised Masters students’ dissertations from both MEd and MSc Educational Studies. Some examples of topics that I have supervised include:
- a study of the use of the 'spacing effect' to boost factual retention in senior Chemistry classes.
- a study of cognitive load in S2 maths classes.
- a systematic review into the use of visual aids to boost learning.
- an investigation into beliefs about effective study habits among senior phase pupils.
- student attitudes towards the use of language learning apps to boost vocabulary learning.
Overall, these cross a range of curriculum areas, but there is a common theme in terms of their links with the psychology of learning and memory.
It is important to me to share my knowledge and scholarship with other professionals beyond Strathclyde. One example of this is the various short articles and blog posts for teachers that I have written/co-written on issues relating to memory and evidence-based practice, such as:
Firth, J. (2019). Is it all just memorisation? The Profession: The Annual Publication for Early Career Teachers, 2019-20, 55-59.
Firth, J., Smith, M., Harvard, B., & Boxer, A. (2017). Assessment as learning: The role of retrieval practice in the classroom. Impact, 1, 18-22.
I have also written an online course of teachers about metacognition, which is hosted by Seneca and free to access as a CPD resource.
Following on from my continued involvement in Psychology teaching at school/FE level, I have continued to engage the Psychology teaching community and support the development of the subject. This included a presentation at the Scottish Learning Festival:
‘Psychology in the Broad General Education: What are the benefits?’ Seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow, 27th September 2019.
I also support Psychology teachers UK-wide via resources and articles, such as the following:
Firth, J. (2019). Spacing and interleaving in the psychology classroom. ATP Today Magazine, February, 10.
I am closely involved with the British Psychological Society (BPS) through committee work. I am an ordinary member of SCoPTE (the Standing Committee on Pre-Tertiary Education) who are responsible for supporting and promoting psychology at school and FE level; their role includes lobbying governments and engaging with exam boards. Recently this group has published a UK-wide strategy for ITE in Psychology teaching, and I commented on and contributed to this work. I am also on the committee of BPS-PES (Psychology of Education Section), a section of the society comprising educational psychologists, teacher educators and psychology academics whose work focuses on education.
In Scotland, am one of three members of a BPS working group which supports psychology pre-tertiary teaching. We organised and ran an event in December 2018 for psychology teachers and other stakeholders, and have also been working on a project to organise a prize for the best research assignment by a Higher Psychology pupil. I also attended a BPS event which aims to look at transitions from school to HE level psychology around the UK.
Beyond the university, I have given an invited seminar talk at Glasgow University:
‘Metacognition: how effectively can students and educators reflect on experience?’ Seminar at the University of Glasgow’s School of Psychology, Glasgow, 17th May 2019.
I continue to share teaching ideas and thoughts on good practice via Twitter, and via email networks for Psychology teaching (over 200 members) and Science teaching (over 1000 members), and have also shared practice e.g. via talks at SERA & the Chartered College of Teaching, and via blog posts. I have also written articles for practitioners about how to engage with research and set up research processes inside their schools, for example:
Firth, J. (2016). Research engagement for the school teacher and its role in the education community. Education in the North, 23(2), 161-166.
In the broader academic community, I have engaged with conferences both in my committee work, and by acting as a reviewer for conference submissions and journals, including book reviews. I have also written a further two books which bring the psychology of learning and cognition to a more general audience:
Firth, J. (2019). Creative thinking: Practical strategies to boost ideas, productivity and flow. Glasgow: Arboretum Books.
Firth, J. (2018). How to learn: Effective study and revision methods for any course. Glasgow: Arboretum Books.
I began my teaching career with a post at Charles University in the Czech Republic and worked for several years in EFL teaching including with mixed nationality classes, so I have a lot of experience of supporting international students including those whose first language is not English. Both of the Masters modules I have taught in this year have had international cohorts.
I am also working with the SoE to develop international links. In particular, I visited Pakistan twice in 2019, and supported the students on the PG Cert throughout the last academic year.
I have also reviewed conference submissions for the EERA conference, maintain regular contact via Twitter with teachers and academics in multiple countries, and have been invited to speak outside of Scotland including a talk at 'Accelerate Manchester', an event for early career teachers jointly organised by the UK Department of Education and the Chartered College of Teaching:
‘Mythbusting.’ Keynote at Accelerate Early Career Teachers, Chartered College of Teaching/Department of Education event, Manchester, 16 March 2019.
Also working with the Chartered College of Teaching, I travelled to London and recorded a series of short films with will appear as part of a free MOOC on FutureLearn, focusing on the use of learning science and technology in teaching. This is available to teachers worldwide, helping to support their practice.
Full list of publications and talks: https://www.jonathanfirth.co.uk/publications
Reviews of psychology in the classroom: A teacher’s guide to what works (Smith & Firth, 2018):
"It brings robust, relevant and recent research about psychology to life through the lens of experienced teachers and researchers of psychology by explaining clearly and showing how concepts can impact teaching in the classroom. I read this book to reinforce my understanding of how pupils learn, and to uncover further aspects of cognitive science that would assist my development as a teacher. This book delivered in both respects, and the clarity of the writing made it an enjoyable read. I can imagine teachers will be able to make use of the ideas contained readily."
- Dr Steven Berryman for the Chartered College of Teaching
“This is one of the most interesting and wide reaching of teaching books I have read. The eight chapters explore the pressing concerns of education: memory and understanding; cognition; self-theories; creativity; emotions; resilience, buoyancy and grit; motivation; and independent learning. All chapters are packed full of research and useful strategies for teachers to implement.”
- Jamie Thom, teacher and author.
1/05/20 → 30/06/21
Project: Knowledge Exchange
Boosting learning by changing the order and timing of classroom tasks: implications for professional practiceFirth, J., 5 Oct 2020, In: Journal of Education for Teaching. 15 p.
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article › peer-review
Jonathan William Firth (Speaker)17 May 2019
Activity: Talk or presentation types › Invited talk