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Action Teaching

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The term “action teaching” was first used in a 2000 article by Scott Plous published in the journal Teaching of Psychology.[1] It refers to a particular style of instruction that teaches course topics while also contributing to the greater good, directly benefiting not only students but society more generally. Action teaching is the educational counterpart to action research, which was described in 1944 by Kurt Lewin as research that has a goal of solving social problems.[2]

Action teaching can occur at any level of education as well as within work settings, and it can take a number of forms, such as classroom activities, student assignments, workshops, field experiences, and web-based resources. Although action teaching was originally developed within the field of psychology, it has since been adopted in a wide range of curricular areas, such as business, law, social studies, environmental science, and language instruction. The social issues that it addresses include problems such as violence prevention, environmental protection, disaster relief, prejudice reduction, sustainable living, civic engagement, human health, animal welfare, and the development of empathy and compassion.[3]

Action Teaching Award[edit]

From 2005 through 2015, Social Psychology Network held an international action teaching award competition in which a panel of teaching experts held a blind review of entries. The award included a $1,000 cash prize and a highly publicized description of the entry on ActionTeaching.org—an open access repository of action teaching resources for educators. To date, the repository has received more than 300,000 page views.[4]

Here are some examples of action teaching that won the international award or received honorable mention:

  • Business and law students at the University of Pennsylvania studied fundraising techniques and raised more than $100,000 for the Make-a-Wish Foundation.[5]
  • High school students in Poland learned English by reading true stories of homeless people and completing exercises that led to a reduction in stereotyping.[6]
  • College students in Massachusetts learned about human dynamics in the Holocaust and then taught children how these dynamics operate in contemporary hate speech, hate crimes, and bullying.[7]
  • College students in New York learned about culture by providing financial education to local refugee families, covering topics such as how to set up a bank account, create a budget, and avoid credit card schemes and other money traps.[8]

SPSSI Action Teaching Program[edit]

In early 2020, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Division 9 of the American Psychological Association) established the SPSSI Action Teaching Program.[9] The program includes two main components: (1) the SPSSI Action Teaching Award, based on the award previously administered by Social Psychology Network;[10] and (2) SPSSI Action Teaching Grants intended to support projects that develop, enhance, or measure the impact of an action teaching activity, assignment, field experience, or web-based resource.[11]

The inaugural winner of the SPSSI Action Teaching Award was Vicki Burns of Florida International University, who developed an assignment in which students learn about the problem of campus sexual violence and then create an innovative anti-violence plan of their own based on empirically supported prevention planning principles.[12]

Day of Compassion[edit]

One of the most widely publicized action teaching assignments is the Day of Compassion, in which students are asked to live as compassionately as possible for 24 hours and then submit an essay describing what they learned from the experience. The assignment was first developed for use at Wesleyan University, and in 2013 it was adapted for use in an online course that went on to enroll more than 850,000 students worldwide. In the online version, an award was given to the student whose work was judged to be the best, and the winner was given an expense paid trip to meet a public figure known for promoting compassion.[13][14]

Journal of Social and Political Psychology[edit]

In 2012, the Journal of Social and Political Psychology established a section of the journal specifically devoted to "Action Teaching Reports" based on a belief that "education can play an important role in the betterment of society and the promotion of social justice."[15] In one such report, students learned about the negative health effects of stress and then delivered stress and coping workshops to homeless adolescent mothers in their community.[16] In another, student groups met with individuals who had dementia and then helped these individuals create multimedia digital projects (e.g., online scrapbooks) involving experiences with art or nature.[17]


  1. Plous, Scott (2000). "Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise" (PDF). Teaching of Psychology. 27 (3): 198–200. doi:10.1207/S15328023TOP2703_07.
  2. Lewin, Kurt (1946). "Action research and minority problems". Journal of Social Issues. 2 (4): 34–46. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x.
  3. "Examples of action teaching". ActionTeaching.org. Retrieved August 15, 2019.
  4. Pappas, S. (2019, November). Changing the world from the classroom. Monitor on Psychology, pp. 20-23.
  5. Grant, Adam M. (2013). "Bringing organizational psychology to life through fundraising". ActionTeaching.org.
  6. Wojcik, Malgorzata Maria (2011). "Foreign language exercises that embrace diversity". ActionTeaching.org.
  7. Hannon, Ruth T. (2007). "Using lessons from the Holocaust to reduce bullying". ActionTeaching.org.
  8. Norvilitis, Jill M. (2010). "Bringing culture alive by offering financial education to refugees". ActionTeaching.org.
  9. "SPSSI Action Teaching Program". Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  10. "SPSSI Action Teaching Award". Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  11. "SPSSI Action Teaching Grants". Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  12. "Reducing Sexual Assault on Campus". Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  13. Stephens, Pippa (October 8, 2014). "The world's most compassionate 24 hours". BBC News.
  14. Penman, M., & Vedantum, S. (2015, October 20). The science of compassion. Hidden Brain (podcast). Washington, DC: National Public Radio.
  15. "Editorial policies of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology". Journal of Social and Political Psychology. 2012.
  16. Brenchley, Kimberly J. McClure; Donahue, Lynn M. (2017). "Stress reduction in a high stress population: A service-learning project". Journal of Social and Political Psychology. 5 (2): 463–476. doi:10.5964/jspp.v5i2.813.
  17. Twedt, Elyssa; Proffitt, Dennis R.; Hearn, Donna L. (2014). "Art and aging: Digital projects for individuals with dementia". Journal of Social and Political Psychology. 2 (1): 61–70. doi:10.5964/jspp.v2i1.265.

Further Reading[edit]

External Links[edit]

Category:Education Category:Teaching

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