David Recine

Developmental Psychology and Learning Theory on the Praxis PLT

There are four different Praxis PLTs. On page 6 of each free official Study Companion for these exams, you’ll be given a list of psychologists whose work you need to be familiar with and specific learning theory terms you need to know. The PLT Study Companions also advise you to know all of the cognitive, physical, social, and moral developmental stages that children go through, per current theory. Finally, the Study Companions advise you to apply this knowledge, understanding how child development and the psychology of learning act as factors in the classroom and determine teachers’ best practices.

This list of theorists, psychological vocabulary, developmental theory, and practical applications of the science can seem a little intimidating. This is especially true if you are in the early stages of your teacher training, or haven’t received any formal teacher training yet. The good news is that the specific content listed in the PLT study guides (on page 6 here, here, here, and here) is universally accepted, commonly taught information. Pretty much every teacher training program will include instruction in the PLT’s lists of psychologists and theoretical concepts; you’ll have a chance to study all of this in depth before you actually need to take the PLT.

That being said, and teacher training program managers and professors often focus on the more practical aspects of teacher training—classroom management, lesson planning, needs assessments of students, etc…. Psychology and learning theory are a part of teacher training but don’t always take center stage in a program, or in the minds of student teachers.

So as you take teacher training courses and seminars, be sure to pay close attention to the theoretical terms you must know to pass the PLT: metacognition, schema, transfer, self-efficacy, self-regulation, classical and operant conditioning, and the zone of proximal development. Similarly, keep an eye out for references to the educational and psychological theories of Albert Bandura, Jerome Bruner, John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Lawrence Kohlberg, and Benjamin Bloom. And take special note of anything you’re taught that explains how children develop cognitively and psychologically.

But do more than just watch for these names, terms, and theoretical concepts. Also strive to really understand these concepts and how they work in the lives of children and teachers. Let developmental psychology and learning theory come alive in your learning experiences, your teaching fieldwork, and in your approach to the PLT.

Don’t just memorize Piaget’s four developmental stages and the age groups they’re associated with. Take the knowledge a step further and understand that the wildly imaginative and sometimes illogical play activities of kindergartners represents Piaget’s Preoperational Stage (ages 2-7). And don’t just learn to list the six educational goals in Bloom’s taxonomy. Actively use these goals and have fun with them. Devise dynamic, exciting ways to really help children remember information, understand information, apply information, analyze information, evaluate information, and create their own information that demonstrates their knowledge.

You should also actively look for evidence of various research and theories by Bloom, Piaget, et al. These principles are demonstrated in every classroom, in the behavior and learning achievements of every child, and in life at large. Understanding the true importance of psychology and learning theory will help you get a top score on the PLT and master the art of teaching in a long and fruitful career.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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