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Educational Psychology A Foundation For Teaching And Learning

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 5411 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Educational psychology is a subfield of psychology. It takes theories, research, principles, and knowledge from psychology, and uses them in education.

Education includes a wide range of teaching and learning situations, from children being taught by a teacher and learning in a classroom at school, to university students learning from an instructor in a lecture or a tutorial, to individuals teaching themselves a new skill at home. Essentially education can include any situation in which someone acquires knowledge by means of a process.

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When the word “teacher” is used in this book, it refers to any person who is involved in a formal educational process. Thus it includes professors, instructors, lecturers, coaches, and trainers, amongst others. Further, while this introduction to educational psychology focuses on the school and the school classroom, it is also relevant to other educational settings such as universities and colleges.

Educational psychologists define the field

There are many varying definitions of educational psychology in the literature.

Robert Slavin defines educational psychology quite narrowly as the systematic study of learners, learning, and teaching (1994, 24). Bruce Tuckman and David Monetti’s definition is slightly broader. They define educational psychology as the study of human behavior applied to the teaching and learning processes (2011, 5).

Investigations of another educational psychologist, Anita Woolfolk, show distinct changes in the research focus of educational psychologists over time. In earlier decades educational psychologists tended to study individual differences, assessment, and learning behaviors. More recently they have studied cognitive development and learning, specifically concept learning, memory, and retention. Most recently educational psychologists have focused on studying the effects of society and culture on learning and development (2010, 10).

How do educational psychologists work?

Educational psychologists work in a number of ways. They carry out research to find answers to questions about teaching and learning. This research is often based on observing classroom practice to find out what works best under what circumstances and why. They use their findings (and the findings of other educational psychologists) to train teachers to teach more effectively, to advise education policy makers on how to improve education, and to help schools develop, apply, and interpret diagnostic tests and enrolment procedures such as school readiness tests.

Some educational psychologists work more directly with learners. For example, they often counsel learners on matters that affecting academic performance, such as behavior, or relationships with other people.

At universities and colleges educational psychologists develop and teach courses in educational psychology, mostly in departments of teacher education.

What questions do educational psychologists research?

Educational psychologists research many different questions that might have an impact on teaching and learning. Finding answers to these questions helps to make education more effective. Some questions to educational psychologists try to answers include:

How do learners think and learn?

Is one method of teaching better than another method of teaching? If so, why is this?

How does the way a learner thinks and learns develop as he or she becomes older?

Does the motivation of a learner affect his or her learning?

What impact does the relationship between a teacher and a learner have on learning?

How does the social or cultural background of a learner affect his or her learning?

How can a teacher help a learner overcome learning difficulties that are caused by a physical or mental disability-or that are caused by an emotional or social problem- that he or she has?

How can a teacher control the behavior of learners in the classroom?

What are the most effective ways of assessing the performance of learners?

Educational psychology in an interactive context

Tuckman and Monetti (2011, 6) describe some of the difficulties that teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. Teaching is a profession that depends almost entirely on interaction with other people. Teachers have to manage this interaction with students so that students learn what they are supposed to learn. This is difficult because interpersonal interactions are complex and have different dimensions. These almost always have to be managed at the same time. For example, teachers have to schedule, observe, record, evaluate, and react to a large number of students who may all be doing different things. Further, teacher behavior and student behavior are often dependent on each other. This means that teachers cannot delay their actions in the classroom. They must think quickly to react to the challenges that they face.

Educational psychology prepares teachers for these challenges by providing them with theories and principles about teaching and learning. It encourages teachers to reflect (think) about the needs of their learners and to be sensitive to the issues that learners might be facing in achieving their learning goals. In this way, educational psychology helps teachers become more effective and improves the chances of their learners achieving success in the classroom.

Research by psychologists has shown that human behavior is very complex. For example, although developmental psychologists such as Erik Erikson (insert dates) have suggested that there are a number of key stages of human development that are the same for everyone, these stages are not easily or clearly defined. This means that

Another example is that cognitive psychologists have shown that

Similarly, humans have several identifiable dimensions, such as a bodily or physical dimension, a cognitive or thinking dimension, an affective or emotional dimension, and social and ethical or moral dimensions. The interplay of these dimensions in specific people is highly complex. Each dimension affects the others in a variety of ways. The factors which underlie individual behaviors and capacities are interrelated in ways that are impossible to explain in terms of simple cause and effect. In other words, it is difficult to identify what makes someone a good or poor learner, what constitutes intelligence, or which are the most effective sources of motivation.

The role and function of educational psychology

Berliner (1993, in Woolfolk 2010: 14) provides two very good, yet closely- related reasons why people practice educational psychology.

Educational psychologists develop educational theories that explain, for example, how language develops, how learning takes place and under what circumstances, and what activities motivate learners and what don’t. Basically, they offer teachers many different ways of understanding the challenges they face, thereby improving their chances of achieving success in and outside the classroom.

Educational psychology aims to uncover the principles of teaching in order to improve learning. Principles are uncovered when research studies repeatedly come up with the same conclusions. These principles they can be used by teachers to deal with specific problems. For example, one of the principles of classroom management is to establish good interpersonal relationships with learners in order to build mutual trust and respect.

Educational psychology provides teachers with a body of knowledge

Educational psychology provides teachers with a body of knowledge about teaching and learning. This body of knowledge includes knowledge of human development, intelligence, memory, motivation, assessment, instructional strategies, and classroom management. It is made available to trainees, including aspiring teachers, mainly at universities and colleges of education to help them prepare for their teaching careers.

Educational psychology contributes to better educational practice

Educational psychologists are seldom satisfied with the body of knowledge they have uncovered or the teaching methods they have experimented with, recommended, and implemented. Educational psychologists are continually asking questions, and conducting research, about how teaching and learning can be improved. By questioning current practices and experimenting with new teaching methods, educational psychologists and professional teachers can ensure that classroom practices remain at the cutting edge of educational innovation.

4.2 Educational psychology challenges teachers to disciplined enquiry and research

Educational psychology constantly develops new theories and principles about teaching and learning. With a dynamic and changing field, teachers are challenged to n keep up to date with developments by reading articles published in educational newsletters and journals, and by sharing and discussing-for example, at staff meetings, teacher centers, workshops, and conferences-information about what works and what does not in their different subject areas. This helps them improve their teaching, and become ever more effective teachers as they progress in their careers.

Educational psychology encourages a reflective mindset

Effective teaching that results in successful learning depends on thought and critical reflection. Educational psychology assists teachers to examine their own attitudes, teaching practices, and the outcomes of their teaching.

Reflective teachers ask themselves before, during, and after every lesson why they do what they do and the way that they do it. They check their performance against the background knowledge provided by their training and their classroom experience. They examine their teaching methods and experiment to find out if there are better ways of doing what they are doing. Through reflective teaching, teachers develop the cognitive tools for creatively solving problems that may arise in their classrooms.



Questions for reflection

What is educational psychology?

What do educational psychologists do?

What questions do educational psychologists research?

What questions would you like to research?

How is educational psychology a foundation for effective teaching and learning?

Unit 2: What makes an effective teacher?

In this unit you will learn about:

What ‘effective teaching’ means

The four components of effective teaching

Teaching as an art or a science

What it means to be a ‘reflective teacher’

The teacher as self-regulated life-long-learner

Essential concepts

Effective teacher

Subject knowledge

Pedagogy (instruction)

Critical thinking

Knowledge of learners

Teaching and communication

Congruent communication

Incongruent communication

Reflective teaching

The means-end relationship

Long range goals

What is effective teaching?

It is not easy to define what an effective teachers are like or what they do that sets them apart from teachers who are less effective. Is effectiveness measured by learners’ results in examinations, or do factors such as motivation and interest play a role? Further, terms like “good,” “professional,” and “experienced” are often used to describe teachers and teaching. Here, too, the criteria for these judgments are often not explored or explained. Nevertheless, there is a broad understanding of the concepts and teachers often have the performance evaluated both in terms of classroom practice and learner performance. Throughout this book, we will use the terms “effective teachers” and effective teaching” to define and explore educational practices that “work.”

Many people think that you can be an effective teacher without any training. These people think that teaching is common sense or that some people are born with a natural ability to teach. However, there is a vast difference between a parent teaching an infant to walk, or a child to ride a bicycle, and teaching a young learner how to write or to do algebra. Classroom learning is far more structured, deliberate, concentrated, and abstract than the learning that takes place between parent and child.

Educational psychologists generally agree that most people can be trained to become effective teachers (Slavin 1994, 7). While observation and practice are important components of effective teaching, teachers need to be aware of several basic principles so that these can be applied in the classroom. Over the years educational psychologists have identified four essential components of effective teaching (Tuckman and Monetti 2011; Woolfolk 2010; Crowl et al 1997; Slavin 1994):

subject knowledge and knowledge of teaching resources

critical thinking and problem-solving skills

knowledge of learners and their learning

teaching and communication skills

Subject knowledge and knowledge of teaching

In order to be an effective teacher, a teacher needs subject knowledge (knowledge about what to teach). For example, if a teacher is teaching a course about the history of the modern Middle East, he or she must know about this subject. However, while subject knowledge is necessary, it is not enough. Knowledge of how to transmit information and the skill to do so is at least as important as knowledge of the information and skills themselves. To be an effective teacher, a teacher must also know where to find information about his or her subject, so that he or she can keep his or her subject knowledge up to date with the latest information about it.

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In addition, to be effective, a teacher must have an understanding of pedagogy (also referred to as instruction), a word which comes from the Greek and literally means ‘to lead the child.’ [i] Pedagogy refers to the set of teaching strategies a teacher uses in any given teaching situation to help learners learn what they are supposed to learn at that time. In designing these teaching strategies, an effective teacher takes into account a number of factors about his or her students, including their behavior, background knowledge about the subject, and motivation, as well as their intellectual, social, and cultural characteristics. The learning material needs to be presented in a way that makes sense, using strategies that help learners remember what they have been taught. Effective teaching builds in regular informal and formal assessments to check whether or not learning goals have been achieved. They need to respond appropriately if these assessments show that learners are having difficulties.

In other words, an effective teacher must be able to select those parts of his or her knowledge that are appropriate for his or her learners at their stage of learning, and communicate that knowledge to them in a way that is appropriate to their level. Simply put, an effective teacher knows when to teach what, using the most suitable method.

Knowledge of learners and their learning

Subject knowledge and pedagogy are not the only types of knowledge that teachers require. Effective teaching depends on teachers knowing their learners and knowing how learners learn. Educational psychology provides teachers with knowledge about how this. It provides teachers with insights into different ways learning can take place, learner preferences, learner motivation, and the link between the emotional life of the learner and learning. Knowing these things teachers can plan and manage instructional procedures, establish a suitable classroom environment, and engage learners in meaningful learning activities.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills

Many research studies have looked at the differences between more- and less-effective teachers. One theme that runs through these studies is that effective teachers are critical thinkers (Floden and Klinzing 1990; Leinhardt and Greeno 1986; Swanson et al 1990). Woolfolk (2010, 292) defines critical thinking as the ability “to evaluate conclusions by logically and systematically examining the problem, the evidence, and the solution.” In other words, critical thinking is an ordered, logical process of thinking about a problem and how it can be solved. It requires reflective judgment and the analysis of the validity and reliability of information.

It may involve generating or organizing ideas, examining assumptions, evaluating arguments and evidence, solving problems, defining opinions, or recognizing hidden values and meanings.

Teachers need to be critical thinkers because teaching involves solving problem in a systematic, logical way. The most effective teachers constantly evaluate and upgrade their own teaching practices. They read widely, observe other teachers, attend conferences to learn new ideas, and use their own learners’ responses to guide their instructional decisions (Saber et al. 1991; Shulman 1987). Teachers who improve are the ones who reflect about their own practice, are open to new ideas, and look at their own teaching critically. [1] 

Teaching and communication skills

Teaching is a form of communication. Teachers are communicators. Communication is more than a matter of teachers talking and students listening. Communication also involves students talking and teachers listening. It is important that learners get opportunities to participate in the communication process. Through creating opportunities for interaction (for example, by inviting questions and answers from learners, or through initiating discussions or group presentations), the teacher can monitor the learners’ perceptions and understandings and adjust his or her own communications accordingly.

What is more, communication is more than just talking and listening (verbal communication). It is also includes non-verbal communication such as teachers’ actions, movements, tone of voice, and facial expressions (together, their body language). Some researchers say that as much as 65% of effective communication is non-verbal (Ornstein 1990, 539).

Effective communication between a teacher and his or her learners also depends on the teacher’s credibility with them: do the learners trust that what the teacher says is believable, and does the teacher’s body language support and strengthen this trusting relationship on a daily basis? One of the ways by which teachers can earn the trust and respect of their learners is by practicing “congruent communication” as opposed to “incongruent communication.” Congruent communication is also known as the language of acceptance. The language of acceptance acknowledges the learner’s situation and reflects a non-discriminatory attitude by the teacher (Tuckman and Monetti 2011, 373). Incongruent language is also known as the language of rejection.

Ginott (1922-1973) provides an example of how the language of acceptance is different from the language of rejection. Ginott states that if a child spills paint his or her teacher can address the situation using language of acceptance (congruent communication) by saying “I see the paint has spilled, let’s get some water and a towel.” Alternatively the teacher can use the language of rejection (incongruent communication) by saying “What’s the matter with you? You are so clumsy. Didn’t I tell you to be careful? You never listen.” In the first situation, we can see that the teacher’s response involves him or her accepting that a situation has happened and addressing it. In the second situation, the teacher’s response involves attacking the personality and character of the child. Ginott advises that in order for a teacher to earn the trust of the child in this situation, he or she should use congruent communication and speak about the situation (the spilled paint) instead of using incongruent communication to speak about the personality and character of the child (Ginott 1993, 83).

Teachers also have to become sensitive to cultural rules (often implicit or hidden) when they communicate with their learners. For example in some East Asian and African cultures learners are expected not to make eye contact with their teachers when they talk to them. This is a sign of respect. In most western cultures the exact opposite is true.

Teaching: Art or science?

While educational psychologists claim that they have put teaching on a scientific footing because they conduct systematic scientific research into human behavior, thinking and learning, and instructional design, there are many elements that characterize it as an art. Events inside the classroom are often spontaneous and unpredictable. These require a teacher’s intuition, or the ability to act on a feeling, instead of factual knowledge. It is impossible to provide teachers with a magic formula that makes them effective, or a recipe to handle every circumstance that arises. Further, it is difficult to evaluate the teaching performance of individual teachers accurately and consistently because there is no single set of scientific criteria to do so. Finally, some teachers appear to natural educators, but it is hard to define what sets them apart from others. A teacher who attempts to base every action on scientific evidence may come across as rigid and mechanical to his or her learners

By contrast, a teacher who ignores scientific knowledge about teaching and learning runs the risk of applying principles and methods that are ineffective (Biehler and Snowman 1993, 20). Scientific research done by educational psychologists and other educationalists can introduce teachers to principles and theories of teaching that extend their ability or competence. Teaching from a scientific basis helps teachers avoid the pitfalls of subscribing to the latest fad (a fashionable but unproven method of teaching). If teaching is purely an art, then effective teaching would be determined by the teacher’s natural talent or by long years of practice. But, there is a sizeable body of scientific research and research-validated instructional practices that have been shown to improve teacher performance and learners’ achievement.

The reflective teacher

To reflect means “to think.” “To reflect about your actions” as a teacher means that you think and plan carefully about the way that you want to do things, and how these things should be done. Reflective teaching can therefore be seen as a blend of teaching as an art and teaching as a science. Reflective teachers think carefully about the educational goals they want to achieve, and whether or not such goals are actually worth achieving. They think carefully about the nature and effectiveness of the instructional methods and techniques they want to use to reach those goals, and they question the underlying assumptions, for example the means-end relationship, behind the choice of learning materials. They also reflect about the extent to which scientific evidence supports their choices.

A good example of a means-end relationship can be found in learning a second or third language. From a learning point of view, the end goal will determine the shortest, most effective means (way) of achieving it. If the end goal is every day spoken communication for the purposes of tourism, then a good means to the end may be to attend a short language course or living with a family in the country where the language is spoken. The picture changes dramatically if the end goal is to earn an advanced degree in a language. Here the focus is on academic purposes. This requires a high level of proficiency in the written and spoken forms of the language, and a detailed understanding of its grammar and literature. Achieving these will require a completely different means.

It is important for teachers to reflect carefully about long-range goals because the choice of goals affects not only the learning materials or content to be covered, but also the type of classroom activities (Brophy and Alleman 1991). If, for example, the goal is for learners to acquire problem-solving skills, learners would likely be engaged in activities that call for analysis (that is, breaking up the problem into smaller parts), reasoning, and decision-making. Debates, simulations, and laboratory experiments are just three examples of activities that might be useful to meet such a goal. If, however, the goal is for learners to memorize facts and information, learners will likely be given activities that call for isolated memorization and recall. Worksheets and drill-and-practice exercises are typically used as means to meet this type of goal. The point is that effective teachers think about these issues as a basis for planning.

Becoming a reflective teacher

Becoming a reflective teacher is not difficult, although it does require practice. As you try out various teaching techniques or wonder why certain learners respond to instruction as they do, formulate hypotheses (tentative explanations) and then try to test them. You will rarely be able to do this in a completely controlled way, but you can often set up simple experiments. For example, if most of the learners in your class seem to be restless whenever you present a particular topic, you might test a hypothesis such as: learners will be interested and focused if I have learn-by-doing activities during the lesson.

Once you have established a hypotheses you can test it by trying it out. As you do so, play the role of the teacher as an artist and be enthusiastic and committed. Then play the role of the teacher as a scientist: be objective when analyzing the results of your teaching. If you find that your learners respond more positively, or that test scores are up, or that the quality of their work has improved, you have evidence to substantiate your hypothesis. If student behavior remains unchanged or deteriorates, however, formulate another hypothesis and test it.

Most truly reflective teachers keep a personal teacher’s portfolio or workbook, in which they record all their experiments, experiences, and findings. This type of reflective activity is closely related to action research, a topic that will be discussed in a later section of this chapter.

1.3.4 Teachers as self-regulated, life-long learners

In addition to being critical thinkers and creative decision makers, most effective teachers are also lifelong learners. This means that they never stop learning and never consider themselves as knowing all there is to know. As McCown et al (1996, 17) state, to become an expert teacher, you must first become an expert learner. And becoming an expert learner implies that the teacher practices self-regulation.

Self-regulated teachers take responsibility for building their own knowledge and skills base. They set new learning goals based on their own experiences and the reflection of others like them. They motivate themselves to learn and uncover new information; they monitor their own progress, assess the extent of their own mastery of new knowledge and skills, and continuously redirect the course of their learning and development.

Figure 1.3: The cycle of reflective construction for the development of teaching expertise (adapted from McCown et al 1996:16)

Figure 1.3 above represents the continuous cycle of reconstruction that reflective, self-regulated teachers follow in the life-long learning process of building knowledge and expertise in their profession. It begins with their own personal experiences of being taught throughout their own years of schooling, progresses to their training as teachers, including their study of educational psychology, and gaining more knowledge and expertise as teachers. Ultimately, successful teachers will be able to integrate and reflect critically about educational concepts, principles, theories, and classroom interactions, and they will develop, construct, and reconstruct a personal theory of teaching flowing out of life-long learning and classroom experience.

1.3.5 Summary

In this unit we set out to provide an answer to the question: “What makes a good teacher?” We discussed some of the instructional tasks involved in effective instruction and highlighted four essential components of effective instruction. We drew a further distinction between teaching as an art and teaching as a science, concluding that the most “artful” teachers are the ones who reflect regularly about their practice and never stop learning, working from a well-founded scientific knowledge base about teaching and learning.


Unit 4: Research

In this unit you will learn about

The role of research in educational psychology

Popular research methods in educational psychology

Experimental research

Descriptive research

Single subject experimental designs

Longitudinal and cross-sectional research studies

Action research

Essential Concepts

Teacher efficacy

Intentional teacher

Qualitative research

Quantitative research

Experimental studies

Random selection

Descriptive studies

Ethnographic research

Correlation studies

Single subject experiments

Baseline phase

Intervention phase

Longitudinal research

Cross-sectional research

Action research


1. 4.1 The role of research in educational psychology

One of the most important functions of research in educational psychology is that it provides teachers-in-training, beginner and less experienced teachers with knowledge and skills about how to teach in the best possible ways in their individual subject areas.

For example, from the moment a teacher walks into a classroom, he or she needs to know how to create a suitable teaching and learning environment, one which is conducive to meeting his or her teaching objectives as well as the learning needs of the learners. Creating such an environment implies excellent classroom management skills, among others. It is very difficult for a beginner teacher to re-establish control once chaos has erupted. In order to be better prepared and to avoid unnecessary disruptions to the teaching-learning process, beginner teachers can pick up useful pointers by reading case studies and studying research reports prepared by educational psychologists and experienced teachers.

One example of the impact of research on the teaching and learning process is the finding that one of the most powerful predictors of a teacher’s impact on learners is the belief that what the teacher does in class actually makes a huge difference. This belief, called teacher efficacy, is at the heart of what it means to be an intentional teacher. Teachers who believe that success in school is almost entirely due to children’s inborn intelligence, home environment, or other factors that teachers cannot influence, are unlikely to teach in the same way as those who believe that their own efforts are the key to children’s learning. An intentional teacher, one who has a strong belief in his or her efficacy, is more likely to put forth consistent effort, to persist in the face of obstacles, and to keep trying relentlessly until every student succeeds.

Researchers in the field of edu


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