Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Teaching Relationships: Broadening Understandings through the Social Psychology of the Classroom

Academic journal article Knowledge Cultures

Teaching Relationships: Broadening Understandings through the Social Psychology of the Classroom

Article excerpt

Teaching Relationships: The Contribution of Educational Psychology

The field of educational psychology has taught us much about pedagogical practices that are effective versus those that are not (Hattie & Anderman, 2013). Indeed, a major focus of the field is on discovering pedagogical methods that will enhance teaching, leading to increased learning for students. The discipline is about discovering approaches for enhancing the learning of all students and means of providing equitable educational opportunities for all (Weinstein, 2002). However, educational psychology has largely concentrated on what constitutes effective pedagogy, on instructional practices that can improve learning, arguably to the neglect of the importance of relationships within the classroom. Certainly, the major focus for the past century has been on practical applications of educational psychology for instructional practice (Babad, 2009). Nevertheless, although learning takes place within the instructional environment, equally as important, learning takes place within the socioemotional environment (Babad, 2009; Pianta, Hamre & Allen, 2012; Rubie-Davies (2014). Classrooms are social places as much as they are places of learning. There is an extensive history of research into how people learn, beginning with educational psychologists such as James in the late 1800s (Schultz & Schultz, 2007). Yet it is only relatively recently that researchers have examined more social aspects within the educational realm, such as motivation (e.g., Weiner, 1986). Interestingly, Weiner was a social psychologist who applied his understandings to education.

In this paper, I will argue that although we know much about what constitutes effective teaching, there is little evidence that student achievement has improved over the years, and, indeed, there are possibly arguments for claiming that achievement has declined in New Zealand (where the author is based) given that country's recent drop in standing in the PISA results - and certainly the evidence points to a widening of the gap between the highest and the lowest achievers (May, Cowles, & Lamy, 2013). This paper will briefly discuss some of educational psychology's findings, will examine the extent of incorporation within schools of pedagogical practices and programs known to be effective, and will consider the potential contribution of the social psychology of the classroom as potentially having positive benefits for student learning.

Research and Knowledge

Educational psychologists conduct research into teaching and learning with the altruistic intention shared by many, to affect positively the lives of children albeit indirectly (e.g., Weinstein, 2002). Educational psychology as a discipline contributes to knowledge of what constitutes effective teaching and what can enhance student learning. There is a focus on memory, conceptual processes, and individual differences in cognition (Snowman, 1997). In a meta-analysis (a synthesis of the findings of several studies), Hattie (2009) provides examples of instructional practices, such as reciprocal teaching, teacher feedback, and teacher clarity, that have large positive effects on learning. In a further example of findings which illustrate the contribution of educational psychology to enhancing teaching and learning, Nicholson and Tunmer (2011) suggested that vocabulary programs, the teaching of phonics, and repeated reading are far more effective for improving student reading achievement than is using a whole language approach. These key empirical findings are representative of the contribution that educational psychology makes to education as a whole. Further, robust peer-review has resulted in such findings being disseminated via leading academic journals and academic conferences (Nicholson & Dymock, 2011, July; Tunmer, Chapman, & Prochnow, 2006). One criterion for publication within the academic world is that the article (or presentation) will contribute new understandings. …

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