Educational Psychology, Neuroscience and Lesson Study: Translating Research Knowledge into Practice Requires Teacher Research

By Norwich, Brahm | Knowledge Cultures, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Educational Psychology, Neuroscience and Lesson Study: Translating Research Knowledge into Practice Requires Teacher Research


Norwich, Brahm, Knowledge Cultures


Introduction to Educational Psychology

Educational Psychology has a history that formally goes back to the late 19th century in Europe and North America when psychology became an independent academic and experimental discipline. However, a psychology for teaching was taught in various forms to teachers in training in the UK and elsewhere well before this period (Thomas, 1996). There is also evidence that ideas and practices that would now be called psychological were developed before and outside academic and scientific psychology in what has been called the "practical tradition" (Schonpflug, 1993). For example, Hearnshaw (1987), the biographer of Cyril Burt, a leading originator in the field of educational psychology in the UK, noted that applied psychology began in the field of education. Educational psychology like health or clinical psychology is an area of psychology that is characterized by its relevance to a practical field, e.g. education, mental health or health, rather than in terms of some process or aspect of psychological functioning, e.g. cognitive or developmental psychology. In terms of this distinction, educational psychology could be seen as an applied rather than a basic area of psychology. This has been evident in how ideas from developmental and cognitive psychology, for example, have been taken up and developed in educational psychology (Tomlinson, 1981). But, educational psychology in this form is about knowledge and understanding which has often been represented as a foundation or contributory field required for the initial and continuing professional development of teachers (Peterson, Clark & Dickson, 1990). This educational psychology is related but distinct from practical or professional educational psychology. Practitioner educational psychology aims to promote child development and learning through the application of psychology by working with children and adults (DfEE 2000). In some countries like the UK this is called professional educational psychology, while in others like the USA it might be called school psychology. Though the knowledge base of professional educational or school psychologists involves educational psychology, as described above, it uses other areas of psychology, e.g, clinical child psychology and psychologies developed in therapeutic practice, e.g. solution focused therapy.

How Educational Psychology and Neuroscience Relate to Teaching

In this section, I examine how educational psychology and the newer field of educational neuroscience relate to the preparation and practice of teaching. Though it has been widely believed that educational psychology is central to teaching and teacher preparation (Peterson et al., 1990), much concern has been expressed historically about the divergence between educational psychology and the study of teaching. More than 30 years ago Stones (1978, 1979) lamented that the study of educational psychology rarely engaged with classroom practice. Stones (1978) saw this as crucial both for educational psychology and the study of teaching. From his perspective, this divergence impoverished both studies. Stones (1979) argued that educational psychology should be viewed as part of a theory of teaching and for this reason he coined the phrase "psychopedagogy" to integrate theoretical psychological principles into teaching. The content of educational psychology has developed since Stones' analysis (Santrock, 2008); for example, educational psychologists have increasingly studied teaching and learning in school settings. But, the development of a knowledge base is one matter, another is how trainee and experienced teachers come to understand and use educational psychology in their practical teaching (Woolfolk Hoy, Hughes & Walkup, 2008). Despite this, educational psychology has also continued to be seen as indispensable in many countries, even though it has come under attack from various quarters (Fendler, 2012).

Since the 1990s an educational neuroscience has begun to develop which promises to guide educational practice and reforms (Nature Neuroscience Editorial, 2006), much as educational psychology has done for about a century. …

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