With the changing demographics (e.g., increasing Hispanic population and increasing number of students from low socio-economic households) of the K-12 classroom, how can educational psychology assist teachers with creating an effective learning environment and improving student achievement?
Ormrod: An essential first step is to enhance teachers’ understandings of students’ every-day life circumstances, including students’ physical and social environments, cultural practices, and (often implicit) cultural worldviews. This step is easier said than done, as teachers at all levels—including ourselves!—tend to have trouble looking outside their own belief systems and ways of doing things to acknowledge that other beliefs and ways of doing things might be just as “good” or “right” (with some exceptions, obviously). As Barbara Rogoff has put it, “Like the fish that is unaware of water until it has left the water, people often take their own community’s ways of doing things for granted.”
As teacher educators, we can’t possibly engender complete awareness and understanding of diverse social and cultural groups in a single semester, but we can make a good start by engaging students in conversations with people from varying backgrounds, ideally outside the classroom and, even better, outside the local community. As an illustration, I once took a group of teacher in-terns on a day-long field trip to an inner-city K–8 school that served predominantly low-income immigrant families. We were able to observe the truly inspiring things the school was doing for students and their families, but we also heard stories from the principal and teachers about the many challenges some of their students faced—quite eye-opening.
But, our strategies must extend well beyond show-and-tell activities. In our educational psychology courses, we must regularly integrate social and cultural diversity into the topics we discuss, the questions we ask, the assignments we give, and the ways in which we assess our own students’ learning and achievement. True multicultural education doesn’t come to a halt at Grade 12; it must also continue throughout higher education, including teacher education.
Reese-Weber: Instructors teaching educational psychologist need to understand themselves the difficulties among underrepresented populations. For example, I was awarded a small grant at my university to redesign my educational psychology course to include more information on urban education. This redesign included spending three days my-self in a underrepresented com-munity observing at the schools and interacting with the community leaders. Now, I take students to that same community for a day to observe in the schools and participant in the community. In addition, research should focus on determining what characteristics exist in current, successful schools system within underrepresented populations.
McInerney: Educational Psychology, as well being a cognate discipline, distils from a range of ‘psychologies’ such as developmental and personality psychology, principles by which educators may understand the learning and teaching processes. Over the last decades there has been an increasing interest in, and attention to, the diversity of learners, and that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to creating an effective learning environment is no longer considered optimal. Good contemporary educational psychology textbooks emphasize the need to engage in research/ evidence-based practices to enhance effective and diverse learning environments for all students in order to improve student achievement (e.g., McInerney, D. M. (2013) Educational Psychology: Constructing Learning (Pearson 6th Edition)). Teachers concerned with potentially marginalized and underperforming groups have a wealth of research-based techniques at their finger-tips if they read the appropriate professional literature and, in particular, read contemporary educational psychology text-books, and books in specialized areas, such as enhancing motivation, understanding information processing, and so on.
Eggen: Educational psychology has much to offer with respect to the increasing diversity of our students. For instance, educational psychology helps us understand that students’ new learning depends on their existing background knowledge and experiences, and students will bring widely varying backgrounds with them to our classrooms. If students lack the school-related experiences needed to succeed academically, teachers must provide these experiences in the form of high-quality examples and other representations that will provide the necessary background needed to help students understand the topics teachers are teaching. The need to provide these experiences is particularly important for students who come from low socio-economic households because these students often lack the school-related experiences needed to prepare them for success in school.
Reese-Weber: Educational psychologists need to emphasis research findings that support the idea that teaching critical thinking skills will enhance standardized test performance.
McInerney: I am not sure the premise that emphasizing improving standardized test scores implies that classroom instruction becomes teacher-centered and involves rote memorization. Data on this would need to be provided to convince me that this is the case. Improving standardized test scores in not inimical to engaging in ‘best practice’ in teaching, and assist-ing students to become critical thinkers. This question is essentially one regarding appropriate pedagogy, which is related to, but not identical with, educational psychology. Educational psychology informs pedagogical practices and teachers should be mindful of the wealth of insights into effective learning and teaching that are provided by research related to learning strategies, information processing, motivation, self-regulation, metacognition, constructivism, and so on. There are more ways to skin a cat than one, and many routes to enhanced standardized test scores than resorting to teacher-centered classrooms and rote memorization. I think well prepared teachers are quite aware of this.
Eggen: Educational psychology can assist teachers with teaching content in two essential ways. First, it can help teachers understand the way students learn most effectively, and, as teachers better understand the learning process, they will also understand that rote memorization is not the most effective way to help students perform well on standardized tests. So, by emphasizing critical thinking and the deep understanding of topics, teachers are both increasing their students’ long-term learning and increasing the likelihood that their students will perform well on standardized tests.
Simply understanding the way students learn isn’t enough however. Teachers need to see theories of learning directly and concretely applied to standards teachers are expected to help their students meet, and topics teachers are actually teaching. We all know that transfer is very specific. Believing that the role of educational psychology is to teach theory, and teachers should learn specific applications of the theories in their methods courses is misguided; it doesn’t happen. If educational psychology is to help teachers effectively meet standards and go beyond rote memorization, they must understand learning, development, and motivation, and they must also have experiences—in their educational psychology courses—in applying these theories with real-world standards and topics. If teachers don’t have experiences with application, the theories taught in educational psychology classes won’t transfer. This helps us under-stand why we see the emphasis on teacher-centered instruction and rote memorization in the P-12 world.
Ormrod: One common misconception, even among teachers, is that rote memorization is the best strategy for doing well on standardized achievement tests and other high-stakes assessments. For instance, I once co-taught a middle school studies class with a teacher whom I overheard telling a struggling student, “It’s easy. You just memorize it!”
Something I’ve routinely done in my classes and as an occasional guest speaker in other teacher education programs is to try to dispel this myth, often by conducting little in-class “experiments” in which some students are able to learn new material meaningfully and elaboratively while others have little choice but to resort to relatively meaningless learning; the differences between the two groups’ performances are usually pretty dramatic. Then, I continue to hammer away at the point that the human brain and mind are not tape recorders or video cameras, nor are they sponges that “soak up” information—instead, they’re active meaning-makers, and their “owners” (i.e., human learners) can be systematically taught how to make meaning more strategically and effectively. That said, we need to note the increasing trend of standardized tests away from factual knowledge and toward higher-level thinking skills. The wide-spread adoption of the Common Core standards is certainly helping us move in that direction. Anyone who hasn’t looked at these standards should do so (www.corestandards.org). A lot of the paranoia about Common Core—and many residents in my own small town in New Hampshire are paranoid to the point of being hysterical—comes from ignorance about the nature and origins of these standards.
BIOGRAPHIES OF THE FEATURED AUTHORS
Paul Eggen has worked in higher education for nearly 40 years. He is a consultant for public schools and colleges in his university service area and has provided support to teachers in 12 states. Paul has also worked with teach-ers in international schools in 23 countries in Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, Central America, South America, and Eu-rope. He has published several articles in national journals, is the co-author or co-editor of seven books, and presents regularly at national and international conferences. Paul is strongly committed to pub-lic education. His wife is a middle school teacher in a public school, and his two children are graduates of public schools and state universities.
Marla Reese-Weber is a Professor in the Psychology Department at Illinois State University. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Master’s degree in Clinical Psycholo-gy at Illinois State Universi-ty. Marla went to The Ohio State University and re-ceived her doctorate degree in Human Development and Family Science. Her research interests continue to be on how the family context influences adoles-cents and emerging adults (i.e., 18-27 year olds), spe-cifically their romantic rela-tionships. Marla has taught several undergraduate and graduate courses in her department, but the two she has most often taught are Educational Psychology and Adolescent Develop-ment. Dr. Reese-Weber is the co-author of an educa-tional psychology textbook, EdPsych Modules, that provides a modular ap-proach and includes multi-ple case studies.
Professor Dennis M. McInerney began his ca-reer as a primary and second-ary teacher in Sydney, Austral-ia. He joined a teachers college in 1975 as a lecturer and pro-gressed from there to a variety of academic, administrative, and research posts at the Uni-versity of Western Sydney, The National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological Univer-sity, Singapore, and The Hong Kong Institute of Education. Professor McInerney began his research career with his B.Ed and M.Ed (Hons) theses exam-ining the development of multi-culturalism within Australian schools. This work was fol-lowed by his doctoral research examining the motivational determinants of school achieve-ment for non-traditional Abo-riginal students in New South Wales. From these early re-search roots, Professor McIner-ney developed an extensive research agenda examining motivation, learning, and self-processes among a diverse range of cultural groups, in-cluding urban Indigenous Abo-riginal and remote Indigenous Aboriginal groups in the North-ern Territory of Australia, Nav-ajo and Yavapai Indians in the United States, Chinese in Hong Kong, Malays, Chinese and South Asians in Singapore, and Lebanese and other immigrant groups in Australia. The major focus of these studies has been the psychological determinants of school engagement of under-achieving minority groups. A range of competitive grants has supported these studies. Pro-fessor McInerney has published over 300 research articles, edits two international research series, Research on Sociocul-tural Influences on Motivation and Learning (Vols 1-10) and International Advances in Self Research (Vols 1-4). He has written major textbooks, in-cluding Educational Psycholo-gy: Constructing Learning (Pearson 6th Edition, 2013), Helping Kids Achieve Their Best: Understanding and Us-ing Motivation in the Class-room (Allen & Unwin, 2000 and republished by Infor-mation Age Publishing, 2005), and Publishing Your Psycholo-gy Research (Sage and Allen & Unwin, 2001).
Jeanne Ellis Ormrod is currently Professor Emerita of Psychological Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado. The “Emerita” means that she officially retired from her position there, but she isn’t really retired at all. After return-ing to her native New Eng-land in 1998, she taught several courses at the Uni-versity of New Hampshire as an adjunct professor, and she continues to give occa-sional guest lectures else-where. But. she now devotes most of her time to updating and (she hopes) improving her textbooks, including Human Learning, Essen-tials of Educational Psychol-ogy, Educational Psycholo-gy: Developing Learners, and Practical Research.
FACTS AND FIGURES
75.5% of public high school students gradu-ated on time in 2008-2009.
8 states and the District of Columbia had a less than 70% graduation rate in 2008-2009.
There were 132,200 schools in the U.S. in 2009-2010.
19% of students attend-ed high-poverty public schools in 2009-2010.
In 2011, 24% of U.S. public school students were Hispanic. That percentage is expected to increase to 30% in 2023.
For 24 states and the District of Columbia, at least 50% of their schools did not make AYP in 2011.
Percentage of public schools that do not make AYP varies by state, from 11% in Wis-consin to 89% in Flori-da in 2011.
(Sources: NCES & CEP)