The Relevance of Educational Psychology in Teacher Education Programs

September 4, 2005

Key words: educational psychology, teachers, instruction

For years, teacher educators have written about the purposes, aims, and goals of educational psychology and have stressed the relevance of the field for the practice of teaching and learning (Alexander 2004; Berliner 1993; Brophy 1974; Woolfolk Hoy 2000). However, as Sternberg (1996) noted, educational psychologists seem to be having more and more trouble explaining to educators what they do and why educators should care. In this special issue, we explore the relevance of educational psychology in teacher education programs, noting how educational psychology contributes to the preparation of preservice teachers. We solicited articles from several university instructors who teach educational psychology courses in teacher education programs. During our communication with authors, we identified what we believe to be important topics taught in nearly every educational psychology course and asked them to share examples of instructional practices they use to prepare preservice teachers. In addition to sharing specific examples from their classrooms, we also asked them to make suggestions for how K- 12 teachers could utilize the practices in their classrooms. We believe that these examples will highlight the importance of educational psychology in teacher education programs, offering ideas to both those teaching educational psychology and those teaching in K-12 classrooms. We have organized the issue by the topics of motivation and management, diversity, instructional strategies, assessment, emotion and relationships, and future directions for educational psychology.

The first section of this issue includes two manuscripts that address the topic of motivation. In their article “The ABC’s of Motivation: An Alternative Framework for Teaching Preservice Teachers about Motivation,” Lynley Anderman and Valerie Leake note the challenges for preservice and practicing teachers in applying motivational principles to classroom learning. They suggest that many of these difficulties are attributed to the way in which the topic of motivation is taught in many educational psychology courses, often in terms of their historical development. As a response to this challenge, Anderman and Leake propose an alternative way of organizing material in their educational psychology course by principles of motivation, namely those of autonomy, belongingness, and competence, which are central to self- determination theory. Using such a framework helps students note similarities across constructs and highlight the importance of overlapping classroom practices. Likewise, in our article “Using Achievement Goal Theory to Translate Evidence-based Principles into Practice in Educational Psychology, ” we also describe an alternative framework for organizing our educational psychology courses. Using the TARGET framework proposed by Ames (1992) and Epstein (1988), we describe how we manipulate different dimensions of the classroom that orient students toward mastery goals rather than performance goals. We do this not only by what we are teaching but also by how we are teaching it. Our hope is that preservice teachers will organize their own classrooms using the TARGET framework, which has implications for both student motivation as well as classroom management.

Next, we focus on the topic of diversity and social justice. As Nancy Knapp notes in her article “They’re Not All Like Me!” many preservice teachers are unaware of how different the lives of many children are from their own. Although schools are becoming more culturally diverse, many preservice teachers are not prepared to work with students who differ from themselves racially, ethnically, or socioeconomically. Knapp outlines the central goals of her educational psychology course: to raise preservice teachers’ awareness of the sources of diversity, to foster in preservice teachers the disposition to teach all of their students, and to begin to develop strategies for doing so. Teacher educators should find Knapp’s strategies particularly useful as they address the content of diversity and student characteristics in their classrooms. Inservice teachers should also find these strategies helpful as they find themselves working with increasingly diverse student populations. Similarly, Monica Medina, Anastasia Morrone, and Jeffrey Anderson tackle the topic of responding to diversity issues in their article “Promoting Social Justice in an Urban secondary Teacher Education Program.” They note that before preservice teachers can be expected to understand and address issues of diversity in the classroom, candidates must have the opportunity to take a critical perspective of their values and beliefs. Their response to this challenge has been to develop a field-based teacher education program that includes a strong commitment to urban education and a collaborative relationship with community schools and social service centers. In their article, they share characteristics of the program and provide examples of coursework preservice teachers complete during their field experience. These examples should be of particular interest to faculty who have students that complete a field experience as a component of their educational psychology courses.

The next section in the issue provides examples of instructional strategies that faculty are using in their courses. Jeanne Ormrod shares examples of how to use student artifacts to illustrate concepts and principles of educational psychology in her article “Using Student and Teacher Artifacts as case Studies in Educational Psychology.” As Ormrod points out in her article, case studies can provide a close approximation to field studies by situating psychological concepts and principles in real-life school contexts. Ormrod’s selection of student artifacts provides opportunities for preservice teachers to connect theory to practice as well as to experience valuable practice in assessing students’ work.

In his article, “Grades as Valid Measures of Academic Achievement of Classroom Learning, ” James Alien takes a critical look at the purpose of grades and argues for ways in which educators can accurately assess student performance. Alien argues that preservice teachers are often inadequately prepared in practices of assessment and suggests that instruction on the assessment principle of validity is one way for better preparing future educators. Moreover, Alien argues that university faculty and K-12 teachers also inadvertently model poor grading practices that perpetuate the practices of preservice teachers. He provides suggestions for ways educators can authentically and validly assess students’ learning of academic content.

Two articles address affective issues that often are overlooked in educational psychology courses: relationships and teacher emotions. Miriam Witmer addresses the role of relationships in her article “The Fourth R in Education-Relationships.” Witmer argues that relationships are building blocks of effective teaching and student success and that educators, administrators, parents, and students need to work collaboratively. She offers concrete strategies that can be implemented to ensure quality relationships are being developed and nurtured. In a second article on affective issues, “Teachers’ Emotions and Classroom Effectiveness: Implications from Recent Research,” Rosemary Sutton presents an overview of current research on teacher and student emotions and discusses the relationship between emotions and teacher effectiveness. She argues that preservice teachers need to understand how their emotions and their students’ emotions will influence the goals, motivation, problem-solving, and teaching strategies that they use in the classroom. Educators should find the ideas suggested in these articles useful for creating meaningful relationships with both parents and teachers.

Finally, we address the future directions of educational psychology. Michael Verdi and Janet Johnson discuss a shift that has occurred in how educational psychology is being taught at many universities in their article “Teaching Educational Psychology in an Online Environment.” Verdi and Johnson argue that as the demographics of preservice teachers are changing, universities are responding in ways to meet the needs of their students. This includes the most recent and innovative way of teaching educational psychology, via online instruction. In their article, they highlight some of the challenges and benefits of this instructional paradigm. Finally, Kelvin Seifert argues that educational psychology is not only relevant to classroom teaching but also to developing as a teacher in his article “Learning about Peers: A Missed Opportunity for Educational Psychology.” Seifert discusses the benefits of having preservice teachers proceed through education courses in cohorts, a practice that is becoming more common in many teacher preparation programs. After a review on characteristics of cohorts and outlining some of the current research on cohorts, he points out that research on peer relationships is a legitimate part of educational psychology and that cohort programs can often illustrate, or at least make meaningful, many aspects of the research. That is, learning about peers provides an opportunity for preservice teachers to understand social dynamics and can also help preservic\e teachers understand their own professional development as they prepare for the profession.

It is our hope that this special section on the relevance of educational psychology will inform readers about how college courses and instructors are preparing candidates in teacher education for the profession. In many ways, educational psychology does not primarily instruct students how to teach but, rather, focuses on why inservice teachers make the instructional decisions they do. Utilizing this lens, courses in educational psychology provide knowledge that serves as a foundation for other skills-based courses in teacher education programs. Yet, as authors in this volume discuss, there are many challenges facing instructors of educational psychology courses. Usually, educational psychology is offered as an introductory course for students who are at the start of their teacher education program. Students usually have little prior knowledge about concepts from educational psychology, yet students often lament that course material is all “common sense.” Time is also a challenge. Broad sweeps of content (such as motivation, management, etc.) are often made to cover many important concepts, and often, educational psychology courses are punctuated by time- consuming, yet valuable, field experiences. And last, a historically rocky relationship between educational psychologists and inservice teachers often exists. Although most educational psychologists argue the importance of their field is to guide the decisions that classroom teachers make, educational psychologists make these arguments in research journals that are not avidly read by classroom teachers. We attempt to remedy this problem by sharing practices from university classrooms in this practitioner-oriented journal and show how preservice teachers are being prepared for the field. By engaging in this endeavor, we hope that all educators draw ideas to use in their own classrooms.


Alexander, P. A. 2004. In the year 2020: Envisioning the possibilities for educational psychology. Educational Psychology 39 (3): 149-56.

Ames, C. A. 1992. Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation. Journal of Educational Psychology 84:261-71.

Berliner, D. C. 1993. The 100-year journey of educational psychology: From interest, to disdain, to respect for practice. In Exploring applied psychology: Origins and critical analysis, ed. T. K. Pagan and G. R. VandenBos, 39-78. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Brophy, J. E. 1974. Some good five-cent cigars. Educational Psychologist 11:46-51.

Epstein, J. 1988. Effective schools or effective students: Dealing with diversity. In Policies for America’s public schools: Teachers, equity, indicators, ed. R. Haskins and D. MacRae, 89-126. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Sternberg, R. 1996. Educational psychology has fallen, but it can get up. Educational Psychology Review 8:175-85.

Woolfolk Hoy, A. 2000. Educational psychology in teacher education. Educational Psychologist 35:257-70.

Laurie B, Hanich and Sandra Deemer are the guest editors for this special symposium issue on educational psychology. Laurie B. Hanich is an assistant professor and Sandra Deemer is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at Millersville University.


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