Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Texts and Learning to Teach: One Authorís View

by Anita Woolfolk Hoy - October 17, 2008

The Teachers College Record invited authors of books that are widely read in teacher preparation programs to comment on how they hope their books will affect the thinking and practice of new teachers. This commentary is Anita Hoy's response to that invitation.

I hope that prospective teachers reading my text will understand, value, and apply knowledge from educational psychology—in their immediate lives as students and their future lives as teachers. These goals are based on my beliefs about what educational psychology is and why it matters to teachers. I begin with the following beliefs.

Why Educational Psychology?

Educational psychologists strive to understand and improve learning and teaching wherever these processes occur—in classrooms and clinics, families and schools, museums and playgrounds. We live our lives in stereo, concerned with theory and practice--general understandings that grow from use-inspired research. Thus we study child and adolescent development; learning and motivation, including how people learn different academic subjects; social and cultural influences on learning; teaching and teachers; and assessment. Our focus on education is not just as a venue for research about these topics; education is the central concern.

I believe this field is important for pre-service teachers because for over a century, educational psychologists have explored how children and adults learn--much of that work situated in classrooms. We study, and teachers need to consider, questions such as: What are the possible effects when students repeat a grade or skip grades? How are individual students affected by different approaches to teaching reading or by grouping students based on ability? What are the qualities of teachers and teaching that seem to support student learning?

Findings from research in educational psychology often challenge conventional answers to these questions. This suggests another reason why studying educational psychology is important for pre-service teachers—it helps them see familiar phenomena in new ways and thus gives them new cognitive tools for understanding teaching and learning. The same is true of other fields; the lenses of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, sociocultural theory, critical theory, and many other perspectives provide new views of the familiar classroom landscape. These new lenses are essential for pre-service teachers because everyone entering teacher preparation is what Frank Pajares (1992) has termed an “insider”—the beneficiary of over 10,000 hours of experience in classrooms, about the amount of time it takes to become an expert in a field. In many other professions, novices enter as “outsiders,” expecting to learn and change in order to succeed in the architectural, medical, legal, or business worlds they aspire to join. As Pajares noted, these worlds “are new to students, what goes on in them is alien, and understandings must be constructed nearly from scratch” (p. 323). Not so in learning to teach. Prospective teachers come to us after completing a 12-year-long “apprenticeship of observation” in classrooms very similar to those they will encounter when they join the profession (Lortie, 1975). They do not enter teacher preparation expecting to revise or reinvent what they know about teaching and learning, yet there is much to learn about these processes that was not available or apparent to the student/observer during those 12+ years of schooling. I believe the study of educational psychology will help make the familiar strange and invite prospective teachers to (re)view what they know and believe about children and learning.

I have chosen to write a more comprehensive text rather than one grounded in a particular perspective on learning because I believe there is value in the major theoretical frames; excellent teachers use all of them to understand classroom problems and imagine possible solutions. On many topics I present both sides in a Point/Counterpoint format and ask readers to evaluate—just as they will have to evaluate claims in their profession. Educational psychology is rich with ideas, theories, principles, and research results, but just presenting this wealth of information is not enough. My goals go farther.

Goals: Understand, Value, and Apply Educational Psychology

I want pre-service teachers to understand key theories, concepts, pedagogical technologies, and findings, as well as methods in educational psychology. Strong teaching professionals need theories to think with, such as expectancy X value theories of motivation; concepts to classify with, such as academic learning time, zone of proximal development, or authentic assessment; pedagogical technologies, such as reciprocal teaching, problem-based learning, or direct instruction; and findings to check out, such as wait time effects, the value of advance organizers, or the impact of kindergarten retention (Barone et al., 1996). These theories, concepts, technologies, and findings are frames for reflection that allow pre-service teachers to weave a rich and strong tapestry of understanding from their prior experiences and the new information they encounter in teacher preparation.

This is why educational psychology has so much of value to offer prospective teachers. Students should learn about the findings of relevant studies because teaching is not simple. “Holding students back” has effects; ability grouping has effects; different approaches to teaching reading support and produce different kinds of learning; certain signs suggest that a student might have learning, vision, hearing, or emotional problems; stanine scores and percentiles tell us some things and not others about students’ performances; there are alternatives to traditional testing and grading; there are advantages and dangers in small group learning; some explanations clarify and others confuse; certain ways of interacting with students support and others undermine motivation—the list goes on.

Underneath these findings are complex theories—explanations of teaching and learning. In the first chapter of my text I speak directly to pre-service teachers: “A major goal of this book is to provide you with the best and the most useful theories of development, learning, motivation, and teaching—those that have solid evidence behind them. Although you may prefer some theories to others, consider them all as ways of understanding the challenges teachers face. The theories you encounter in this text should be used as cognitive tools to help you examine, inspect, and interpret the claims you will hear and read throughout your career” (Woolfolk, in press, p. 16). As a profession, teaching has a vocabulary and base of specialized knowledge. Prospective teachers should own knowledge and also realize that the knowledge is constantly evolving.

I mentioned the goal of understanding the methods of educational psychology. In setting this goal, I am not trying to make prospective teachers into researchers, at least in the usual sense of the word. Rather I hope to invite them into a culture of thoughtful, reflective, critical analysis that asks clear questions and seeks convincing evidence for answers. Teachers must be researchers as they strive to understand their students and the effects of teaching. Teachers are ethnographers as they enter the world of their students and study life in their classrooms. They are experimenters as they try a different approach to the unit on fractions and carefully note the results in terms of the students’ learning, not just the “feel” of the lesson. Research in educational psychology gives teachers new ways to think and new ideas to think about. Research should also produce a healthy skepticism as teachers consider alternative explanations for why things happened as they did.

So far, I have spoken about the value of educational psychology for the prospective teachers’ application in the future. But given the timing of most educational psychology courses early in the prospective teachers’ college program, I believe that one of the most valuable applications is to the students’ current lives. Educational psychology should help prospective teachers become expert learners. Thus in my text I emphasize personal experiences for students such as examining the factors that influenced their identity, improving their study and test-taking strategies, understanding their learning abilities and limitations. I often say that teachers must be expert learners so that they can help their students become the same. In addition, they must become self-aware experts who have a sense of how they developed expertise and how they might make the process visible to others. I encourage my students to “take the text personally.”  

Uses of Texts

A textbook should be clear, but even more, it should encourage students to think beyond the words on the page. At the very least, a textbook can provide the background for discussion, giving students a common experience on which to base their debate. If they are allowed to explore their interpretations of the reading, the students can experience first hand the personal construction of knowledge as they discover that others “read” different information in the text. Students can work alone or together to analyze cases (video, print, or field-experienced based), with the expectation that they will use their texts as resources and be able to explain (orally or in writing, as a group or individually) the connections between their analyses and the research and theory presented in the text.

Textbooks have their critics. But many of the criticisms of textbooks--that they are linear and solitary while learning is nonlinear and social, that they encourage students to memorize and regurgitate facts, that they rigidly define the course, that they are based on a discredited transmission view of learning--seem to me criticisms of the uses of texts. Why can’t reading, understanding, and applying a textbook be social? Why assess in ways that require regurgitation? Why let a text define the content or sequence of a course? I believe a textbook is only one of many resources students need to understand educational psychology, but a text can provide a frame. I hope that those teacher educators who assign readings from my text use the pages well in a rich learning environment that supports the construction of valuable, useful knowledge for teaching.


Barone, T., Berliner, D.C., Blanchard, J., Casanova, U., & McGowan, T. (1996). A future for teacher education: Developing a strong sense of professionalism. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education (2nd ed., pp. 1108-1149). New York: Macmillan.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteachers: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pajares, F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62, 307-332.

Woolfolk, A. (in press). Educational psychology (11th ed.). Columbus, OH: Pearson/Merrill.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 17, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15418, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 2:32:19 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue