Introduction to Research on Instruction

Authored by: Patricia A. Alexander , Richard E. Mayer

Handbook of Research on Learning and Instruction

Print publication date:  December  2010
Online publication date:  February  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415804608
eBook ISBN: 9780203839089
Adobe ISBN: 9781136882159


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In the opening pages of Talks to Teachers, William James ([1899] 1979) contrasted the science of psychology with the art of teaching. As the fore-runner of educational psychology wrote:

To know psychology, therefore, is absolutely no guarantee that we shall be good teachers. To advance to that result, we must have an additional endowment altogether, a happy tact and ingenuity to tell us what definite things to say and do when the pupil is before us. That ingenuity in meeting and pursuing the pupil, that tact for the concrete situation, though they are the alpha and omega of the teacher’s art, are things to which psychology cannot help us in the least.

(p. 7) Thankfully, since James gave those groundbreaking lectures that put our discipline on its current course, many educational psychologists have set aside the belief that teaching must be relegated only to art or that “psychology cannot help us in the least.” As the ensuing chapters strongly establish, educational psychology has a great deal to say to those concerned with the academic development of students. Even more importantly, the mission of this collection of exceptional chapters is to demonstrate there are critical processes and techniques that have been shown—through science—to contribute to the learning of students. Our commitment in developing this section of the handbook was to set aside the “arts” of teaching when those arts have not been put to empirical test or when they operate solely at the level of pedagogical intuition. What we can see in the pages that follow is that science has so very much to contribute to teachers and about teaching and about the interactions between teacher and students. These chapters are aimed at, in essence, science in teaching.

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