What the resource is:
The resource, a journal article, is an overview of patterns of research in school teaching and learning from the 1920s to the present day. The review is conducted by examining three strands that the author terms the ‘who' (i.e. the teachers and learners), the ‘how' (i.e. pedagogical methodologies), and the ‘what' (i.e. the content taught). For each of the strands, the author discusses the historical patterns of Nordic and Anglo-American research, and highlights what she regards as particularly significant studies, as well as discussing the possible implications of the patterns of research.
The aims of the resource:
Through reviewing research traditions under the author's taxonomy of ‘who, how and what', the article aims to reconceptualise the relationship between teaching, learning and subject matter. The author suggests that such a survey will indicate that there is often a gap between studies of general pedagogical issues, or classroom studies; and studies of subject specific, content orientated issues, which she terms didactics. She aims to argue that this gap should be addressed through research making greater links between these two areas.
Key findings or focus:
The bulk of the article is devoted to discussing patterns of educational research in the three areas of: teachers and learners; methodologies; and content.
For each of these areas, the author takes a historical overview of the major trends and research paradigms involved, as well as highlighting what she judges to be particularly significant studies. Since research paradigms change over time and are influenced by their historical and cultural contexts this is a useful exercise. There is always a danger that the historical and cultural influences may be skewing or obscuring research so that it fails to provide information vital to understanding what is happening in classrooms. One step towards ensuring that this doesn't happen is to systematically review the research that has been carried out and this is the commendable project of this article.
The author traces how in the 1960s and early 1970s, the emphasis shifted from considering teaching from a functional point of view to a more behavioural standpoint. She then suggests that, from the 1970s, studies moved away from behaviourism to concentrate on an increasingly constructivist point of view, which, she asserts, allowed research to better cope with the complexities of learning. It is suggested that these changes in philosophical perspective have been accompanied by similar methodological changes with the predominant shift being from researcher-controlled, evaluative methods to frameworks placing greater emphasis on techniques such as observations and interviews that are designed to better access the views of those involved in the classroom. It is asserted that this trend has been accompanied by an increasing emphasis on qualitative methodologies and studies which place significance on lengthy examination of contextual issues.
The main conclusions resulting from this historical survey centre on the theme of research into the content of learning and how this links with teachers' subject knowledge and pedagogical understanding. The author consistently stresses the importance of the content of the learning. She believes that the role of content has been underestimated in studies of teaching and learning and believes that there "is a need for more integrated frameworks that link instructional activities and procedures (the how) with thematic patterns (the what) and mode of interaction (the who) patterns". There is little discussion about how this might be achieved, but some studies are highlighted which the author feels might offer insight in this area.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource from your subject perspective in relation to ITE:
As discussed above, the project is a worthy one as focus in research does change and an attempt to track this and learn what the implications might be is a good idea. However, conducting an overview of this scale is an ambitious project. Even a major book might struggle to do so successfully, let alone a relatively short article. Accordingly, it is perhaps unsurprising that there are some problems.
The author certainly refers to a large number of studies and cites an impressive reference list. This alone, might make the article useful when studying how educational research has been shaped, or reflecting on issues such as what might constitute teacher effectiveness. However, there is a major weakness in the article in this respect as there is no indication of what (if any) methodology lay behind the selection of the studies referred to. It is obvious that an enormous amount of research cannot be listed or directly referred to and it appears that the author has attempted to compensate for this to some degree by citing other research that has engaged in overviews similar to her own. Even so, the article reads somewhat as a personal view rather than as a systematic survey and, although this does not mean it is without insight and value, it must weaken its impact.
This lack of detail regarding any framework that might underpin the survey extends even to basic matters. For example, it is unclear what levels of educational research the article addresses. The title, along with hints within the text suggest that it concentrates on school-based contexts, both primary and secondary, but this is not made explicit.
It is perhaps the constraints of space that have led to another problem. Often assertions are made, sometimes rather sweeping ones, such as, "Despite massive research efforts we still know little about how differences in learning activities are related to students' learning". These assertions may be associated with references, but they remain to some degree unsubstantiated, as there is little discussion regarding exactly what the evidence for the claim is. This can make the article a little frustrating and one is often left feeling that more evidence is required to elevate the assertions beyond what might be mere opinion.
The structure of the article does not always help, either. Similar content is covered in different sections which is not only repetitive but also sometimes confusing. A further example of such structural problems is the fact that science and writing studies are specifically discussed as distinct subjects, but it is not clear why they have been selected for this whilst other subjects are ignored.
Occasionally there are also seeming contradictions. For example, despite the continued assertion that matters of content are neglected in research, the author states that from the 1980s there have been a large number of studies examining these areas.
However, the most disappointing aspect of the article is its conclusion. The author provides a useful summary of what her assertions are regarding changing patterns of educational research and summarises succinctly her argument that there is a need to find a dialogue between content focused studies and process focused studies. However, the author specifically states an aim of wishing to reconceptualise the relationship between teaching, learning and subject matter, but this aim seems to have been hardly addressed at all. It is true that thought-provoking issues have been raised in the survey sections, but the ‘discussion' section is literally just a list of assertions the author makes and, as discussed above, it is not always clear to what degree a rigorous methodology lies behind these.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
This article has little direct relevance to ITE tutors so far as course design etc. is concerned, but it is potentially useful in several indirect ways. It does provoke thought about the different strands necessary to address if successful learning and teaching are to be achieved and it provides a historical perspective on how these have been viewed. This might well be useful either in setting one's own research in context, or in encouraging students to realise that research is always set within historical and cultural contexts.
In addition, the article makes some thought-provoking assertions regarding a historical perspective on such basic contexts as: reflecting on teacher effectiveness; or what constitutes effective learning. These assertions, and the associated references, might provide a lead into further study, though the lack of an explanation of any systematic methodology behind the survey means that its assertions must be treated with caution.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
In most cases, this article is not of key relevance to ITE students. However, for students seeking to set their own research in a wider historical background, it would provide a springboard. This is most likely to be applicable to students working at least at Masters level.