Instructional Science

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 151–167 | Cite as

Developmental theory in the classroom

  • Leslie Smith


Two questions are discussed with reference to the role of developmental psychology in the understanding of classroom learning and teaching. One question is whether a developmental perspective provides an adequate basis for a theory of the classroom. The second question concerns the utility to teachers of the adoption of such a perspective. Both questions are discussed in response to a series of critical reviews of current applications of psychology to educatonal practices. Firstly, the adoption of a developmental perspective in classroom investigation is valid since: it is not clear which theoretical principles underpin teachers' practices; developmental theorising already constitutes a corpus of knowledge; the common culture in which teachers work includes developmentally-based applications; existing classroom research on children's learning sometimes lacks a developmental dimension. Secondly, it is argued that the application of a developmental perspective to the classroom is both distinctive and fertile. Instructional psychologists explicitly accept the need for classroom variables to be systematically investigated. Five examples of the application of a developmental perspective are discussed: task-analysis; the diagnosis of children's prior knowledge and the matching problem; learning strategies; assessment and criterion-referencing; methods of investigating children's thinking. Two conclusions are drawn. Firstly, further research is needed to explicate the theoretical principles underpinning teachers' practices. Secondly, further research is needed in the investigation of a developmental perspective in classroom settings. It is an empirical, and open, question as to which type of research will provide a preferential understanding of classroom learning and teaching.


Prior Knowledge Critical Review Current Application Match Problem Theoretical Principle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Educational ResearchUniversity of LancasterLancasterUK

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