A Collaborative Study of Teacher Preparation
The Science and Mathematics Teacher Research Initiative (SMTRI, referred to as “symmetry”) is rather unique in that it is a multi-university collaboration to collectively study science and mathematics teacher education. Studies of teacher education are often small in scale and consist of case studies of individual courses (Sleeter, 2014). As such, the SMTRI study was designed to look across multiple teacher education programs and a larger number of participants to generate findings that can more broadly impact teacher education policy and practice.
SMTRI is a collaboration across six University of California (UC) campuses: Berkeley, Davis, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz. Its main purpose is to investigate how undergraduate and post-baccalaureate teacher preparation shapes beginning science and mathematics teachers’ knowledge and practices regarding issues of equity and reform. Over three years, SMTRI collected survey, interview, teacher performance assessment (edTPA), and academic transcript data from 180 preservice science and mathematics teachers enrolled in teacher education programs across the six UC institutions. The project is currently collecting additional data from many of these participants during their first few years as practicing teachers. In this blog, we report on an analysis of interview data from a subset of participants. This analysis focused on preservice secondary science teachers and their understanding of effective science instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse learners.
To examine preservice science teachers’ understanding of instruction for diverse learners, we focused on four interrelated principles of effective science instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse learners: (1) engaging students in cognitively demanding work, (2) providing students with rich language production opportunities, (3) attending to academic language demands and providing academic language supports, and (4) building on students’ funds of knowledge and other resources (Roberts, Bianchini, Lee, Hough, & Carpenter, 2017).
Cognitively Demanding Work
The central principle in our framework is engaging all students in cognitively demanding work—instructional activities that require students to engage in high-level thinking, reasoning, and sensemaking (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2018). In the context of science, this involves authentic experiences that integrate the disciplinary practices of science and engineering with content knowledge (Tekkumru-Kisa, Stein, & Schunn, 2015). The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) specify eight science and engineering practices (SEPs) as important for K-12 science learning (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Thus, we defined this principle as instruction that engages students in disciplinary practices of science, with a focus on the eight SEPs articulated in the NGSS.
Language Production Opportunities
The second principle is providing students with opportunities for rich language production. Learning science involves learning the language unique to science disciplines and how to use that language to express ideas and build understanding (Lemke, 1990). Further, SEPs are language intensive (Lee, Quinn, & Valdés, 2013); participating in these practices provides authentic opportunities for students to produce and use language, which promotes language and literacy learning for all students.
Academic Language Demands and Supports
The third principle is attending to academic language demands and providing academic language supports. The language and literacy demands of the NGSS can be challenging for all students, especially English learners (Bunch, 2013). Thus, beyond providing opportunities for students to produce language, teachers need to pay attention to those aspects of scientific language that might prove challenging (e.g., supporting a claim using evidence) and to provide adequate scaffolding for students to interpret and use language.
Funds of Knowledge and Other Resources
Our final principle is building on and using students’ funds of knowledge and other resources. Students bring funds of knowledge and other resources, such as personal interests, that are powerful resources to inform instruction (Barton & Basu, 2007; Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). In short, contextualizing classroom science activity by building on students’ everyday experiences, interests, and home and community contexts makes the science more meaningful to all students and can improve participation and learning for underserved students, in particular (Lyon, Tolbert, Stoddart, Solis, & Bunch, 2016).
For this analysis, we wanted to know:
- How did preservice secondary science teachers describe engaging students in cognitively demanding work?
- How did they address the other three principles of instruction for diverse learners in intersection with cognitively demanding work?
We focused on 31 preservice science teacher participants from three of the teacher education programs. Participants were individually interviewed twice using a semi-structured interview protocol (Brenner, 2006). They were interviewed toward the beginning (initial interview) and end (follow-up interview) of their teacher education programs. All interviews were transcribed, and we analyzed transcript data using two cycles of coding (Saldaña, 2016). For the first cycle, we coded for each of the four principles described in the Conceptual Framework. For the second cycle, we focused on excerpts that were coded as cognitively demanding work and inductively constructed a coding scheme to characterize the way preservice teachers talked about cognitively demanding work and its intersection with the other three principles.
Overall, for the findings presented here, we found similarities across the three programs. We found that participants talked about engaging students in cognitively demanding work in general to specific ways. In general descriptions, they talked about the importance of learning science by “doing science” or through inquiry and/or hands-on work. In more specific descriptions, they implicitly or explicitly described engaging students in one or more of the eight NGSS SEPs.
Fifty-four percent of the excerpts coded as cognitively demanding work in the first cycle of coding intersected with one or more of the other three principles. For intersections with the principle of language production opportunities, participants discussed opportunities for talking or writing associated with specific SEPs—most frequently, the practice of engaging in argument from evidence. For example, Eric, a preservice teacher from Program C, described how students in his class produced both written and oral arguments. He said:
For intersections with attending to academic language demands and providing academic language supports, participants described academic language supports related to specific NGSS SEPs, again, most frequently with the practice of engaging in argument from evidence. They often described using the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) framework as a support to facilitate students engaging in argument from evidence. For example, Luna from Program B explained:
Participants least often discussed the principle of building on students’ funds of knowledge and other resources in intersection with cognitively demanding work. When they did talk about students’ funds of knowledge and other resources, they often did so in deficit ways. For example, Madelyn, a preservice teacher from Program A, discussed why she thought the NGSS SEPs were incorporated less often in a lower-level college preparatory class than in a higher-level honors class in her student teaching placement. She explained:
Madelyn commented that what the college prep level students were “coming in with” made it difficult to have them fully engage in the NGSS SEPs.
- Teacher Educators — We found that preservice teachers tended to describe the language production opportunities and academic language demands/supports associated with some SEPs over others. The SEP of engaging in argument from evidence was mentioned most frequently. The preservice teachers had a clear tool to support students with the academic language demands of this language intensive practice. However, other SEPs are also language intensive with associated academic language demands. Teacher educators need to help preservice teachers recognize and scaffold the language production opportunities and academic language demands of all SEPs.
We also found that preservice teachers struggled with recognizing the valuable background knowledge and experiences that students bring with them to engage in cognitively demanding work. Other researchers have found similar struggles among novice science teachers (Bravo, Mosqueda, Solís, & Stoddart, 2014). Thus, teacher educators need to better support preservice teachers in learning to recognize, build from, and use the funds of knowledge and other resources that students bring with them to the science classroom.
These findings are important in that they show common areas of success and struggle across different teacher education programs with preservice teachers’ understanding of effective science instruction for diverse learners. Our findings raise interesting questions for teacher educators to consider. What tools are available to help teachers scaffold students’ language use as they engage in scientific practices and what tools need to be developed? How and with what tools can teachers educators best support preservice teachers to recognize, build from, and use the funds of knowledge and other resources that students bring to science classrooms?
This work was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. 1557283. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of NSF.
We would like to acknowledge the leadership team that guided the planning and implementation for this research: Trish Stoddart (PI), University of California, Santa Cruz and co-PIs Julie Bianchini, University of California, Santa Barbara; Elisa Stone, University of California, Berkeley; Sandra Carlson, University of California, Davis; and Alan Daly, University of California, San Diego.