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Elementary teachers’ use of content knowledge to evaluate students’ thinking in the life sciences

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Abstract

Science learning environments should provide opportunities for students to make sense of and enhance their understanding of disciplinary concepts. Teachers can support students’ sense-making by engaging and responding to their ideas through high-leverage instructional practices such as formative assessment (FA). However, past research has shown that teachers may not understand FA, how to implement it, or have sufficient content knowledge to use it effectively. Few studies have investigated how teachers gather information to evaluate students’ ideas or how content knowledge factors into those decisions, particularly within the life science discipline. We designed a study embedded in a multi-year professional development program that supported elementary teachers’ development of disciplinary knowledge and FA practices within science instruction. Study findings illustrate how elementary teachers’ life science content knowledge influences their evaluation of students’ ideas. Teachers with higher levels of life science content knowledge more effectively evaluated students’ ideas than teachers with lower levels of content knowledge. Teachers with higher content exam scores discussed both content and student understanding to a greater extent, and their analyses of students’ ideas were more scientifically accurate compared to teachers with lower scores. These findings contribute to theory and practice around science teacher education, professional development, and curriculum development.

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... For science teaching, it is essential to recognise the didactic value of pupils' ideas [10,11], in order to establish teaching and learning (T/L) strategies that allow them to evolve [12][13][14]. Thus, it would be necessary to explore what prospective teachers learn about pupils' ideas and their utilisation during initial training. ...
... In the T/L process, teaching situations must be generated in which pupils can become aware of their ideas, discuss them with each other, test their adequacy, and apply them in new scenarios [13,45]. However, the planning of teaching in accordance with this is not straightforward. ...
... On the other hand, four prospective teachers (PT 8,13,14,and 17) were at Level 2. They proposed situations in which the pupils share their ideas at the beginning of their educational intervention, so that both the pupils and the teacher may recognise gaps in their initial knowledge and interests with regard to the subject. To this end, they mainly proposed initial brainstorming. ...
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Next Generation Science Standards identifies the science all K-12 students should know. These new standards are based on the National Research Council's A Framework for K-12 Science Education. The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have partnered to create standards through a collaborative state-led process. The standards are rich in content and practice and arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education. The print version of Next Generation Science Standards complements the nextgenscience.org website and: Provides an authoritative offline reference to the standards when creating lesson plans. Arranged by grade level and by core discipline, making information quick and easy to find. Printed in full color with a lay-flat spiral binding. Allows for bookmarking, highlighting, and annotating.
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The theoretical construct of teacher noticing has allowed mathematics teacher educators to examine teacher thinking and practice by looking at the range of activities that teachers notice in the classroom. Guided by this approach to the study of teacher thinking, the central goal of this exploratory study was to identify what prospective science teachers notice when evaluating evidence of student understanding in another teacher's inquiry-based unit. Our results are based on the qualitative analysis of 43 prospective teachers' evaluations of assessment evidence presented to them in the form of a video case and associated written artifacts. Analysis of our data revealed two major categories of elements, Task-General and Task-Specific, noticed by our study participants. Task-General elements included attention to learning objectives, independent student work, and presentation issues and they often served to guide or qualify the specific inquiry skills that were evaluated. Task-Specific elements included the noticing of students' abilities to perform different components of an investigation. In general, study participants paid attention to important general and specific aspects of student work in the context of inquiry. However, they showed preferential attention to those process skills associated with designing an investigation versus those practices related to the analysis of data and generation of conclusions. Additionally, their interpretations of assessment outcomes were largely focused on the demonstration of general science process skills; much less attention was paid to the analysis of the epistemological validity or scientific plausibility of students' ideas. Our results provide insights into the design of meaningful learning experiences for prospective teachers that elicit, challenge, and enrich their conceptions of student understanding in the context of inquiry. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 50:189–208, 2013
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This study was an exploration of the conceptions of inquiry science held by exemplary elementary teachers. The origins of these conceptions were explored in order to establish how best to improve elementary teachers’ understanding and implementation of inquiry science teaching. Four focus group sessions were held as well as classroom observations. Data were also collected through surveys and interviews. The six exemplary teachers in this study held ideas about inquiry as “finding things out” and all described themselves as having been children who explored and experimented with the world around them. The teachers provided information about successful classroom environments and attitudes that they use to achieve strong inquiry science learning. The teachers had a number of recommendations for helping other teachers become inquiry science teachers and suggestions for professional development for teachers are made based on these recommendations.
Article
Using a framework of assessment literacy that included teachers’ view of learning, knowledge of assessment tools, and knowledge of assessment interpretation and action taking, this study explored the assessment literacy of five experienced middle school teachers. Multiple sources of data were: teachers’ predictions about students’ ideas, students’ written and verbal responses to assessment tasks, teacher background questionnaire, and a videotaped teacher focus group. We investigated middle school teachers’ predictions, interpretations, and recommended actions for formative assessment in genetics. Results documented a variety of ways that teachers would elicit students’ ideas in genetics, focusing on discussion strategies. Findings showed how well teachers predicted student conceptions compared to actual student conceptions. We also found that teachers mostly described general topics they would use to address students’ alternative conceptions. Less often, they explained specific content they would use to challenge ideas or pedagogical strategies for conceptual change. Teachers also discussed barriers to addressing ideas. Teacher professional development should provide more support in helping teachers close the formative assessment cycle by addressing conceptions that are elicited with assessments.
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In this descriptive study, the science subject matter knowledge of preservice and inservice elementary teachers was examined and compared. Over an eight-year period, answers to 13 science questions, including 10 from the US National Science Foundation's Survey of Public Attitudes Toward and Understanding of Science and Technology, were collected from a total of 414 preservice and 67 inservice teachers during first-day discussions in elementary science methods courses. Both groups outperformed average citizens on the 10 survey questions. However, three other questions used to introduce discussion of why students may find learning science difficult revealed lack of conceptual understanding of basic physical and biological phenomena commonly found in most elementary science curricula. Results and implications are discussed in the context of increasing expectations for subject matter competence demanded of `highly qualified teachers' under provisions of the 2001 US Elementary and Secondary Education Act (`No Child Left Behind Act').
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Formative assessment, assessment used to inform subsequent learning, can have a powerful positive impact on student achievement, but little empirical work has been conducted to investigate the role of teachers' knowledge in its practice. This study investigated reciprocal relations between elementary science teachers' formative assessment practices and their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Data sources included video records and artifacts from a professional development (PD) program that engaged 11 teachers in collaborative analysis of their students' work. Analysis of the data showed that teachers' PCK was a resource in all aspects of their formative assessment practice, and teachers most frequently made use of their existing knowledge of instructional strategies and curriculum. It also showed that teachers constructed PCK through formative assessment by building and refining knowledge of curricular goals and student understanding over multiple PD sessions. Findings suggest that formative assessment can be a powerful opportunity for teachers to use, integrate, and generate PCK but that teachers require additional resources to build knowledge of instructional strategies. (C) 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed 96:265290, 2012
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This article proposes a model of formative assessment grounded in Vygotsky’s theory of concept formation and argues that this model can provide a useful framework for facilitating a beginning teacher’s continued learning. The model is used to argue that beginning teachers need to know how to recognize, describe, and use students’ prior knowledge not only in terms of whether students get the academic concept but also in terms of the valuable, experience-based aspects of what students do know. The author demonstrates the model’s utility by describing the results of a 3-year classroom research study on preservice teachers’ conceptions of students’ prior knowledge and formative assessment. A “get it or don’t” conception was commonly used by preservice teachers and was found to have serious impacts on their instructional practices. The article concludes by exploring the potential of a theory-enhanced model of formative assessment for teacher educators’ own instructional practices.
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Based on the results of a generalizability study of measures of teacher knowledge for teaching mathematics developed at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of California, Los Angeles, this article provides evidence that teachers are better at drawing reasonable inferences about student levels of understanding from assessment information than they are at deciding the next instructional steps. We discuss the implications of the results for effective formative assessment and end with considerations of how teachers can be supported to know what to teach next.
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Formative assessment, in this article, is defined as "the process used by teachers and students to recognize and respond to student learning in order to enhance that learning, during the learning." The findings of a two-year research project in New Zealand indicate that formative assessment has the following characteristics: responsiveness, sources of evidence, a tacit process, using professional knowledge and experiences, an integral part of teaching and learning, formative assessment is done by both teachers and students, the purposes for formative assessment, the contextualized nature of the process, dilemmas, and student disclosure.
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This study explored whether and how teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching contributes to gains in students' mathematics achievement. The authors used a linear mixed-model methodology in which first and third graders' mathematical achievement gains over a year were nested within teachers, who in turn were nested within schools. They found that teachers' mathematical knowledge was significantly related to student achievement gains in both first and third grades after controlling for key student-and teacher-level covariates. This result, while consonant with findings from the educational production function literature, was obtained via a measure focusing on the specialized mathematical knowledge and skills used in teach-ing mathematics. This finding provides support for policy initiatives designed to improve students' mathematics achievement by improving teachers' math-ematical knowledge.
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This study focuses on the conceptions of trainee, primary, and subject teachers about three phenomena: the motion of objects, seasonal changes, and aggregate changes of matter. A total of 198 participants completed a questionnaire concerning two types of tasks. First, teachers evaluated the adequacy of a given explanation as compared to their knowledge of the contemporary scientific explanation. Four types of explanations were provided: a simple description, description with terms, an explanation with misconception, and a scientific explanation. Second, respondents answered multiple-choice questions and substantiated their choices. The findings showed not only various misconceptions but also differences between the phenomena and the teacher groups. © 2004 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 41: 432–448, 2004
Article
Pre-service teachers face many challenges as they learn to teach in ways that are different from their own educational experiences. Pre-service teachers often enter teacher education courses with pre-conceptions about teaching and learning that may or may not be consistent with contemporary learning theory. To build on preservice teachers' prior knowledge, we need to identify the types of views they have when entering teacher education courses and the views they develop throughout these courses. The study reported here focuses specifically on preservice teachers' views of their own students' prior knowledge and the implications these views have on their understanding of the formative assessment process. Sixty-one preservice teachers were studied from three sections of a science methods course. Results indicate that preservice teachers exhibited a limited number of views about students' prior knowledge. These views tended to privilege either academic or experience-based concepts for different aspects of formative assessment, in contrast to contemporary perspectives on teaching for understanding. Rather than considering these views as misconceptions, it is argued that it is more useful to consider them as resources for further development of a more flexible concept of formative assessment. Four common views are discussed in detail and applied to science teacher education. © 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 45: 497–523, 2008
How students learn: Science in the classroom
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