Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2007 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Describing and fostering responsive teaching in middle and high school environmental science classrooms
Berkowitz, Alan
Co-Authors: Alan R. Berkowitz1, Janet Coffey2, Sandra Honda2 and Janie Gordon1. 1 Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY 2 University of Maryland, College Park
Abstract: The Responsive Teaching Study is working with middle and high school environmental science teachers in Baltimore, MD, to address questions: 1) How do teachers modify their curriculum and teaching in response to student thinking? 2) To what do teachers attend, in terms of student thinking, in environmental science classrooms? 3) What professional development strategies foster greater and more productive attention? Video from classroom observations and regular follow-up conversations with teachers, transcripts of these meetings, reflections written by teachers, and artifacts from teachers’ classrooms comprise the data for this study. Preliminary results were rather stark: we saw very limited evidence of careful attention to student thinking and few examples of responsive modifications. Most responses either corrected "incorrect" statements by students, or sought to increase student engagement. Our evidence suggests that too much focus on the correctness of ideas detracts attention from substance and the nature of student reasoning. We are learning ways in which our research approaches (videotaping and peer conversations about classroom and field teaching) can foster increases and shifts in teacher attention to student thinking in biology and environmental science. Teachers’ commitment to a broader set of student outcomes than just scientific understanding (e.g., student agency in solving environmental problems) can lead to less attentiveness to student thinking about science. However, it also can help teachers recognize productive prior knowledge about the environment among their students, and to instructional steps that use this as a foundation for student growth in both science and agency for problem solving.