Guest Blog: Dr. Sandy Rogelberg shares about her upcoming AACTE presentation

In a few days, I’ll be presenting about work I’ve done with Deans for Impact at the AACTE Annual Meeting. Our AACTE presentation will demonstrate how we taught elementary and middle school pre-service teachers to apply a science of learning principle to instruction via an online rehearsal format. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore how they might use aspects from our experience in their own contexts.

To provide some background, our team from UNC Charlotte worked with Deans for Impact (DFI) as part of the Learning by Scientific Design (LbSD) Network. The mission of this DFI effort is to support teacher-educator programs in building curricula and clinical experiences that teach the application of learning principles rooted in cognitive science so a new wave of teachers are better prepared to make instructional decisions based on how students learn, rather than traditional teaching practices that may not be yielding the best results.

Under the guidance of Dr. Rebekah Berlin and her team, we developed materials to address the learning-science principle referred to as “Deepening Meaning and Learning.” This is based on the notion that students will only remember new information if that information makes sense to the learner. Although this principle seems intuitive to teaching, data collected from all levels of pre-service teachers from the networks’ institutions indicated otherwise.

While there are a number of ways to help students make sense of new information, the “teacher action” we focused on was using elaborative interrogation — asking how and why questions.

For my class of pre-service elementary education majors, I created a series of five lessons leading to the final lesson — the rehearsal. These were carefully sequenced so that candidates built an understanding of why asking how and why questions helped learners as well as developing the skill.

I was nervous to facilitate the rehearsal, and even more so when the pandemic required me to pivot my nascent classroom teaching skills to an online format. While I consider myself a seasoned professional — with stints as a children’s therapist and Director of Disability Services — I am a newbie to the academic arena. Though I felt like I was pushing my own abilities, it worked out, and I want to share with you how I did it.

Designing Effortful-Thinking Questions

In the first lesson, we analyzed a video to understand what an effortful-thinking question (ETQ) is, based on criteria related to Bloom’s Taxonomy (retrieved from this site).

Questions that require higher-order thinking on Bloom’s pyramid subsume levels below it, so answers that require application or analysis assume an understanding of the material before they can be answered.

Teachers want to ask students questions that go above the recall/remember level of the taxonomy to demonstrate understanding of new material. How and why questions do this more effectively. Importantly, asking ETQs supports all students (regardless of background, previous learning and prior experience) to learn; that is, to encode information into their long-term memories for later recall.

In subsequent lessons, candidates planned when (and explained why) they would ask ETQs during a lesson and practiced writing ETQs as well as follow-up questions to students of varying levels of understanding: those who “got it”, “sort of got it” and “didn’t get it”, just to be prepared.

Writing ETQs was the biggest challenge for most because it required candidates to have a clear understanding of the concepts they wished their students to learn, what I referred to as “thinking targets.”

In addition to providing supplemental materials on shadow concepts, I also offered feedback on worksheets to help candidates gain clarity on strong ETQs or to get them thinking more deeply about how to modify questions to make them stronger.

Putting it into practice

For the rehearsal, candidates were placed in groups of three and given mock scenarios based on a lesson they had already seen. Written instructions explaining how to organize themselves, what the rehearsal should look like – pretending they are the teacher (versus describing what they might do), were then followed by a debrief interview.

And then — the rehearsal! Candidates were sent to breakout rooms to record their sessions. Within each group, one member played the role of the teacher who asked the planned ETQs while the other members played students who responded to the questions. The teacher then responded to students before ending, debriefing the rehearsal, and moving on to the next.

Learn more at AACTE

Our AACTE presentation provides examples from a rehearsal in my elementary education class, as well as one from a colleague’s middle school candidates. As a newbie professor, I learned as much as my candidates. We all took risks. I welcome all to our presentation to learn more about how to apply learning science in the context of teacher education, and how to do it online!

Dr. Sandy Rogelberg

Research Assistant Professor at UNC Charlotte

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