Ideas worth spreading

How do ideas spread?

As Deans for Impact enters its fifth year of operations, I’ve been reflecting on how ideas we support – such as ensuring future teachers understand and can apply learning science when they teach – gain traction. Last week, we released The Science of Early Learning, a report that identifies important learning-science principles related to educating young children. Consistent with our mission of ensuring every child is taught by a well-prepared teacher, it’s our hope that the ideas contained in this publication will be useful to early childhood educators, and frankly anyone else interested in how children learn to read, start to do math, and develop agency over their own lives.

Publishing documents that synthesize important research findings in (what we hope) is easy-to-understand format is one way to spread ideas. But we try to go beyond that. With The Science of Early Learning, for example, we are working with a coalition of five educator-preparation programs in North Carolina to explore how they can incorporate these principles into their early childhood prep program. Through that effort, we expect to learn what changes programs need to make these ideas take root.

And that’s not all. Just this week, we announced the launch of a new network – the Learning by Scientific Design Network – that will go deeper into this work. With the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, we will bring together four to six programs that will work together to infuse learning science throughout the arc of experiences of the teacher-candidates they prepare. Four years after publishing the original The Science of Learning, we are poised to make it a foundational part of educator preparation for hundreds if not thousands of future teachers.

What’s more – and forgive me for being so elated about this – these ideas are spreading globally. A few months ago, our friends at Aptus, a terrific education organization based in Chile, asked if they could translate The Science of Learning into Spanish. Por supuesto! And now we have La Cienca Del Aprendizaje available on our website, which (we hope) will help learning science to flourish in Spanish-speaking regions. (And Aptus plans to translate The Science of Early Learning and Practice with Purpose too, so check back for that soon.)

Of course, as ideas spread, there remains the omnipresent risk they will be misunderstood. Case in point: Shortly after publishing The Science of Early Learning, one thoughtful academic voiced her concern that some readers might interpret the order of the questions we listed as being strictly sequential – for example, that young children should only be given explicit comprehension strategies after learning the meaning of the alphabet. We tried to guard against this in the preamble by noting that skills were listed in “roughly sequential order,” there will be “variations in the development of every child,” and noting that all domains are interdependent. But we could have been more explicit in saying that early childhood educators can, when appropriate, address each question in each domain simultaneously rather than in strict sequence. Sometimes ideas need clarifying!

In the end, ideas spread through human interaction, through discourse and debate, and through education. And given that we learn new ideas by reference to ideas we already know – perhaps the key principle from learning science – Deans for Impact will continue to share the ideas we believe will improve teaching and learning, and to learn from new ideas shared with us.

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