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Future teachers at Temple University practice using learning science in the field

In a bright classroom in Philadelphia, a group of kindergartners clustered around a table as a teacher-candidate from Temple University read a book with them.

She was in the classroom to earn clinical experience under the guidance of Jason Nash, a 22-year teaching veteran. As they debriefed the lesson afterward, they discussed how students seemed to be reading well, but had trouble recognizing and reading the words outside of the context of the book.

“We realized that maybe they had just memorized the book,” mentor teacher Nash explained. “That’s good and has its place, but indicates that the information about word meaning was only stored in their temporary memory, not in their permanent memory. So we had to figure out how to do another method of learning that prompted effortful thinking,” he said.

Bridging theory and practice

This conversation about how to apply learning science principles in practice was the result of the Learning by Scientific Design Network. Programs that are in their third year of participation in the network — including Temple University — have been welcoming clinical educators into the fold. This new phase is bridging the university classroom — where aspiring teachers learn theories — to K-12 classrooms, where they have an opportunity to put those ideas into practice.

“There’s a gap between what the college is telling teacher-candidates versus what they’re experiencing in the classroom,” Nash said. “We need to fill that gap and be that communication.”

Novice teachers who graduate from Temple University often indicate on exit surveys that they felt a disconnect between what they learned in class and saw in the field, Ardath Weiss, Associate Director of Clinical Practice, said.

“A big goal of mine is to bridge the theory and the practice,” Weiss said. “It’s important for teacher-candidates, because then they see the outcomes with the children. They see that if they plan the lesson using learning science, with specific types of tasks and questions, the children are engaged in effortful thinking. They see that and think, ‘Oh my goodness, it actually does work!”

Creating alignment

Program team members Dr. Amber Willis and Randi Blair are leading the LbSD Network effort to engage mentor teachers. Each month this semester, they’ll host special meetings for mentor teachers to come together, share their expertise, and explore learning science.

Nash, who has attended the first two seminars, shared that he loved the opportunity to speak with teachers working across the country in similar urban contexts and get practical, hands-on professional development.

“I appreciate that we’re all on the same page — we’re all there to become better,” he said.

The meetings are structured so that the expert teachers can share feedback and input into how best to coach novice teachers on learning science.

“Mentor teachers are crucial to the development and success of teacher-candidates,” Willis said. “These experienced mentors have many opportunities to make their teaching and thinking visible, and I’m excited that learning science principles and related teacher actions are now on their radar of things to provide feedback on and make visible to their candidates. It only adds to candidates’ experiences when the thinking and teaching they observe firsthand is consistent with what they were learning in their university-based courses.”

The end goal is to ensure aspiring teachers have a coherent experience, where everyone around them is using the same language and coaching them towards the same outcomes.

“When the mentor teachers are using some of the same evaluation tools that we use as coaches, that really helps the student teachers focus in on the key things,” Teri Dodaro, who coaches aspiring teachers at Temple, explained. “When we sit down to meet and share feedback with the student teacher, it’s more refined and more goal oriented, because it’s on those key learning science elements.”

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