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Q&A with Dr. Natalie Bolton: How UMSL is aligning around learning science

For the last two years, faculty and staff at the University of Missouri—St. Louis have redesigned coursework around principles of learning science as part of the Learning by Scientific Design Network. This year, they’re incorporating clinical educators into the project. We caught up with Dr. Natalie Bolton, one of the team leads, to get an inside look at the work taking place.

What’s new this year in the Learning by Scientific Design Network?

This year is different because we are intentionally involving our clinical educators in the work. We’re really focused on creating shared understandings through participation in common trainings, shared implementation of common practices, and updated common resources like our lesson plan template and rubric. It is our hope that these shared processes and tools will allow for more uniform and improved feedback for our practicum candidates.

Why is it important to align methods courses to clinical experiences?

Our hope is that we’ll have confident and stronger candidate understanding and implementation of learning by scientific design content while in the field.

During year three, we are still focusing on the Deepening Meaning and Learning principle, including focusing on the teacher’s actions to create attention to meaning, prompt for effortful thinking, and use examples and non-examples. Our clinical educators had direct training on this content prior to this semester starting. They’re prepared and confident to follow up with our candidates on implementing the deepening meaning and learning teacher actions. They also have updated tools like our lesson plan template and lesson plan rubric that are aligned with the deepening meaning and learning teacher actions. Additionally, they have shared criteria and proficiency language and practice opportunities to provide feedback to these teacher actions.

We anticipate that what candidates are hearing in coursework and what they are being asked to implement in the field is aligned. Additionally, they are supported by clinical educators when they’re working in the field.

Any interesting early learnings or lessons?

Among the clinical educators, there is a lot of energy. We’re hearing their appreciation for having very consistent dialogue and tools and resources to reference and refer to. Deans for Impact provided a training for the clinical educators prior to the semester starting, which offered focused content and practice opportunities. We had so many smiles and so many complements after the training from our clinical educators. They’ve heard a lot of this content the last two years, but having a dedicated, two-day training just for them made such a difference in building their confidence with the learning science content.

Have you ever been involved in an initiative like this before, that’s designed to create alignment between methods courses and clinical experiences?

In my role at UMSL, no. I’m sensing this might be the very first intentional, broad attempt of connecting methods and clinical experiences. Because of our early success with candidates making connections from methods to clinical experiences, we are now starting to replicate some of the processes that we used in the LbSD Network in other program focus areas. We want to replicate the collaborative work we were doing with our core work team with other program outcomes. We are hopeful we will have as much success in building and bridging coursework with field experiences.

We’ve found this work extremely valuable for growing and enhancing our program and we saw immediate results in our candidates. It was not uncommon to hear our candidates say, “Oh I remember learning this, and now we’re actually practicing what we learned in our coursework when we’re out in schools.” So we’re hoping we’ll start seeing similar patterns and results as we expand similar processes to other program outcomes.

How will this work build coherence within your program?

There are so many connections being made, especially as we are focusing on our practicum courses now. I mentioned we designed the uniform lesson plan template and rubric, and we are intentionally now using pieces of that lesson plan and rubric in earlier coursework. The goal is that in two or three years, as a candidate goes through our program, they will get early exposure to the lesson plan template embedding science of learning content, see examples of the science of learning, critique videos of others implementing a lesson in the classroom, and be able to use the lesson plan template and rubric to critique and provide feedback related to the implementation and use of science of learning principles. We are really hopeful that it is a very cohesive system, not just for candidates, but for instructors, and our school partners. We hope it’s a very shared experience—that regardless of who you interact with from UMSL, these will be the tools, resources, and learnings that we’re all using.

What do you hope the outcome of this work will be for candidates, as they begin to graduate and enter classrooms as full-time teachers?

So many hopes! We hope that candidates will retain and continue to implement the learning science content after they leave UMSL. We hope that they’ll be able to share their learning and experiences with other teachers in the buildings they are working in. In the spring, we’ll be working with some of our candidates’ mentor teachers from our partner schools. We’re hoping to use the sites where we place our candidates as that next venue where we enhance not just the candidates that we’re working with knowledge about learning by scientific design, but also the teachers and administrators knowledge from those sites to really scale up the work. And of course, we ultimately want to make a positive impact on PreK-12 student learning.


Staci Bradbury

Creative Content Manager


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