As states implement the Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS), a new study finds that simply focusing on building teachers’ content knowledge in science isn't sufficient to help students reach higher expectations. “These science learning goals pose a challenge for educators,” the authors write. “Typical K-12 science teaching practice does not come close to matching the kind of teaching needed to support such learning.”
The study, led by Kathleen Roth of California State Polytechnic University-Pomona and appearing in the American Educational Research Journal, compares a summer professional development (PD) model focusing on deepening teachers’ subject matter knowledge to a more intense “analysis-of-practice” approach in which teachers study science content, as well as examine student work and review videos of expert teachers and their own instruction.
Based on results from a sample of 4th- and 5th-grade teachers, the researchers found that students whose teachers participated in the analysis-of-practice model outperformed those whose teachers were in the other PD program focusing primarily on content — "especially on items that required reasoning and use of knowledge,"they write, adding that aspects of the PD that improved teaching practices especially contributed to student learning.
The NGSS are intended to better prepare students for a world in which science, technology and engineering are integrated into most aspects of modern life. Some states, including California, are already field-testing a new assessment based on the standards.
While the study focuses on PD related to science instruction, the researchers note that there are several aspects of the analysis-of-practice approach that can apply to PD more broadly, such as the element of “active learning” involving videos and student work samples and a focus on specific teaching strategies that support students’ thinking and learning about the content.
“While more experimental research is needed,” they write, “complementing such research with qualitative studies of the PD in action will provide important insights about teacher change, PD leadership, and what makes for productive teacher analysis and learning.”