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Translating the Science of Learning

Valerie Sakimura

Valerie Sakimura

Category: Cognitive Science

Back in September, we released The Science of Learning, a short document that summarizes the existing research around how students learn and connects that research to practical implications for teaching. The response has been amazing – we have a rock star list of supporters, the document has been accessed more than 15,000 times, and we’ve received so many gratifying comments from educators around the world who have found the publication useful.

As fantastic as the response has been, our member deans wanted to do more than just release a report. they wanted to truly make an impact with The Science of Learning – and that meant taking the lead in exploring how to more deeply embed cognitive-science principles into educator-preparation programs.

to that end, four of our member deans volunteered to pilot approaches within their programs to increase teacher-candidate mastery of cognitive-science principles. this group, which we call the design for practice network, has committed to four goals:

  • Designing, implementing, and iterating on programmatic interventions;
  • Measuring the impact of these interventions;
  • Working together to develop shared resources; and
  • Documenting what it takes to translate research to practice and use it to drive programmatic change.

The participating programs – Temple University led by Greg Anderson, Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) led by Jesse Solomon, Relay Graduate School of Education led by Mayme Hostetter, and East Carolina University (ECU), which, until recently, was led by Linda Patriarca – are diverse by design. We wanted to understand how educator-preparation programs of all kinds might think about putting an increased emphasis on cognitive-science understanding.

And each program took a unique approach to designing its pilot. Relay, ECU, and BTR are focusing on increasing their students’ understanding of a narrow slice of The Science of Learning, while Temple is focused on their teacher-candidates’ holistic understanding of how students learn. BTR is running inquiry groups and providing clinical coaching, Temple is infusing cognitive-science into Methods courses, and Relay and ECU are developing stand-alone online modules. This diversity of approaches gives us a broad look at how we might embed cognitive-science into educator preparation.

There have been challenges faced by the pilots along the way – many of which will be familiar to those who have undertaken change efforts – such as generating buy-in, figuring out how to measure impact, and developing new capacities among faculty and staff. There have also been moments of progress, of accomplishment, and delight – a teacher sharing that she has gained empathy for her students as she has developed greater insight into how they learn, a teacher-educator noting this work has given her “more cognitive control” over her own practice, and programs that could not be more dissimilar exchanging – and using – each other’s resources.

Over the next few months, we’ll share the challenges, the bright spots and everything in between as we continue to learn from these pilot efforts. We’ll spotlight each of the pilots, describing their designs and sharing what they are discovering along the path of implementation. And this fall, we’ll compile these learnings into a more formal publication.

Leading change efforts is difficult, but these programs are committed to ensuring their graduates have a sound “mental model” of how students learn and can apply that knowledge to make informed decisions about their practice. We’re excited to share their stories.

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a periodic series on Deans for Impact’s Design for Practice Network