In my last post, I mentioned that I had been seeing a pattern in the presentations at conferences this past fall. Many of the keynote and special guest speakers had incorporated a frame of reference that seemed to me to be a focus on student thinking. “Why is this an important shift?” you might ask. Well from the perspective we have taken here at AIMS, this is critical.
From our point of view of how learners make sense of science or mathematics they don’t start as blank slates in the classroom, ready for the teacher to inscribe on their minds the desired knowledge, habits, or practices. They instead come to class with ideas, conceptions, and thoughts. Without some awareness of these beginnings teachers will not know what they are building upon within their learners.
We focus a lot of attention here upon helping teachers to come to understand what to look for as evidence of student understandings. The things we ask them to look for are very seldom found on traditional end of unit type exams (summative assessments). Instead we ask teachers to watch finger movements, or listen closely to student vocal utterances; further we ask teachers to value these pieces of data that the child offers us (seemingly serendipitously) as insights into the mind of the learner. To that end we have included these topics in our Colloquium and Podcast series.
This year our Colloquia will spend nearly a fourth of its time on aiding teachers to come to grip with the power and value of what is known as “Professional Noticing.” Our Research Associates have delivered and will finish up a multi-part series on this topic; providing attendees the chance to carefully observe video data they have collected on children from the local area. They will guide teachers to see past the surface things that are often the initial things we see when observing students working on a task: fidgets, silly sounds, rocking and bouncing in a chair etc. We’ll guide them to see past these and embrace the idea that the physical manifestations are evidence of what is happening in the brain of the learning child. They tell you so much more than what is written on a page.
There are two reasons why I am happy to see the shift in the keynote speeches at these conferences. First, it is nice to know that the focus of the work in the Research Division here in the AIMS Center is lining up with the thinking of other deep thinkers about learning. Second, as others encourage teachers to consider these things, we welcome them to the party of focus on student thinking.