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How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom
The word “assessment” rarely appears in the three chapters that follow, but in fact the chapters are rich in assessment opportunities. Students are helped to assess the quality of their hypotheses and models, the adequacy of their methods and conclusions, and the effectiveness of their efforts as learners and collaborators. These assessments are extremely important for students, but also help teachers see the degree to which students are making progress toward the course goals and use this information in deciding what to do next. It is noteworthy that these are formative assessments, complete with opportunities for students (and teachers) to use feedback to revise their thinking; they are not merely summative assessments that give students a grade on one task (e.g., a presentation about an experiment) and then go on to the next task.
The dialogue and discussion in each of the following chapters indicate that the teachers have developed a culture of respect, questioning, and risk taking. Disconfirmation is seen as an exciting discovery, not a failure. A diverse array of thoughts about issues and phenomena is treated as a resource for stimulating conversations and new discoveries—not as a failure to converge immediately on “the right answer.” Discussions in class help support the idea of a “learning community” as involving people who can argue with grace, rather than people who all agree with one another (though, as Magnusson and Palincsar suggest, this can take some time and effort to develop).
While each of the three chapters that follow has much to offer in demonstrating instructional approaches designed to incorporate important lessons from research on learning, we remind the reader that these chapters are intended to be illustrative. As noted earlier, there are many ways to build a bridge that are consistent with the principles of physics, and this is also true of relationships between course design and general principles of learning. It is the intention of the following chapters to provide approaches and ideas for instruction that other teachers may find useful in their own teaching. Indeed, the approaches are ones that require of teachers a great deal of responsiveness to their students’ ideas and thinking. Such approaches to teaching will most likely succeed if teachers understand the principles that drive instruction and incorporate them into their own thinking and teaching, rather than making an effort to replicate what is described in the chapters that follow.