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Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
are more familiar to students from the mainstream middle-class than to students from diverse languages and cultures (p. 15).” Therefore, learner-centered environments in which teachers build new learning on the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that students bring to the classroom, are critical to science learning of English language learners.
Knowledge-centered environments help students develop well-organized bodies of knowledge and organize that knowledge so that it supports planning and strategic thinking. In these kinds of environments, students “learn their way around” a discipline. Like experts, they are able to make connections among ideas. In these kinds of learning environments, teachers help students think about the general principles or “big” ideas in a subject. When they learn new knowledge, students also learn where it applies and how. They have opportunities to practice using it in novel situations. Their learning environments promote the sort of problem-solving behavior observed in experts (Bransford et al., 1999). All of the Chapter 3 vignettes showed students attacking problems using their firsthand observations and science knowledge from other sources to build new general ideas. In Chapter 5, Gabe’s and Steve’s field experiences, Joanna’s experience in the science museum, and Lezlie’s experience in the physics laboratory created opportunities to learn science through firsthand observations gained from “doing” science.
Assessment-centered environments help students learn to monitor and regulate their own learning. They learn to question why they believe what they believe and whether there is sufficient evidence for their beliefs (White and Frederiksen, in press). These environments provide students with opportunities for feedback and revision. Assessment-centered environments also help teachers shape classroom activities, diagnose students’ ideas and products, and guide teachers’ decisions (Duschl and Gitomer, 1997; Gitomer and Duschl, 1995). As Black and Wiliam (1998b) note from their extensive review of the research on classroom assessment, “there is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work, and that its development can raise standards of achievement.” (p. 148) Assessment plays a major role in the classrooms depicted in Chapter 3, as elaborated in Chapter 4.
Community-centered environments require students to articulate their ideas, challenge those of others, and negotiate deeper meaning along with other learners. Such environments encourage people to learn from one another. They value the search for understanding and acknowledge that mistakes are a necessary ingredient if learning is to occur. Studies of