Supporting Instructional Change Through Curriculum Materials

The upcoming New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS) based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), like other educational reform efforts will require a shift in instructional practices. The full incorporation of all three dimensions (disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices) increases the complexity of instruction more than previous reform efforts and well-designed science curriculum materials are one mechanism that can support teachers making the associated instructional shifts (Bismack, Arias, Davis & Palinscar, 2014). “Well-designed reform-based materials can be a key component of efforts to support teacher change” (Schneider, Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2005, p. 287). Curriculum materials, as discussed herein include the materials teachers use in the classroom including published materials (printed or electronic), resources, and artifacts or manipulatives that are designed to facilitate classroom instruction (Davis, Pallincsar, & Arias 2014; Remillard, 2005; Stein & Kim, 2009).

When considering the potential of curriculum materials to influence instruction, the role of the teacher must be considered. Historically, the curriculum movements of the 1950s and 1960s failed largely because they did not include the role of the teacher, simply seeing teachers as passive receivers and deliverers of the curriculum (e.g., Apple & Jungck, 1990, Ball & Cohen, 1996; Remillard, 2005). Conceptualizing curriculum materials to include the teacher and the complexity of enactment began in the 1990s. The influence of curriculum materials on instruction now recognizes the multifaceted relationship between the curriculum materials and teacher, referring to this as a participatory relationship (Remillard, 2005). Curriculum materials influence instruction by providing teachers with certain instructional options, while constraining other options and at the same time “teachers notice and use artifacts [curriculum materials] differently given their experiences, intentions, and abilities” (Brown, 2009). Thus, curriculum materials influence the teacher and the teacher influences the curriculum materials.

The notion of the participatory relationship between teachers and curriculum materials builds off Ball and Cohen’s (1996) work related to designing curriculum materials with a focus on the work of enactment to facilitate teacher learning and influence instructional practices. This work has led to recent curriculum material reform efforts and research that seeks to embed educative features in curriculum materials, or design curriculum materials to produce both student and teacher learning (i.e. Colloy, 2003; Davis & Krajcik; 2005; Davis et al., 2014; Grossman & Thompson, 2008). The aim of educative curriculum materials is to further develop teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1986), content knowledge, understanding of science practices, and instructional practices (Davis et al., 2014). Educative curriculum materials support student and teacher learning as they “help to increase teachers’ knowledge in specific instances of instructional decision-making but also help them develop more general knowledge that they can apply flexibly in new situations” (Davis & Krajcik, 2005, p.3).

Educative features related to science instruction, generally focus on three areas of teacher learning: pedagogical content knowledge for science topics; pedagogical content knowledge for teaching science as a practice; and subject matter knowledge that includes relationships between different areas of content knowledge, as well as common student understandings of concepts. Curriculum materials that are educative should reveal instructional rationales for both pedagogical strategies (Grossman & Thompson, 2008) and students’ engagement in a task (Bismack, et al., 2014). Considering the new science standards, the inclusion of teacher supports related to students engaging in scientific practices is of particular importance as instruction that engages students in authentic scientific practices is considered highly demanding (Duschl, 2008). Furthermore, educative features should help teachers evaluate and react to student thinking, by identifying common student conceptions, including misconceptions, noting anticipated student questions with appropriate teacher responses, and describing probable approaches students are likely to take when engaging in a task or solving a problem (Collopy, 2003, Stein et al., 2007).

Curriculum materials, specifically those that include educative features have demonstrated the ability to promote teacher learning and influence instructional practices. In a study of two mathematics curriculum with varied levels of educative features, Stein and Kaufman (2010) found “that curricula may operate as a teaching tool that supports and enhances teacher practice, which might then further influence teachers’ skilled use of that tool” (Stein & Kaufman, 2010, p. 26). Their assertion, based on their research conducted in classrooms, is that continued use of curriculum materials can lead to continued learning and influence a teacher’s instructional practices broadly. A study of fourth grade teachers’ use of elementary science curriculum materials demonstrated that “educative curriculum materials have potential for supporting teachers in the complex work of integrating science practices with content” (Arias, Bismack, Davis & Palincsar, 2016, p. 21). Additionally, educative features have also been associated with supporting student learning (Bismack, Arias, Davis & Palincsar, 2015).

Teachers’ daily work is connected to curriculum materials, thus they “are well situated to offer ongoing support for pedagogy and subject-matter content throughout an entire school year” (Collopy, 2003, p.288). However, curriculum materials cannot be solely relied on to promote and support the instructional changes required by the new standards. Professional development is also a vital aspect of promoting instructional change.

Considering the ability curriculum materials have to influence instruction and promote both teacher as well as student learning, the inclusion of these features will be considered in OCM BOCES Center for Innovative Science Education’s selection of new elementary science curriculum materials. We are in the final process of completing a yearlong systematic review and pilot test of science curriculum materials aligned to the new science standards. In a future blog we will introduce you to our new science curriculum materials program and discuss the rationale for the selection. The new science curriculum materials will also be incorporated into the live research lessons that are part of the November 8th It’s Go Time: Seeing the Future Through The New NYS Science Learning Standards conference. Registration for this dynamic conference is opening soon.

Hehl_Jessica_150pxJessica Hehl





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