May 4 2017
Elementary math instruction

While responsiveness to student thinking—an instructional approach that empowers students’ ideas and ways of reasoning—can support deep, equitable disciplinary learning, it places extra demands on educators.

Jennifer Richards, research associate at the University of Washington College of Education, chaired a session exploring approaches to support science and math teachers in noticing, interpreting and responding to the substance of students’ ideas during a session at the American Educational Research Association’s 2017 annual meeting.

“A lot of classrooms in the United States are places where students are interacting with other people’s ideas,” she said. “Students don’t have that many opportunities to engage in sense-making themselves.”

During the session, teacher educators around the country shared 11 different approaches to supporting teachers in being responsive to students’ ideas and considering commonalities and distinctions across those approaches.

Among the presenters, Richards shared her own work (with collaborator Amy Robertson) exploring a responsive approach to supporting pre-service physics teachers in considering and enacting responsive instructional practices. The pre-service teachers took a pedagogy course while serving as learning assistants for an introductory college physics course at Seattle Pacific University.

“From our study, one of the key implications for teacher education is being intentional about setting up spaces where you can be responsive to what your teacher candidates are thinking and what kind of questions they’re wondering about,” Richards said. “In the same way we’re hoping for teachers to be responsive to what’s coming up for students, we can be responsive to what’s coming up for teachers.”

Richards noted that much of the cohort’s sense-making about responsiveness took the form of questions that they asked and iterated on over time. In particular, novice teachers regularly wondered whether taking up students’ ideas is beneficial, whether they were capable of doing so, what counts as a “seed of science,” and how they could build on the “seeds of science” in their own students’ discourse.

Their questions—and answers to them—evolved over time, Richards said, and that rich, collaborative sense-making is one affordance of such an approach to responsive teaching education. Furthermore, evidence from course assignments showed teachers enacting and valuing responsiveness to student thinking in parallel with their sense-making.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications