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Rigor and Responsiveness in Classroom Activity

by Jessica Thompson, Sara Hagenah, Hosun Kang, David Stroupe, Melissa Braaten, Carolyn Colley & Mark Windschitl - 2016

Background/Context: There are few examples from classrooms or the literature that provide a clear vision of teaching that simultaneously promotes rigorous disciplinary activity and is responsive to all students. Maintaining rigorous and equitable classroom discourse is a worthy goal, yet there is no clear consensus of how this actually works in a classroom.

Focus of Study: What does highly rigorous and responsive talk sound like and how is this dialogue embedded in the social practices and activities of classrooms? Our aim was to examine student and teacher interactions in classroom episodes (warm-ups, small-group conversations, whole-group conversation, etc.) and contribute to a growing body of research that specifies equity in classroom practice.

Research Design: This mixed-method study examines differences in discourse within and across classroom episodes (warm-ups, small-group conversations, whole-group conversation, etc.) that elevated, or failed to elevate, students’ explanatory rigor in equitable ways. Data include 222 secondary science lessons (1,174 episodes) from 37 novice teachers. Lessons were videotaped and analyzed for the depth of students’ explanatory talk and the quality of responsive dialogue.

Findings: The findings support three statistical claims. First, high levels of rigor cannot be attained in classrooms where teachers are unresponsive to students’ ideas or puzzlements. Second, the architecture of a lesson matters. Teachers and students engaging in highly rigorous and responsive lessons turned potentially trivial episodes (such as warm-ups) of science activity into robust learning experiences, connected to other episodes in the same lesson. Third, episodes featuring one or more forms of responsive talk elevated rigor. There were three forms of responsive talk observed in classrooms: building on students’ science ideas, attending to students’ participation in the learning community, and folding in students’ lived experiences. Small but strategic moves within these forms were consequential for supporting rigor.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This paper challenges the notion that rigor and responsiveness are attributes of curricula or individual teachers. Rigorous curriculum is necessary but not sufficient for ambitious and equitable science learning experiences; the interactions within the classroom are essential for sustaining the highest quality of scientific practice and sense-making. The data supported the development of a framework that articulates incremental differences in supporting students’ explanatory rigor and three dimensions of responsiveness. We describe implications for using this framework in the design of teacher programs and professional development models.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 5, 2016, p. 1-58
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19366, Date Accessed: 9/18/2021 10:04:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Jessica Thompson
    University of Washington, Seattle
    E-mail Author
    JESSICA THOMPSON is an Assistant Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on building networked communities that aim to improve ambitious and equitable teaching practice with multiple role actors (science teachers, science and English Language Learner (ELL) coaches, principals, district leadership, and students). She is interested in understanding the intersection of classroom practice, learning, and identity development for teachers and students in high poverty settings. She had published articles including "Engaging girls' socio-historical identities in science" in Journal of the Learning Sciences and "Developing a theory of ambitious early-career teacher practice" in American Educational Research Journal.
  • Sara Hagenah
    Boise State University
    E-mail Author
    SARA HAGENAH is an Assistant Professor at Boise State University. Hagenah’s research is deeply engaged with school-community partnerships and aims to collaboratively advance ambitious science teaching and learning for social justice.
  • Hosun Kang
    University of California Irvine
    E-mail Author
    HOSUN KANG is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Irvine. She is interested in providing powerful science learning experiences to all students.  Her research addresses two core issues facing the fields of science teaching and learning. One is supporting the students who are historically underserved in science classrooms to engage the sciences meaningfully, and the other is supporting early-career teachers to approximate and take up research-based practices. She co-authored “Creating a future in science: Tracing middle school girls’ identity work over time and space,” in American Educational Research Journal. She is the lead author of an article published in Science Education, “Creating opportunities for students to show what they know: The role of scaffolding in assessment tasks."
  • David Stroupe
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    DAVID STROUPE is an Assistant Professor of teacher education at Michigan State University. He has three overlapping areas of research interests anchored around ambitious teaching practice. First, he frames classrooms as science practice communities. Using lenses from Science, Technology, and Society (STS) and the History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), he examines how teachers and students negotiate power, knowledge, and epistemic agency. Second, he examines how beginning teachers learn from practice in and across their varied contexts. Third, he studies how teacher preparation programs can provide support and opportunities for beginning teachers to learn from practice. He has published in Science Education, "Examining classroom science practice communities: How teachers and students negotiate epistemic agency and learn science-as-practice" and co-authored an article in Science Scope, "Students modeling molecule movement through science theater."
  • Melissa Braaten
    University of Wisconsin, Madison
    E-mail Author
    MELISSA BRAATEN is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She focuses on science education and teacher education supporting ambitious and equitable science teaching and learning. Her current projects focus on better understanding the affordances and limitations of institutional, political, cultural, and social structures of teacher preparation and teacher workplaces for supporting rigorous and responsive science teaching. She has co-authored "Working towards a stronger conceptualization of scientific explanation for science education" in Science Education and "Developing a theory of ambitious early-career teacher practice" in American Educational Research Journal.
  • Carolyn Colley
    University of Washington, Seattle
    E-mail Author
    CAROLYN COLLEY is a Research Assistant and doctoral student in the College of Education at the University of Washington, Seattle. Her research interests include science teacher learning around responsive teaching practices including facilitation of productive classroom discourse, as well as how professional development supports and sustains shifts in science teaching practices.
  • Mark Windschitl
    University of Washington, Seattle
    E-mail Author
    MARK WINDSCHITL is a Professor in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Washington. His research interests deal with the early-career development of science teachers. He develops and studies a system of tools and tool-based practices for early career and pre-service secondary science teachers that supports transitions from novice to expert-like pedagogical reasoning and practice. He has co-authored "Rigor and equity by design: Seeking a core of practices for the science education community" (in progress) in AERA Handbook of Research on Teaching (5th ed.) and "Proposing a core set of instructional practices and tools for teachers of science" in Science Education.
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