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Learning to Teach to Argue: Case Studies in Professional Learning in Evidence-Based Science Writing


by Naa Ammah-Tagoe, Kyra Caspary, Matthew A. Cannady & Eric Greenwald - 2021

Background/Context: The emphasis on scientific practices articulated by the National Research Council framework and the Next Generation Science Standards requires significant pedagogical shifts for U.S. science teachers.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study provides a rare window into the challenges and opportunities teachers encounter as they introduce argument writing into their science classrooms with support from the National Writing Project’s Inquiry into Science Writing project. The purpose of this study is to better understand the teacher-change process so as to inform the development of future professional development efforts.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Case studies were drawn from a professional development network led by the National Writing Project to support teachers in studying and improving their practice while sharing knowledge and benefiting from the expertise of others. The network included 28 middle school teachers at five writing project sites around the United States; the case studies presented in this article are based on the experiences of three of these teachers.

Intervention/Program/Practice: The Inquiry into Science Writing Project was a 2-year practitioner-driven professional learning experience seeking to better understand and support student practice around evidence-based science writing. During the duration of the project, teachers taught at least one lesson series culminating in written arguments by students each semester, and participated in two summer institutes, an ongoing national professional learning community, and monthly meetings of their local teacher research group.

Research Design: The study uses a qualitative comparative case study approach.

Data Collection and Analysis: The case studies draw on interviews, lesson artifacts, written teacher reflections, and samples of student work.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The study findings reinforce the complexity of the change process: The relationship between teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes and their practice was not linear and unidirectional (i.e., change in attitude leads to change in practice) but rather iterative and mediated by both student work and the external supports they received. These findings confirm the need for sustained learning environments with features that promote enactment and reflection on student work to support teacher change. Further, they suggest that professional development providers should think about how to build habits of reflection into their own design processes, allowing space for feedback and learning from practitioners.

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT


In 2014, 28 teachers, in conjunction with the National Writing Project (NWP), began a 2-year practitioner-driven professional learning experience, the Inquiry into Science Writing Project (ISWP), to better understand and support student practice around evidence-based science writing. This article describes observed changes in teacher professional knowledge and practice by illuminating key experiences through which teachers came to make pedagogical sense of, and devise instructional strategies to support, scientific argumentation as a discipline-specific practice. With analysis grounded in a comparative case study approach, we make sense of our cases by using Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) model of the change environment, which recognizes that practitioner change is rarely linear and more often proceeds through iterative cycles of enactment and reflection. We found that teachers learned by doing (intentionally, repeatedly experimenting with their practice) and by reflecting on their practice, both individually and with other teachers.


Our findings reinforce the usefulness of Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) iterative model in guiding the development of teacher professional development experiences, as well as the benefits of co-developing these learning experiences with teachers. They also offer valuable insight into factors that mediate productive enactment–reflection cycles. Further, because the project coincided with many states’ adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the cases described herein provide a rare window into the challenges and opportunities encountered by U.S. science teachers as they work toward implementing the fundamental shifts in practice that the NGSS demands. An understanding of the processes and conditions that are likely to promote durable teacher change will support future research and professional learning initiatives, a particularly urgent need in light of the continued significant pedagogical shifts (see, for example, Osborne, 2014; Wilson, 2013) needed to support the ambitious learning goals of the National Research Council (NRC) Framework and NGSS.


A Shift in Focus to Scientific Argumentation and the Need for Teacher Support


Scientific argumentation has become an instructional priority in many science classrooms, gaining urgency in conjunction with the NRC’s A Framework for K12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2011) and the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013). This prioritization of scientific practices in general and scientific argument in particular reflects a growing consensus that traditional science instruction is poorly aligned with a contemporary understanding of the nature of science, which views science as a “social process of knowledge construction that involves conjecture, rhetoric, and argument” (Driver et al., 2000, p. 295). Critical to successfully implementing this ambitious vision for how science is taught are professional learning experiences that support fundamental shifts in instructional practice (Osborne, 2014; Wilson, 2013).


The magnitude of the changes needed calls into question the adequacy of traditional models of professional development that assume knowledge transfer from outside expert to teacher—an approach that has been widely criticized in the literature as out of sync with our understanding of cognition and learning (see, for example, Ball, 1994; Lieberman, 1995; Little, 1993). Similarly, compliance-driven models, and efforts to simply provide standards-aligned curriculum to teachers with little to no professional development, have failed to yield the deep and sustained changes in professional practice that the standards require (Penuel et al., 2009). Successful professional learning is likely to involve a move toward knowledge of practice (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999) in which teachers (often in collaboration with other teachers or researchers in education) inquire into their practice in systematic ways. According to Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999), as teachers engage in such inquiry, they build local, contextually relevant knowledge that is grounded in the problems of practice: “The knowledge teachers need to teach well is generated when teachers treat their own classrooms and schools as sites for intentional investigation at the same time that they treat the knowledge and theory produced by others as generative material for interrogation and interpretation” (p. 250). They characterize this as an epistemic positioning, or “inquiry-as-stance,” toward reflective, critical practice. Such a stance demands a teacher’s active participation in the construction of knowledge and an honest awareness of, and willingness to challenge, their own assumptions and beliefs.


How can professional learning opportunities foster this inquiry as stance? Generally, researchers characterize effective professional learning experiences based on their features, such as content, duration, intensity, and collaboration structure. Recent reviews of the professional learning field identify high-leverage features of effective professional development (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Desimone & Garet, 2015) and insights from scholarship on collaborative teacher inquiry (Desimone, 2009; Kazemi & Franke, 2004; Lewis et al., 2006; Tunstall & Gipps, 1996). Those elements include:


a content focus that facilitates teachers’ engagement with the subject at hand,


active, reflective learning through inquiry groups that are built around analysis of student work and concrete teaching tasks (Darling-Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Simon et al., 2006; Supovitz & Turner, 2000) and designed to model the practice of inquiry for students (Borko & Putnum, 1995; Little, 1993; Supovitz & Turner, 2000)


highly collaborative learning experiences through structures that nurture deliberation about practice and that resist the norm of privacy dominant in most schools (Simon et al., 2006; Spillane, 1999),


sustained opportunities for professional inquiry through a combination of intensive learning opportunities and regular, ongoing engagement.


Further, in her 2016 review of professional development programs, Kennedy (2016) found that among programs that help teachers implement curricular content, the more effective programs involved teachers discussing research together or examining evidence about their practice.


Although the features named above can be combined in numerous ways, professional learning communities (PLCs) are often proposed as a professional development vehicle (Fulton et al., 2010; Horn & Little, 2010; Mintzes et al., 2013) since they have shown promise as mechanisms for changing teacher practice and for improving student learning (Vescio et al., 2008). A PLC is a group of individuals who work together to achieve a shared goal, assess their progress, make corrections, and hold themselves accountable (McLaughlin & Talbert, 2010). Although these opportunities take many names and forms—teacher research groups, teacher inquiry groups, communities of practice, critical-friend groups—all are characterized by intentional and sustained teacher collaboration (though many of the variants have specific features that are not associated with all PLCs). Regardless of name, groups offer teachers a collaborative forum for professional inquiry and a space to make sense of how new instructional ideas can be enacted in their classrooms (e.g., Borko & Putnam, 1995; Simon et al., 2006; Supovitz & Turner, 2000) and for teachers to build knowledge and skills through experimentation (Talbert, 2010). Our study of the ISWP is an in-depth examination of how teachers change in the context of a PLC-based opportunity designed to facilitate cycles of teacher enactment and reflection, and enable teacher collaboration within and across sites.


Analytic Framework


In this examination of teacher development, we found Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) model of the change environment (Figure 1) to be a particularly useful framework for understanding the changes we observed. Drawing on situative theory, the change environment model recognizes that practitioner change is typically not a linear process from knowledge, to changes in dispositions, to changes in practice, but it is instead better characterized in terms of iterative cycles of enactment and reflection. Appealing to longstanding evidence of the limited efficacy of one-shot professional development efforts for durable change (Fullan & Stiegelbauer, 1991; Guskey, 1986; Howey & Joyce, 1978; McLaughlin & Marsh, 1978; Wood & Thompson, 1980), the model presents professional growth as an “inevitable and continual process of learning” (p. 947). In contrast to linear models of knowledge transmission from expert to novice, Clarke and Hollingsworth (2002) present professional learning in terms of four interconnected domains: personal (a teacher’s knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes), external (sources of information, stimulus, and support), practice (professional experimentation), and consequence (salient outcomes for the practitioner, such as student performance). We describe the specific elements of ISWP in the next section, before presenting the research questions and methods that guided our analysis.



[39_23744.htm_g/00002.jpg]



Figure 1. Clarke and Hollingsworth’s model of the change environment

Note. Drawing on situative theory, Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) model of the change environment recognizes that practitioner change is typically not a linear process from knowledge to changes in dispositions to changes in practice, but it is instead better characterized in terms of iterative cycles of enactment and reflection. The central arrows depict how teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes (personal domain) influence their professional experimentation (domain of practice) (solid arrow), and how reflection on this experimentation in turn shapes their knowledge and beliefs (dashed arrow). This relationship between beliefs and practice is also mediated by the salient outcomes of their practice (domain of consequence), i.e., changes they see in their students’ understanding and performance. Teachers determine what is successful about their practice based on their observations about these outcomes, shaping their beliefs about what makes effective teaching and influencing their choices as they continue to experiment with their practice. Further, teacher practice is directly influenced by external sources of information or stimuli (external domain), such as standards or professional development, and their knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes determine the extent to which they engage with the external stimuli as well as well as how they incorporate these stimuli into their knowledge and dispositions.


Professional Learning Context


Case studies were drawn from a professional development network led by the NWP to support teachers in studying and improving their practice while sharing knowledge and benefiting from the expertise of others. In response to the call for science instruction that is better aligned with our current understanding of the nature of science, the NWP launched the Inquiry into Science Writing Project in 2014 at five local Writing Project sites. At its core, the ISWP’s theory of action focused on engaging teachers in cycles of enactment and reflection to develop their ability to exercise professional judgment and portray curricular content (i.e., make the practice of science argument writing accessible to students).


The ISWP consisted of both network-led and local activities to support teachers’ understanding of the role of argument in the science classroom over 2 school years (Figure 2). The NWP convened 4-day institutes for the ISWP teachers in the summers of 2014 and 2015. These teachers also participated in an ongoing form of a professional learning community, local teacher research groups (TRGs) that met monthly during 2014–15 and 2015–16, and provided teachers a forum to discuss and examine how to support student argument writing in science.


Summer 2014

Fall 2014

Spring 2015

Summer 2015

Fall 2015

Spring 2016

1st summer institute

1st scoop and interview

Annual meeting

2nd scoop and interview

2nd summer institute

3rd scoop and interview

Annual meeting

4th scoop and interview

Ongoing:

National calls

Teacher research group meetings

 

National calls

Teacher research group meetings

Timeline of Extended Activities and Data Collection

Summer 2016

Fall 2016

Spring 2017

Summer 2017

Fall 2017

Spring 2018

Protocol convening

No activities

Interview

No activities

5th scoop

Interview


Figure 2. Timeline of core and extended inquiry into science writing project activities

Note. Scoop refers to the collection of classroom artifacts, student work samples, and teacher reflections on the lesson series. During the initial 2 school years of the Inquiry into Science Writing Project, teachers participated in monthly national calls and local teacher research group meetings.


As part of their participation in the project, teachers designed and taught one lesson series each semester that culminated in an assignment designed to elicit a written argument from students, and they shared classroom artifacts and student work samples from these lessons in their TRGs, as well as with all ISWP participants, via an online portal. The ISWP referred to the collection of classroom artifacts, student work samples, and teacher reflections as scoops, a term which became synonymous with the lesson series (i.e., teaching a scoop) and with the process of putting together the artifacts (i.e., scooping the lesson series). The NWP also convened monthly national conference calls for teachers, facilitated by local TRGs or NWP network staff. Although the structure of the ISWP was set at the beginning, the topics, content, and format of the convenings were determined in consultation with teachers to be responsive to their needs. The NWP engaged SRI International and UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science as research and development partners for the ISWP


Research Questions


Given our goal of describing changes in teacher professional knowledge and practice during and after participation in the ISWP, we conducted case studies guided by the following questions:


1.

How do teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes about the role of argumentation in the science classroom change over the course of the study?


2.

What changes to practice do teachers report making as they introduce scientific argument writing?


3.

What program structures were key to the development of teachers’ understanding of the role of writing in the science classroom?


These questions help us explore teachers’ sensemaking process around understanding and teaching scientific argumentation. The next section describes our methods of data collection and analysis.


METHODS


Sample


We recruited all teachers participating in the ISWP for the study. The NWP selected local Writing Project sites to include two states that had adopted the NGSS at the time the study began; the other three eventually adopted local versions of the standards. A total of five teacher research groups with four to seven teachers per site agreed to participate, comprising a total teacher sample of 28. Of these, 24 were female and four had taught or were certified to teach English/Language Arts (ELA) in addition to teaching science; only one was a first-year teacher. All taught middle school science (Grades 6 through 8) except one high school teacher.


Procedures


Site visits. From fall 2014 through spring 2016, two researchers visited each local Writing Project site twice annually to interview participating teachers. We used semistructured interview protocols to gather feedback on the professional learning experience and provide insight into teachers’ understanding of science writing. The research team completed a short, written reflection after each interview as well as a full debrief protocol for each site at the conclusion of the visit.


Professional learning observations. The research team observed each summer institute and provided some insight based on first-year data at the second summer convening. We also listened in on teacher research group meetings via phone (n = 41), or in person when our site visits coincided with meetings. In addition, one researcher joined each monthly national call to observe the teacher learning experience. We recorded notes for each activity using specialized observation protocols and conducted initial coding of teacher actions, such as reflecting on the nature of scientific argument or analyzing student work.


Classroom artifacts. We used an approach modeled after the Scoop Notebook developed by Hilda Borko and colleagues (Borko et al., 2007; Borko & Stecher, 2012) to gather classroom artifacts as well as teachers’ reflections on those artifacts. The artifact collection—scoops—occurred twice per year from each participating teacher and included lesson plans, assignments, scoring guides or rubrics, marked-up student work (assignments or assessments; six samples per lesson), and teacher’s responses to reflection questions about the lesson and student work. When possible, we used site visit interviews to gather additional contextual information for each scoop.


Follow-up. In the 18 months after the ISWP ended, we conducted two follow-up interviews with a sample of eight teachers, once in spring 2017 and again in winter 2018. Follow-up teachers were selected on the basis of their interest in continued participation in the ISWP, and their initial growth and rich understanding of argument writing in science. The interviews were designed to gather evidence about how teachers were sustaining writing, and specifically argument writing, in their own classrooms and supporting colleagues to include more writing in their science instruction. Teachers were also asked to complete an additional lesson scoop, and the final interview asked teachers to reflect on how their writing instruction had evolved during and after the ISWP.


ANALYSIS


Among the eight teachers in the follow-up study, we chose to focus on two cases involving three teachers, which allowed for an in-depth analysis and for a comparative case study approach (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2018). The cases were selected because they exemplify common themes among the ISWP participants related to their development as teachers of evidence-based writing. Further, in selecting the teachers, we attended to variation in teachers’ professional settings—i.e., states that did and did not plan to adopt the NGSS—and experiences (Table 1). All three case study teachers are White, reflecting the racial and ethnic homogeneity of the ISWP participants.


Table 1. Inquiry Into Science Writing Participants and Case Study Sample


State

Teacher Research Group Members

Number in Continuation Study

Number in Case Study

State NGSS Adoption

1

6

3

1

Yes

2

5

1

0

Yes

3

4

3

2

No

4

7

1

0

No

5

6

0

0

No



Through the comparative case study approach, we engaged in both tracing and contrasting models of comparison to offer a foundation for our understanding of teacher change and teachers’ professional learning about science argument writing. This approach allows for comparisons using the logic of connection by tracing across time within individuals, as well as the logic of juxtaposition, that is, comparing and contrasting across individual cases. We conducted this analysis by first creating anonymized transcripts of interview and observational data and then uploading them into Dedoose, an online qualitative research software tool. The data were then coded for instances of reflection on science writing and particular moments or experiences during the professional learning that teachers or researchers identified as being impactful for teachers’ learning and development.


RESULTS: COMPARATIVE CASES


We noted several types of change in teachers’ beliefs, attitudes, and practices during and after the ISWP; these comparative case studies focus on two in particular: understanding of argumentation as a disciplinary practice and sense of identity/ownership of (internalized responsibility for) teaching evidence-based science writing. These changes are illustrated in the following two cases of three ISWP teachers who all had different experiences of learning to teach scientific argument writing.


In each case, we compared how teachers changed in the context of national standards, the ISWP, local Writing Projects, school districts, and relative to themselves over time. In Case 1, we highlight how components of the ISWP led to changes in a single teacher’s understanding of the role of scientific argument in her classroom. Case 2 illustrates how two teachers in the same TRG followed differing change trajectories despite their similar local context. The cases feature evidence representing Clarke and Hollingsworth’s (2002) four domains—the personal, the external, the domain of practice, and the domain of consequence—and evidence of teachers’ enactment of and reflection on their practice. All teacher names are pseudonyms.


Case 1: Ms. Markham


Case 1 illustrates how one teacher developed a more discipline-specific emphasis on argumentation through her ISWP participation. Ms. Markham’s participation in the ISWP required her to not only introduce a new genre of writing into her classroom but also repeatedly practice teaching and assessing students in the skill. Through that process of practice, as well as engaging in the ISWP cycles of reflection, Ms. Markham integrated her subject-matter knowledge with newfound pedagogical knowledge of engaging in argument from evidence. Ultimately, participating in the ISWP fostered her understanding of a core NGSS science and engineering practice, shifted her instructional practice to support students in developing this practice, and prompted her development of new areas of pedagogical content knowledge.


Ms. Markham, who by the summer of 2014 had 15 years of experience teaching middle school science, taught in a state that had adopted the NGSS and was determining how to implement the new standards during the period of the ISWP. She taught Grade 6 earth science and Grade 8 physics and chemistry. Two other members of her teacher research group also taught in her district; the final two taught at a nearby public charter school. Early in the ISWP experience, Ms. Markham had yet to delve into the NGSS herself, although she had joined her school district’s meetings on whether to implement the NGSS in middle school as part of subject-specific or integrated science. Her district expected middle school science teachers to incorporate writing into science classes to prepare students for statewide (not yet NGSS-aligned) testing. At the school level, as the science department head and a member of the instructional leadership team, Ms. Markham had been part of the decision to focus on writing across the curriculum to address the perception that student writing failed to demonstrate clear thinking. These contextual factors formed the external domain in which Ms. Markham began her ISWP experience.


Shifting understanding of science argument: “Argumentative writing doesn’t have to be controversial writing.” In her first interview, Ms. Markham described how before the first ISWP summer institute, she had no exposure to thinking about teaching argument writing in science. She entered the experience expecting that teaching science argument writing would require finding a socially controversial topic, such as a normative question around genetic modifications or nuclear power, to spur debate. Her colleagues from the same local Writing Project site had similar conceptions of argument. During the weeklong summer convening, teachers examined the NGSS, including engaging in argument from evidence as one of the eight science and engineering practices that the NGSS identifies as key to student learning. Teachers also engaged in exercises, such as creating a foil boat and responding to an argument writing prompt based on a data table that provided examples of what a science argument activity and writing prompt could look like. Ms. Markham noted the week as the “first time that I ever really delved into that kind of looking at the data and having the kids form arguments based on the data” (Interview, 2014). Her epiphany at the summer institute was that “argumentative writing doesn’t have to be controversial writing”—that students could write arguments about topics related to physical science content that were not socially controversial as long as they were advocating a claim based on evidence (Interview, 2014).1 By discussing the resources and activities at the summer institute, particularly the example argument prompts based on data tables or data generated from labs, Ms. Markham and her colleagues reached a new understanding of scientific argument writing. Using the change environment lens, Ms. Markham’s evolving understanding of scientific argument from a debate around a controversial topic toward a more disciplinary notion of argument as the reasoned use of empirical evidence to determine and support a claim represents a shift in her personal domain.


Using argument writing to deepen engagement with science concepts: “It makes them dig deeper.” As Ms. Markham experimented with introducing argumentation to her classroom, she became enthusiastic about its value for engaging students with scientific principles. Prior to the ISWP, Ms. Markham incorporated writing into her science classes by asking students to write a paragraph explaining the water cycle or pretending to be a raindrop and telling the story of its life cycle. The ISWP structure required Ms. Markham to teach and reflect on at least one argument writing lesson each term, and from the beginning she saw argument as a way to engage students in scientific concepts. In her first scoop lesson series, Ms. Markham integrated the foil boat exercise from the summer institute into her fall unit on density and buoyancy. She then asked students to write an argument about which materials would be best to construct a boat, using supporting evidence of the strength, density, and buoyancy of each material to justify their answers. She hoped the process would help students better understand the scientific principles behind density and buoyancy, not just memorize facts:


I want them to understand the content and that was my number one goal...that they understand what is density, what does it tell you, what does it show you...I think an assignment like this is going to stick a lot longer to them than if I just told them write a list of pros and cons. (Interview, fall 2014)


In this same interview, Ms. Markham described how she found argument writing to be more engaging for students and to deepen their understanding of science content. “I’d like to say that [argument writing] makes them dig deeper and think about the content more than just at that sort of surface level, I’m going to give you information or I’m going to look at this graph and I’m going to tell you what it says” (Interview, fall 2014). Ms. Markham’s understanding is consistent with the three-dimensional nature of the NGSS, which promotes engagement in scientific practices to deepen students’ understanding of disciplinary content (or, disciplinary core ideas, per the NGSS) as well as broader concepts that span science domains (cross-cutting concepts). Specifically, in crafting strong scientific arguments, students must demonstrate a strong understanding of scientific concepts in justifying their claims.


Ms. Markham maintained this view of the value of argument through the end of the study. By the end of the program, she predicted that teaching argument writing would endure in her practice because of its impact on student learning—the domain of consequence. After the ISWP ended, Ms. Markham described how constructing arguments demanded more of her students than informational writing. “To make linking of reasoning really done well they have to do more work. They have to do more research. Why is that evidence important? Why does it support the claim? Which in an informational text it’s just, ‘Here’s a bunch of facts. Here’s a bunch of info. Here you go’” (Interview, winter 2018). Observing these positive, richer learning outcomes for her students led Ms. Markham to experiment with introducing argument in many of her lessons and increased her commitment to argument writing in the science classroom.


See video: Making an Argument in Science Requires Thinking


Learning through practice: “I can see a question within my content.” As a result of her success engaging students through argument in her first scoop lesson series, Ms. Markham began to experiment with introducing argument in other classes, including her Grade 6 earth science class. Reflecting on the first few days of ISWP at the first summer institute, Ms. Markham remembered feeling that she had no idea how to teach scientific argumentation. Once she taught her initial ISWP lesson series, she began to gain confidence in her ability to find ways to incorporate argument writing into any of her science classes. That fall, she shared that during the summer institute, “It was very challenging and now it’s almost like somebody turned a light bulb and I’m like, ‘Oh, I can totally do that’” (Interview, fall 2014).


Ms. Markham’s experience of teaching her first argument lesson series (on density and buoyancy) prompted her to add an argument writing prompt in a different grade-level class. Specifically, she described how instead of teaching her typical earth science lessons about three landforms (mountains, valleys, and beaches) and natural disasters, she added an argument component. She gave students the following scenario:


Imagine that you are a mayor of a small town that has been levelled by a natural disaster, and you need to convince your townspeople of which landform you should relocate the town to, using evidence of why each landform is/is not the best. (Interview artifact, fall 2014)


She found that reframing her typical landform and natural disasters lesson series, in the context of arguing for the best location to establish a town, led to richer classroom dialogue about the merits of each landform and their respective disaster risks. In turn, the oral dialogue served as a scaffold for students to develop and test their thinking, enriching the resultant writing. She noted, “I never would’ve even come up with this kind of idea if I hadn’t done the density thing. I would’ve never even thought of, ‘Oh, these three lend themselves to a nice little argumentative essay…’” (Interview, fall 2014). Feeling successful in her second attempt changed Ms. Markham’s perspective on how easily argument writing could fit into the middle school science curriculum, a shift in her personal domain—her beliefs and understanding—that led to a shift in her practice. By spring 2016, she talked about how “Things have gotten easier for me when it comes to coming up with prompts because I have done them now. I can see a question within my content” (Interview, spring 2016). The process of repeatedly teaching argument writing and experimenting with the writing prompts and scaffolds she gave students developed her ability to see how argumentation could fit into her curriculum as well as her sense of self-efficacy in teaching evidence-based scientific writing.


See video: But I’m Not a Writing Teacher


Embracing argument writing: “I have essentially rewritten just about every lab we do.” Written arguments became a regular part of Ms. Markham’s labs, and much of her instruction focused on students evaluating claims or backing their own claims with evidence and reasoning. This commitment to incorporating argument into her lessons continued even after the ISWP activities ended. By her final interview, Ms. Markham described a clear shift from seeing argument writing as something strange to do in a science class to an activity that should be core to a science class.


For me it went from feeling like, “I am going to be able to do this hardly never,” to “I have this incorporated in every single activity I do because it’s just a way of thinking about the data and thinking about how it relates to the concept I want them to know about…” (Interview, winter 2018)


Ms. Markham described planning her instruction around the components of scientific argumentation, asking herself, “‘In this lab, what is it that I want them to make a claim about?’ Which then turns into, ‘What is it that I really want them to understand? What is the learning goal?’” She shifted to emphasizing evidence and reasoning in most of her lessons, noting “I have essentially rewritten just about every lab...Every single lab they do, they have to identify evidence. They have to link with reasoning, and they have to make a claim…my Conclusion section has been replaced with argument writing” (Interview, winter 2018). She reported assigning a full written argument at least once a semester in addition to incorporating aspects of argumentation into every lab.


More broadly, Ms. Markham described how she had begun to emphasize scientific argumentation in her classes over lab reports. One year after the ISWP concluded, Ms. Markham described how the openness of scientific argumentation, contrasted with the prescriptive nature of many middle school labs, led her to focus less on lab write-ups and more on having her students construct arguments.


Scientific method done correctly is inquiry. But what scientific method is a lot of times, at least in middle school science, is ‘here’s exactly what you’re going to do.’ It’s a set of instructions and ‘here’s the exact outcome.’ So, it’s already been figured out for you… Whereas when I think of inquiry, very little is given to the students...they’re the ones who are figuring out what the real answer is there, why is it acting the way it is. And so they’re driving their learning...you want them to understand the content in a more deep way, and I feel that’s why argument writing is better in some ways. (Interview, spring 2017)


This profound shift in both Ms. Markham’s beliefs about teaching science and her practice, in terms of the writing she asked students to produce, stemmed from her reflection on the improved outcomes she saw in her students.


See video: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen: A Richer Assignment


Contextual factors: “Argument writing has taken much more of a place at the table.” In addition to the iterative cycle of experimentation and student learning that led Ms. Markham to introduce argument into all her classes, external factors at both the state and local levelsin particular, her state’s adoption of the NGSSreinforced the importance of argumentation in the science classroom. By the time of her third interview, in fall 2015, Ms. Markham had attended a workshop on argumentation in science at a state conference for science teachers focused on the NGSS. After this experience, she noticed that all of the writing professional development for science was focused specifically on argument writing. In her interview at the end of the main ISWP activities (spring 2016), she noted how she valued the opportunity to get “ahead of the game” by developing her skills in these new science education expectations before her district provided professional learning related to the NGSS. The writing focus in her school shifted as well, and by the end of the study she noted that “Argument writing has taken much more of a place at the table, not just in science but across the board” (Interview, winter 2018).


Learning through reflection: “I was able to get into the mindset of a student.” Ms. Markham identified several aspects of the ISWP that were instrumental in improving her teaching practice by providing her with insights into her students’ mindsets and understanding, thus enabling her to better scaffold their learning. Ms. Markham described how activities at the first summer institute helped her to understand how she could support her students’ understanding of scientific argumentation. Being in the position of the student carrying out a lab helped her understand what students might struggle with. “I was able to get into the mindset of a student. It’s not that often that you sit as a student doing an activity like that. It gave me some clarity about what are kids thinking about...and how I can drive their thinking for better understanding” (Interview, winter 2018).


Ms. Markham also found argument writing itself to be an effective formative assessment tool, as her students’ arguments revealed both their understanding and misconceptions related to scientific concepts and how to construct an argument. In her first interview in fall 2014, Ms. Markham reported that the student work from her first argument assignment provided her with a clear sense of which students were mastering the concept of density and understood how to use data and evidence. In a later interview, she shared that “I feel like at this point it’s very easy for them to pick things up off a data table, but sometimes it’s harder for them to not just restate...what they picked up and call it good...it gave me an opportunity to see where the misconceptions lay” (Interview, winter 2018). Students’ written arguments provided new insight into their learning and amplified her capacity to monitor and support that learning. Through the end of the study, Ms. Markham continued to find her students’ written arguments valuable in assessing their understanding. For example, the mini-arguments that she introduced at the end of many of her labs again demonstrated to her that students struggled with connecting evidence to their claims, and she often turned to her TRG for ideas on how to support students in crafting well-reasoned arguments.


Ms. Markham found one central aspect of the ISWP—the scoop, which included examples of student work as well as reflection questions—to be valuable in learning from her attempts to integrate scientific argument into her classroom. In particular, summative questions that encouraged her to reflect on her students’ work helped her identify the scaffolds she needed to use to support specific argumentation skills. These included activities to help students differentiate between evidence and inferences, and identify the elements of an argument; they also included resources shared by members of her TRG, such as a graphic organizer and videos that defined claim, evidence, and reasoning.


Case 1 summary and reflection. Case 1 illustrates how two categories of meaningful change—a shift toward understanding science argument as a disciplinary practice and a concomitant set of changes in instruction—can be mediated through iterative cycles of enactment and reflection. First, within the personal domain, we saw a shift in Ms. Markham’s understanding of, and the instructional purpose assigned to, science argument as a disciplinary practice. Ms. Markham entered the ISWP with the colloquial notion of argument as a debate around a controversial topic. This view shifted toward a more disciplinary notion of argument as the reasoned use of evidence to support a claim. Second, as she grappled with the disciplinary nature of argument and its place in her classroom, we saw the corresponding shift in the domain of consequence through her appreciation of argument writing as a means to deepen student engagement with science content. At the same time, state and local curricular standards, expectations, and accountability pressures provided stimulus from Ms. Markham’s external domain. Taken together, these changes suggest the emergence of a positive feedback cycle, or ‘‘growth network’’ (Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002, p. 958) involving the personal domain, the domain of practice, the external domain, and the domain of consequence for this teacher. Combined, these shifts resulted in lasting changes in the teacher’s domain of practice. Far from simply talking the talk of argumentation in disciplinary terms, we saw clear evidence of her iterative efforts to integrate argument writing into everyday instruction. Rather than the occasional add-on exercise, her professional experiments with classroom argument writing and, critically, her learning through reflection on those forays resulted in a more robust role for argumentation in her science classroom. These shifts toward a more disciplinary notion of argument and its classroom implementation suggest that her conceptualization of science education moved toward the kind of multidimensional learning experiences called for in the NRC Framework and the NGSS.


Our focus in Case 1 was on the individual change trajectory of Ms. Markham. In Case 2, we focus on the communal aspects of teacher learning, contrasting the growth trajectories of two teachers (with pseudonyms) who were in a TRG together.


Case 2: Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington


For Case 2, we focus on two 8th grade science teachers, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington, to compare and contrast their change trajectories. As a veteran and a new teacher, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington entered the ISWP with significant differences in their personal domains and domains of practice, and had distinct learning trajectories despite being part of the same local learning community. Significantly, however, they both came to value the role of evidence-based science writing in student learning, and to identify as teachers of scientific argument writing. We consider the local and national professional structures in which the teachers’ learning occurred to identify the program elements and contextual factors that were most salient to their trajectories.


A number of state and district priorities informed the external domain of each teacher’s experience. In a state that had not moved to adopt the NGSS at the time of the project, both teachers framed argumentation in the context of the Common Core State Standards, which emphasize domain-specific reading and writing abilities but not the scientific practices articulated in the NGSS. Ms. Lane was a confident, 17-year veteran teacher, while Ms. Washington, a new teacher in a district a few towns away, was just beginning to conceptualize her instruction and her professional community. Ms. Lane’s district focused on writing, and specifically summarization, for its student learning objectives. Before the ISWP, she had encountered the claim, evidence, reasoning (CER) framework for teaching scientific argumentation, and was excited to introduce argument writing into her science classroom. In contrast, the concept of scientific argumentation was new to Ms. Washington, who was entering the classroom certified to teach both ELA and science. She was motivated to introduce writing into her science classes to help students prepare for the new constructed response questions on the state science assessments, and possessed a belief that students needed to make more connections between their classes in different disciplines.


A nascent community of practice: “It’s kind of ‘trial by fire’ right now.” In the fall of 2014, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington independently selected similar lesson series to scoop: asking students to use physical and chemical properties to identify unknown substances, writing in heavily structured formats. They did not, however, develop their lesson series collaboratively. Teachers’ geographical spread and contextual variation was initially a challenge, and teacher participation largely consisted of parallel experiences, with less opportunity for collaborative inquiry. Further, their TRG identified a travel team to attend the ISWP summer institutes, and as members of the home team, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington first encountered the ISWP content only through their local TRG. The initial TRG meetings were procedural, with the second TRG meeting of the year focusing on how to upload the scooped lessons. After that, the general practice during the first months of TRG meetings was to teach the lesson series first, see how it went, report back to the group, and receive feedback.


Ms. Lane introduced her Grade 8 earth science students to the vocabulary of claim, evidence, and reasoning through a series of activities before they completed a lab to identify the compounds in an unknown mixture. Students next wrote a lab report following the required format of the local high school. At the end of the report, Ms. Lane asked students to summarize the lab by including a claim, evidence, and reasoning in the conclusion. Afterwards, she brought her lessons and written reflections to the group, where they discussed her success in teaching the lab and having students peer edit each other’s conclusions. She shared how the content and instructional activities were typical of her prior instruction, with the new element of concluding the lab report with an argument.


Ms. Washington created an elaborate forensic science scenario, “The Case of the Missing Tie,” for students to test substances and a hair sample from a fictional crime scene to identify the thief of a teacher’s favorite tie. In addition to modeling the lab procedure and providing step-by-step instructions, Ms. Washington created a 10-page outline for students to complete lab reports describing the lab purpose, methods, and results, with sentence starters for students to identify each substance (make claims), detail a substance’s properties (identify supporting evidence), and explain how those properties allowed conclusive identification of the substance (offer reasoning). She described how, “Each sentence was crafted for them. So, for example, paragraph one was the purpose of this report. Describe the crime scene, list the items that were on the receipts, set the stage.” Her expectations, like Ms. Lane’s, suggested a strong personal belief that students would need highly scaffolded support (i.e., lab reports and formulaic outlines) to effectively engage in evidence-based science writing.


Although pleased with the result, Ms. Washington found the lesson planning process lacked the collaboration she desired as a novice teacher. During her fall 2014 interview, Ms. Washington noted that the teachers were not helping each other create their lesson series as she had originally expected; instead, she described how “It’s very individual. It’s kind of ‘trial by fire’ right now.” As the ISWP progressed, however, both teachers became more engaged in the national activities and reported that their local TRG developed into a valuable source of support. Together, the TRG teachers attended the local Writing Project’s annual Best Practice Conference in January 2015, anchoring their ISWP experience in the context of a broader professional community of learners. As a result, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington entered the second semester of the ISWP benefitting from a nascent community of practice, with emergent habits of engaging in collective reflection on their efforts to support evidence-based science writing in their classrooms.


Learning from student work: Holding students accountable for understanding the science. In this first year, the choices both teachers made about teaching evidence-based science writing were guided by their observations about their students’ written work (domain of consequence), resulting in different levels of professional experimentation. Ms. Washington’s observations about her students’ fall writing led her to change both the prompt and writing scaffolds to require students to take on more of the cognitive work of shaping an argument. Each year, her school’s Grade 8 students designed self-propelled vehicles as part of the physics unit on forces and motion. For this assignment, Ms. Washington did not give students the same kind of outline she provided in the fall. Reflecting after the end of the project on her students’ fall written work, Ms. Washington noted that the outline resulted in “students just regurgitating what I wanted them to say.” Instead, in the spring, Washington added a carefully worded prompt to the standard assignment of building a self-propelled vehicle out of household items that travels a minimum of 4 meters:


Students will be able to compose a writing piece which explains the best wheels, axles, body, and method of propulsion for a self-propelled vehicle (claim). They will cite evidence for these claims using a teacher-created spreadsheet which displays all of the wheels, axles, bodies, methods of propulsion, and distances of all of the cars tested across five periods. Lastly, they will explain the scientific reason behind the best wheels, axles, body, and method of propulsion. (Scoop, spring 2015)


In her post-scoop reflection for the spring lesson series, Ms. Washington described what she thought students got out of this more open-ended approach to the culminating writing assignment:


By adding the writing component to this project, I felt that the students were held accountable for not only creating a self-propelled vehicle but also for understanding the science behind it. Through this last writing assignment, I was able to see the progression we made as a class in the area of writing in science. (Scoop, spring 2015)

Ms. Lane, too, discussed her students’ progress in the first year, but she did not yet describe the same reflection on professional practice. In the spring, Ms. Lane repeated the mystery powder activity with the same students—with the additional element of density, and this time using a district-provided summarization prompt—to observe her students’ progress in evidence-based science writing. In her spring 2015 interview, Ms. Lane described how her TRG encouraged this repetition to learn about her students’ growth, and Ms. Lane embraced the group’s suggestion. Looking back at students’ written conclusions from the fall after incorporating the CER framework into activities throughout the year, Ms. Lane described what she—and her students—learned from reviewing their fall lab conclusions, noting that their fall responses were “not where I want to end up,” as many did not provide the scientific principle linking their evidence to the conclusion. The repeated scoop reinforced Ms. Lane's sense that her students were learning, as they achieved a 77% proficiency rate when she graded their second set of write-ups using a district rubric for formal lab conclusions. Given this perceived success, during her spring 2015 interview, she did not identify any needed changes to her practice despite noting that teaching reasoning was challenging.

In the first year of the ISWP, the two teachers attended to the writing their students produced as they grappled with how to support students in evidence-based science writing. For Ms. Washington, this meant adjusting both the prompt and scaffolds. In contrast, Ms. Lane collected data to document her students’ growth without any explicit professional experimentation related to her practice. Both teachers, however, noted how the student writing process helped clarify their students’ understanding of scientific principles, a theme that deepened as their ISWP participation progressed.


Interdisciplinary collaboration: Learning to teach writing. Despite their growing recognition of the value of evidence-based science writing, both teachers expressed their unfamiliarity with writing instruction, and pointed to collaboration with other teachers—through the national calls and especially through their local TRG meetings—as crucial to their learning about how to scaffold their students’ writing. The two other members of the local TRG taught ELA in addition to science, and Ms. Washington described how valuable she found this diversity of expertise:


The nicest thing about the [local] team was we had two science teachers and two language arts teachers that teach science…[The other science teacher and I] many times would really look at the science end of things. And [the two ELA teachers] would really look at the language arts things...That was very beneficial. (Interview, spring 2016)


Based on the TRG discussions, both Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington described instituting daily class writing assignments that incorporated aspects of claim, evidence, and reasoning, Ms. Lane through the implementation of a science notebook modeled on that of another TRG member and Ms. Washington through daily warm-up writing. They both used exemplars to help students understand how to put together the components for claim, evidence, and reasoning into a coherent whole. They also made explicit connections between evidence-based science writing and the ways in which students were being taught to use and cite evidence in their other classes. Ms. Washington discussed how important both the national calls and local TRG were to building her comfort with scaffolding writing for students, noting “Personally, it was hard for me to teach the writing process, prewriting and the rough drafts, peer editing—you know, going through all those different steps” (Interview, spring 2015).


Prioritizing scientific reasoning: “I see the value in the reasoning piece.” As Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington began to ask their students to craft scientific arguments, they developed an appreciation for the practice as a way to teach students higher-order thinking skills, noting how argument prompts pushed students to go further in providing reasoning than a typical lab report. As Ms. Washington noted, “[Argument writing] takes them to higher depths of knowledge ...it's not strictly just spitting out facts. The writing takes them there...That’s kind of the vehicle” (Interview, spring 2016). Ms. Lane noted that previously in lab report conclusions, her students were not pushed to provide reasoning to connect the evidence to their claim. This recognition that argument writing pushed their students to articulate scientific principles in action echoed that of Ms. Markham and was a step toward greater adoption of evidence-based science writing in their classrooms.


As they introduced argument into their science classroom, however, both teachers noted that their students struggled to demonstrate their knowledge of scientific principles by providing a justification linking evidence to claim. Ms. Lane noted:


[T]hey still have a hard time with reasoning, the scientific principles behind it…The claim part of it, no brainer. The evidence part of it, no brainer. They know that. They know it down pat. And the reasoning part of it, they could reason but not to my level. You know what I mean? I want them to be able to say, ‘Okay, what’s going on with those molecules?’ and they’re not there yet. (Interview, spring 2015)


Similarly, Ms. Washington described how when she shifted to a more open-ended prompt format without the response outline, she realized that her students were not prepared to connect their evidence to their claim:


I see the value in the reasoning piece a lot; these students, they really, really struggle with reasoning, critical thinking, problem-solving skills. And I see the importance of using writing as that way to get them to do that or at least get closer to that. The first time we went through this, I certainly didn’t recognize that reasoning piece to be so poor. (Interview, winter 2018)


This observation that students struggled with reasoning was not unique to Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington. During the first year, ISWP teachers increasingly shared the challenges students experienced articulating reasoning. In response, the research team shared a number of resources, introducing the distinction between criteria- and explanatory-based prompts at the 2015 summer institute and a resource from the Lawrence Hall of Science designed to support teaching scientific reasoning on a fall 2015 national call. The common challenges related to student reasoning and the introduction of these resources meant that reasoning was at the forefront of many TRG conversations in the second year of the ISWP.


Supporting reasoning: Differentiating between criteria- and explanatory-based prompts. In the second year, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington reported that TRG conversations—and their lesson series choices—were influenced by the distinction between criteria- and explanatory-based prompts introduced at the second Summer Institute. At this institute, researchers described patterns from the first year around teachers’ criteria-based prompts that required students to find the best solution meeting an agreed-upon set of criteria versus explanatory prompts demanding explanations of scientific phenomena. Both teachers found this framework helpful in understanding their students’ successes and challenges, and in considering how to scaffold reasoning for each type of argument prompt.


For Ms. Washington, the distinction provided additional insights into some of the differences she observed between her fall 2014 (missing tie) and spring 2015 (first self-propelling vehicle) scoops. She explained:


I had never heard of the criteria versus explanatory. I knew that prompt many times drove the response, but never the categories like that. That was something new to me. The thing I think that also drove some creativity in the spring [2015] one was the fact that it was a little bit more explanatory. We weren't fitting things in the categories...I personally think the explanatory is like even higher-level thinking” (Interview, fall 2015).


Reflecting on the prior year’s student work, she implemented a number of changes aimed at supporting students’ reasoning, extending the lesson series by adding four class periods for students to test vehicle prototypes and engage in the prewriting process, and using graphic organizers and rough drafts to help them develop their reasoning. She also adjusted her scoring of student work to prioritize the culminating written argument. These adjustments to her practice resulted from both the external resources and ideas shared through her TRG (external domain) and her reflection on her students’ work (domain of consequence).


The introduction of a framework differentiating between criteria- and evidence-based arguments prompted Ms. Lane to try a new prompt. Recognizing her mystery lab lessons as criteria-based, and inspired by the ongoing local and national call conversations on the argument types, Ms. Lane decided to try an explanatory prompt for her spring 2016 lesson series: “To slow global warming, should the federal government raise taxes on gasoline so people will drive less?” She expected her students to explain the scientific principle and mechanism behind climate change, and also asked them to address a counterclaim. Upon grading the resultant writing, Ms. Lane felt unsuccessful, describing in her post-scoop reflection what went wrong (Figure 3). In her exploration of a different type of argument writing, Ms. Lane tried to incorporate two new elements of scientific argumentation—an explanatory prompt and counterclaims—into one argument assignment. As she noted in her reflection, she did not support students in understanding how to include a counterclaim—with the outcome that students met neither her expectations of describing the mechanism behind climate change, nor effectively addressing counterarguments. In response to what she considered an unsuccessful lesson series, Ms. Lane concluded that her students could not handle explanatory arguments, and she returned to a criteria-based prompt for her post-ISWP scoop lesson series.


Figure 3. Excerpt from Ms. Lane’s spring 2016 post-scoop reflection

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Reconceiving the prompt: Making it authentic. Over the course of the ISWP, both Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington came to appreciate that the writing prompt itself served as one of the key scaffolds for the evidence-based science writing process. For her final scoop lessons series, Ms. Washington repeated the “Case of the Missing Tie” without the prescribed response format. Instead, she attended carefully to role and audience in crafting the prompt, and relied on the writing scaffolds she had integrated into her course format to support students in the writing process.


I gave them the things that I wanted them to do; you know, I put them in the role and I said you're a forensic scientist; your job is to create a report, a lab report and conclusion that answer these questions, and it was ‘What are the hair samples? How did you identify the hair samples?’…And then the last paragraph was kind of coming to the connection and the conclusion of who did the crime and how did you make that connection, the reasoning piece...It certainly ended up with much more varied responses. I wasn’t reading the same essay and response every single time like I did the first year. (Interview, winter 2018)


Ms. Washington was pleased with how loosening her expectations for the writing format encouraged more creative and interesting student responses, and supported them in reasoning from evidence. In her final interview 2 years after the ISWP, she reflected on how the wording of the writing prompt itself plays a role in the extent to which students demonstrate the ability to reason from evidence in their written responses:


I think taking them through the claim, evidence, and reasoning framework, having them go through authentic labs where…they are doing a lab, and then they are responding to the prompt but it’s authentic. They’re not writing, you know, like a lab report that’s formal and they’re just turning in to a teacher. Kind of that importance of audience and role and things like that, I think it really showed me the importance of that reasoning”... (Interview, winter 2018)


Importantly, as Ms. Washington gave her students freer rein to make sense of their labs and data, she found she learned more about their understanding of the scientific principles and pushed them to think more critically.


Ms. Lane also experimented with how she worded her prompts. Despite feeling discouraged about teaching explanatory prompts—an experience that directly challenged her prior knowledge and dispositions toward teaching scientific argumentation—Ms. Lane continued to teach argument writing after the ISWP ended. Opting into the ISWP follow-on study in fall 2017, she repeated the mystery mixture lab but simplified the writing prompt based on her reflections on her students’ earlier work (Figure 4). In fall 2014, Ms. Lane intended students’ hypotheses about the compounds in the mystery mixture to serve as their claims. However, students repeated observations from the lab but did not provide reasoning about why their hypothesis was or was not correct. The prompt for her second scoop, which was a district-prescribed student learning objective question, yielded similar results. Although at the time she was pleased with the student writing, reflecting back a year later she realized that the prompt had not elicited student reasoning. As a result, she realized that students did not fully understand how the labs demonstrated the scientific principles:


I think that’s reflective of what we as science teachers tend to do. We let them do the conclusion, and we don’t have that reasoning piece in there, and [students] totally miss it. It goes right over our heads. (Interview, spring 2016)


For the 2017–18 school year, Ms. Lane decided to repeat the experiment of teaching the mystery mixture in both fall and spring. This time, she focused on “the CER method [as] a good way to really home in on scientific principles, reasoning—on the evidence supporting the reasoning” (Interview, winter 2018). In the first year, Ms. Lane noted that she felt she was not as good at teaching the reasoning part of the CER framework as she was at the claim and evidence. Now, by framing the writing prompt as a question, she invited greater reasoning: To argue successfully why they knew which compounds were in the mixture, students had to be able to explain the scientific principles behind the various physical and chemical interactions witnessed during the lab. Ms. Lane felt that by continuing to refine her writing prompts, she was getting better at teaching scientific argumentation and eliciting scientific reasoning from her students.



Time

Writing Prompt

Fall 2014

Conclusion: Write a conclusion that is a minimum of five (5) sentences. Be sure to include the following: objective, restate hypothesis, was your hypothesis correct, discuss results, and at least one thing you learned.

Spring 2015

Summarize the process used to determine the compounds of an unknown mixture by using the scientific method.

Fall 2017

What compounds make up the mystery mixture?


Figure 4. Ms. Lane’s mystery mixture scoop prompts


From scientific method to argument: “It doesn't mean anything if they can't connect it back to the reasons why it's happening.” At the end of the study period, both Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington described how implementing scientific argument writing in their classroom changed their approach to teaching science. Like Ms. Lane, Ms. Washington described how she saw scientific argumentation as going a step further than teaching the scientific method in pushing students to engage with scientific principles: “I really noticed these kids can follow the scientific method. They can get data. They know how to go through the motions. But it doesn't mean anything if they can’t connect it back to the reasons why it's happening” (Interview, spring 2016). Further, she described how the process transformed both her sense of her goals and role as a science teacher:


So when I began [the ISWP], a good science teacher was...somebody that makes learning fun and gets kids to understand those concepts. Today, I would answer that a little bit differently because I understand the importance of not only understanding things in science, but also the importance of skills like critical thinking and problem solving and learning through failure and all of those things.…I definitely…started off thinking that my role as a science teacher was to deliver instruction and…I feel like I’m becoming more and more of a coach…facilitating instruction. (Interview, winter 2018)


Ms. Lane also noted a change in her understanding of her role as a teacher, as she too shifted to emphasizing argument in lab writes-ups. She noted, “In the past, it was disseminating information and now it’s letting them see the lightbulb going off—understand through experimentation but making sure that they are looking at evidence and drawing right principle—not me just disseminating information” (Interview, winter 2018). After completing her final case study lesson series in fall 2017, Ms. Lane expressed her continued enthusiasm for scientific argumentation, writing, “I love this type of writing and will always use it in my classroom. Other types of writing seem so superficial now” (Scoop, winter 2018).


Owning argument: Spreading evidence-based science writing. Despite their initial uncertainty about teaching argument writing, both Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington became more comfortable with scientific argumentation in their classrooms. This increase in confidence is most vividly illustrated by their decision to offer a summer course for teachers on scientific argumentation. During the 2016–17 school year, Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington collaborated with another teacher in their former group and the local Writing Project to develop a weeklong summer course for educators to learn how to teach evidence-based science writing, building on some of the activities from the ISWP. Leading the summer 2017 course bolstered the habits of collaborative reflection developed through the ISWP experience. Ms. Lane shared that her favorite part of teaching the summer course was leading a reflection on the lesson series that participants designed that week. Further, Ms. Lane joined a small group of ISWP teachers who met with researchers and the NWP in early summer 2016 to test and refine the teacher reflection protocols developed out of researchers’ analysis of the lesson series and teacher research group meetings. Finally, both Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington volunteered to participate in additional activities with researchers after the conclusion of the ISWP. All of these activities demonstrate the extent to which the two teachers embraced evidence-based science writing not only for their classrooms, but also because they saw their role as supporting the integration of the practice in science teaching broadly.


Case 2 summary and reflection. Case 2 shows how cycles of enactment and reflection may play out differently for teachers, as those cycles are inherently informed by and mediated through the unique interactions between the domains of a teacher’s environment and experience. Ms. Lane and Ms. Washington offer an example of two teachers in similar contexts who repeatedly taught similar lessons, reflected on practice together in the same professional communities, and both experienced growth in their knowledge and practice. Yet the differences in their knowledge and dispositions, as well as distinctions in when and how they engaged with the salient outcomes of their work, led Ms. Washington to experience a more straightforward learning journey, while Ms. Lane grappled with the challenges many veteran teachers may face when measuring the success of professional experimentation compared to more familiar prior practice. Ultimately, as the teachers continued to reflect on their practice both individually and collaboratively, they both shifted towards approaching scientific argumentation as a discipline-specific practice. Their practices evolved to encourage more open structures of writing that valued the discipline-specific elements of scientific argumentation, prioritized scientific reasoning, and authentically incorporated argument writing into science class.


DISCUSSION


Together, these cases illustrate several themes related to teachers’ growth that were present across the ISWP teachers as they integrated evidence-based science writing into their classrooms. They also show the salience of the change environment theory in understanding how these dimensions interacted to catalyze teacher change.


We consider first what the cases revealed about how teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge changed, and then considered changes in their practice. All three teachers expressed several key changes in their attitudes and beliefs about evidence-based science writing. As the ISWP teachers had their students engage in argument writing, they noted a newfound appreciation of the role of argument in both assessment and deepening students’ understanding of scientific principles. By the end of the study, all three teachers described ways in which scientific argument demanded more of their students and revealed more about students’ understanding than traditional lab reports. We also viewed changes in teacher practice. Notably, all three teachers became more attentive to their writing prompts, devising prompts that were designed to elicit reasoning rather than a statement of claim and evidence without any explanation of how the evidence supports the claim. In addition, all three teachers experimented with aspects of evidence-based science writing, incorporating writing into their classes beyond the scoop lesson series, trying different prompts and scaffolds, and observing the changes in students’ written products.


The relationship between teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes and their practice, however, was not linear and unidirectional (i.e., change in attitude leads to change in practice). Representing the teachers’ domain of consequence, the written work that students produced played a key role mediating the feedback loop between teacher’s attitudes and practice: As teachers experimented with a more central role for argumentation in their classrooms, their students produced work (in the form of written arguments) that was itself more revealing of student learning, making the work more fruitful as a subject for inspection. This richness of the student work associated with argumentation in turn motivated further professional experimentation from teachers and led to a greater sense of comfort with scientific argumentation in their classroom.


Further, representing the external domain, several program structures appear to have been key in supporting teachers’ growth. First, the scoop lesson series itself demanded that teachers experiment with the argument writing. Scoops were submitted to the national network, shared across sites, and discussed within the local TRGs, providing a level of accountability and obligation to attempt evidence-based science writing each semester over a 2-year period, jump-starting the introduction of this scientific practice in the classroom. Additionally, the structure of the scoop, which included pre- and post-scoop reflection questions, nudged teachers toward connecting their choices of prompt and scaffolds to the quality of student work produced. Finally, the teachers repeatedly pointed to the collaboration and exchange of ideas afforded by their TRGs and the national network as valuable in developing their understanding of scientific argumentation and pedagogy to support this practice.


Notably, we observed several instances in which teachers’ reflective cycles shaped the formal activities of the ISWP at the national level (not only the local TRGs), such as the focus on explanatory versus criteria-based prompts at the second summer institute and the fall 2015 national call on the reasoning tool. Although the Clarke and Hollingsworth (2002) change environment theory accounts for most aspects of a teacher’s learning experience, it does not fully depict how professional development can itself be influenced by teacher learning. The ISWP included teacher feedback in the design of professional learning materials, a form of co-development that enabled the provision of resources and frameworks that were tailored to teachers’ needs and seemed to foster the capacity of the teachers to reflect on their own practice.


Despite variation in other aspects of the external domain across cases—one state adopted the NGSS, while the second did not—the ISWP served as a powerful external stimulus and source of information for all three teachers as they engaged in core ISWP activities as well as additional opportunities offered by researchers and local Writing Projects. Ultimately, the dynamic interplay of the change environment domains illustrates how cycles of enactment and reflection prompt professional learning. As teachers experience these growth networks, the changes in each domain integrate more deeply into teachers’ professional identities and practice.


In addition to confirming the utility of the change environment as a lens for understanding teacher change, these cases also suggest a central role for the content of the professional development itself as a mediator of change. We hypothesize that the professional development focused on NGSS practices, and on scientific argument in particular, may be a particularly powerful catalyst for teacher change in the context of sustained professional development that promotes cycles of enactment and reflection. Many NGSS practices, such as developing and using models or analyzing and using data, could serve as powerful formative assessment tools that reveal the gaps in student thinking and understanding. Further, they have meaning within the realm of scientific inquiry that are discipline specific, and thus force students and teachers to grapple with the nature of science and scientific knowledge. Introducing scientific argumentation into their classrooms will not lead all teachers to fundamentally rethink their role as science teachers, as Ms. Washington did. Based on the experiences of the ISWP teachers, however, argument emerges as a promising focus for promoting teachers’ reflection on student learning, their own practice, and ultimately for teacher change.


LIMITATIONS


We highlight two main limitations of this study. First, our data collection and analysis enabled us to explore how teachers’ understanding and enactment of scientific argumentation in the classroom changed over the course of the ISWP, but the research design does not provide the same level of evidence in support of causal claims as a randomized control trial. Second, because teachers elected to be part of the ISWP, we do not know the extent to which the shifts we observed can be generalized to middle school science teachers more broadly.


Study Design


Our comparative case study analysis of the interview and scoop data permits a deep examination of the shifts in teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about the role of scientific argumentation in the classroom and changes to their practice. Through our analysis of the scooped assignments and student work as well as teachers’ reflections in interviews and their scoops, we traced the structures, processes, and habits fostered by the ISWP. This analysis also elucidated the local and state contexts in which teachers operate, including the district priorities shaped by adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the NGSS. Although the evidence for causal inference is not as great as it would be using a comparison group design with random assignment, we make a number of inferences about the teacher development process and how the ISWP structure facilitated teacher change. These inferences are based on a close analysis of the data and have an important role in building and validating models of teacher change that can guide teacher professional development design.


Generalizability


Teachers who elected to participate in the ISWP may differ from middle school science teachers more generally in their orientation toward writing in the science classroom. All three of the case study teachers described how they incorporated argument through lab write-ups or informational writing prior to the ISWP. Further, the three case study teachers all agreed to participate in the study after the main ISWP activities concluded, which may reflect a commitment to argument writing, the ISWP community, or both. The voluntary nature of ISWP participation could limit the generalizability of our inferences about the observed change mechanisms to middle school science teachers more broadly. We note, however, that a significant focus on scientific argument writing was new to all teachers in the study, including the case study teachers.


Implications for Professional Development


These case studies hold implications for the field’s understanding of how teachers learn. The power of the change environment in explaining the kind of deep and lasting changes we observed suggests that this theory may be a useful framework for the design of professional learning experiences—particularly urgent in light of the need for professional learning to support the seismic shifts in pedagogy implied by current national science standards (Osborne, 2014; Wilson, 2013). The learning trajectories of the three teachers reinforce the need for sustained learning environments to support teacher change.


In particular, we note that the scoop structure itself offers a potentially productive interweaving of the domain of consequence and the domain of practice, as teachers are explicitly prompted to interrogate the relationship between elements of instruction and elements of student work. This interplay between these two domains, as exemplified in the scooping of lessons, brings forward the value of complex, rather than rote, student work as a generative context for professional inquiry. Further, we hypothesize that the enactment–reflection cycles required by the scoop approach may be necessary for any professional development that seeks to help teachers develop a discipline-specific understanding of a practice that otherwise represents a ubiquitous skill in everyday life. Both students and teachers must learn what it means to ask questions, interpret data, or obtain, evaluate, and communicate information in the context of scientific inquiry; distinguishing between colloquial argument and engaging in scientific argument from evidence may represent the largest shift among all the NGSS practices. The success of any professional development related to the NGSS practices may hinge on the degree to which the experience creates space for teachers to distinguish the parameters of the discipline-specific nature of the practice in question from its everyday applications.


Further, the productive use of feedback within the ISWP, with teachers co-developing some of the content, suggests that professional development providers should think about how to build habits of reflection into their own design processes, allowing space for feedback and learning from practitioners. This feedback can productively influence the structure and content of learning activities. In this way, professional development can model and mirror iterative reflection. By nurturing patterns of reflective learning and employing more complex, nuanced theories of change, programs could support lasting teacher change.


Directions for Future Research


The experience of the ISWP teachers suggests several directions for future research on teacher change and the introduction of evidence science writing in the classroom. The study’s sample, drawn from teachers who self-selected to participate in a local writing group, had a high proportion of teachers open to incorporating writing into their instruction. In the future, it would be good to expand the understanding of how teachers who have not made the same choice to participate in a local writing project make changes to their writing instruction. This would enable expansion of the sample population to more locations, allowing for greater understanding of teacher professional collaboration in a variety of contexts, including states that are not moving toward NGSS adoption or assessing science achievement through students’ written responses. Further, it would be useful to examine how students experience these instructional changes. That is, how do students perceive their science writing, how do students make sense of the combining of ELA skills with science practices, and how do they perform on standardized tests that are increasingly asking students to provide written responses? Finally, as discussed previously, this qualitative study also raised important theoretical questions about the possible disciplinary nature of teacher change: Is there something specific about practice with argumentation, and/or argument writing, that promotes change? Should a theory of teacher change include the target content as mediator in the change environment? Future research would do well to consider the role that content itself plays in teacher change.

Notes

1. Scientific argument may be disputative, involving competing claims, but the expectation is that these points of view will converge with sufficient evidence.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 7, 2021, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23744, Date Accessed: 1/19/2022 6:47:18 AM

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  • Naa Ammah-Tagoe
    Education Forward DC
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    NAA AMMAH-TAGOE is senior manager, schools and talent, at Education Forward DC, and was formerly an education researcher at SRI International. Her work supports organizations that train educators, improve talent management practices, and support social–emotional wellbeing in school environments.
  • Kyra Caspary
    SRI International
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    KYRA CASPARY, Ph.D., is a senior principal researcher at SRI International. She uses qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how to improve educational experiences, particularly for youth who are marginalized in many traditional public school settings. Her areas of expertise include high school pathways that integrate college and career preparation and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) preparation and pathway programs. She earned her PhD in education from the University of California, Berkeley and holds a master’s degree from UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. Along with Ammah-Tagoe, Greenwald, and Cannady, she has drafted protocols to guide collaborative teacher discussion and reflection about teaching scientific argument writing that can be found here.
  • Matthew A. Cannady
    UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science
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    MATTHEW A. CANNADY, Ph.D., is a senior research lead and the research group director at the Lawrence Hall of Science. At various points in his life, he has been a high school physics teacher and product design engineer, studied the surfaces of moons in our solar system at NASA Ames, and earned a doctorate in measurement, evaluation, statistics, and assessment at Boston College. His current work explores the dispositions, practices, and knowledge that position youth for future success in science learning, and to highlight ways that science can be marshaled for community advocacy. His work spans formal and informal settings to support equity and inclusion in STEM learning. Recent publications include examining the role of scientific sensemaking to support science learning across disciplines and instructional contexts, and the development of an international measure of ocean literacy that has been used in dozens of countries around the world to inform global instruction about the ocean.
  • Eric Greenwald
    UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science
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    ERIC GREENWALD, Ph.D., is a senior researcher at UC Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, where he leads federally funded research projects related to the teaching and learning of science and engineering practices, with a focus on the intersection of science and computational thinking. He holds a PhD in curriculum and teacher education from Stanford University, a teaching certificate and master’s degree in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a BA in chemistry from Indiana University. Prior to graduate school, he taught math and science in public high schools for 6 years. Recent relevant publications include a study of teacher formative assessment practices around oral scientific argumentation and a study of teacher implementation of a virtual engineering internship in middle school science classrooms. Eric also helped lead the development of a nationally recognized science curriculum for K–8th grade students.
 
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