2015 Individual Grant Winner

Scott Sander

Teacher Education

Writing to Enhance Student Learning in EDT 181/182

Potential Impact

"To be a successful science student, one must deny precisely those critical instincts that are the hallmark of the sciences." - Rosenblatt, 2011, p. 157

This quote summarizes the unfortunate reality separating "school science" from science itself, yet sets the stage for how I conceptualized and redesigned EDT 181 / 182. Large lecture courses and the associated transmission model of learning they employ are still the dominant way students are taught science at the university level (Rosenblatt, 2011). Most students at the college level now passively accept this as "education" and no longer question what school is offering (Feiman-Nemser, 2012). This becomes especially problematic for those individuals who aspire to become teachers, as the one-way flow of information serves to implant an objective view of science as discrete content to be consumed vs. science as a way of thinking and knowing (Feiman-Nemser, 2012). This mindset is further entrenched when "assessment" is used to test whether students can regurgitate the answers from the textbook and/or what the professor has told them.

My work has been focused on making science classroom instruction parallel what real scientists DO. It's not about what I can tell students about science nor is it about what students can memorize, because that type of knowledge transmission/consumption is no longer science! "Instruction" requires placing students into the active role of thinking like a scientist. "Assessment" must make this thinking visible. I want to use writing that will make the reflection process visible for students and a way for me to gather information related to content, comprehension, skill development, and intellectual growth. This means providing opportunities for students to notice, wonder, ask questions, analyze data, and build logical explanations then use writing projects/assignments as a way to both further develop and document the learning process (Ritchhart, Church, & Morrison, 2011).

While I've made significant progress on the instruction piece, I still need further assistance using writing as a tool for enhancing student learning of science content and process in a large, lecture setting.

Benefits for Students

With the majority of those enrolled being future elementary teachers, I feel the tremendous responsibility for them to realize what science is... and what it is NOT. Instead of the traditional dispensing of science content, I teach this course in a manner consistent with the current models advocated in the research literature. Students are immersed in an inquiry environment structured to promote understanding and scientific thinking and not mere memorization of science content (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The emphasis is on being skeptical vs. accepting at face value, on collaboration and construction of meaning vs. rote memorization, and on observation and being curious vs. passive consumption of information. So it's important that my assessments and writing assignments parallel this approach. I want this project to help me construct a variety of writing assignments (small and big) that facilitates the students' capacity to ask their own questions and not merely provide well-written responses to my questions.

It's imperative that our preservice teachers learn the content and process of science in a manner consistent with how they'll be expected to teach. Unless students experience "student-centered, inquiry-based" practices how will they ever transition away from the traditional, teacher-centered environment? If we want teachers that are able to create classroom cultures of thinking and learning, they must experience the process firsthand--to engage, struggle, question, explore and build their own understanding. In this manner I see the course as part content course, part methods course, and part psychology course. By adding a coherent writing piece that compliments the curriculum I think it could have profound effects for students... and then their future students, about broader purposes for writing. Instead of seeing it as an assignment to be completed for the teacher, how can I reframe the writing process to yield products that both facilitate and document student thinking?

Number of Students Benefited

EDT 181/182 is a course that ranges from 60-100 student per semester. While these large lecture courses are prevalent for financial reasons, there is still a need to shift them away from passive environments and toward more active environments. Further, about half of the enrollment each semester comes from the business school. This is a population that has even less need for memorizing and regurgitating science as factoids, but can benefit from the critical thinking of scientists. One thing that I realized is that each department wants the same kind of student to emerge from their program. Whether it's called critical thinking, divergent thinking, creative thinking, lateral thinking, flexible thinking, adaptive thinking, we all want students who can think! So I need writing assignments that provide the opportunity to capture and convey the divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking asked in EDT 181/182.

Project Objectives

The purpose of this grant is to use writing as a tool for enhancing student learning of science content and process.

  1. Use writing that further develops thinking skills and facilitates students' capacity to ask their own questions
  2. Use writing as documentation that will make the reflection process visible for students
  3. Use writing as documentation for me to gather information related to content, understanding, skill development, and intellectual growth

In a large "lecture" course, I also see writing as a way to extend and open up the discourse between the students and the teacher. While I may not be able to engage with them in extended, verbal conversations, by making thinking visible I am able to keep track of what students are making sense of and what has yet to be considered. Documenting learning in this way and sharing it with the learners enables them to see how they can learn from one another and help inform my knowledge of teaching and learning (Krechevsky, Mardell, Rivard, & Wilson, 2013).

This type of documentation is the type of formative assessment that can guide the learning process, not just evaluate the learning outcome (Turner & Krechevsky, 2003). It’s a broader, more beneficial way to look at assessment. This is visual "evidence" of learning and supports the increased awareness of the students that learning has occurred. Unfortunately while many teachers aspire for their students to be "critical thinkers" their methods of teaching and measuring learning may unintentionally stifle thoughtfulness (Wiggins, 2012).

Using the Reggio-Inspired approaches that focus on the value of documentation in the learning process (Krechevsky et al., 2013). These research-based practices for fostering learning in groups will be applied to my large "lecture" physical science courses. The goal is to further align the learning of science with the nature of science via various writing assignments that make learning a visible activity that develops students' intellectual capacities as well as their individual and group identities as learners (Krechevsky et al., 2013). Documenting group learning shifts children away from the idea that it is only the teacher who teaches.

Most importantly for me is to model and represent the teaching of science in a socially just manner. Under the umbrella of social justice, I believe the role of a teacher is to prepare students to become active and engaged citizens in democratic societies. Viewed through this lens, both students and teachers need to be active participants in the construction of knowledge within classrooms. The teacher must first embrace the role of co-constructor of knowledge prior to any reasonable expectation to guide students toward the same goal (Rothstein & Santana, 2011). My aim is to promote teaching as social justice (inside classrooms) for a more just society (outside classrooms). This represents both a means and an ends regarding social justice, the role of a teacher and the purposes of school. By using instruction and written assessment that constantly makes student thinking visible I'm able to consider the voices of pre-service teachers and I'm better able to ascertain longitudinal aspects of becoming and being a classroom teacher.

Project Plan

I need to incorporate more writing that will enhance student learning of science content and process. My current pedagogy generates a lot of written student responses, I just need to know how to utilize them for formative assessment in order to help students become more independent in their own learning.

Stage 1: Attend the Howe Workshop in May aimed at Improving Student Writing and Learning Across the Curriculum. This will be the initial step where I plan to conceptualize "how to" use writing assignments that maximize student learning of content and process.

Stage 2: During Summer 2015, use grant funds to buy time to integrate workshop ideas into EDT 181 / 182

Stage 3: In conjunction with CTE's Alumni Teaching Scholars program, I will implement the writing assignments into EDT 181. I see this grant as a key piece of the bigger puzzle to help me align the teaching/learning of science with the nature of science. At this stage I will also use the writing assignments as formative assessments to provide students with feedback, and work with the Howe Writing Center staff to make necessary adjustments.

Stage 4: In Winter 2015/2016, I will use grant funds to buy time to analyze the writing assignments as documentation of student learning to plan and prepare a journal article about my work in large lecture classes. This will also provide me with information to plan adjustments for EDT 182.

My overall plan is consistent with EDT, EHS, and Miami University's emphasis on transformative learning environments and less consistent with traditional models of education that flow from one textbook chapter to the next where students are expected to regurgitate current knowledge but not provided opportunities to think outside of the textbook in order to generate new knowledge from genuine interest and curiosity. As students engage in conversations about "new" content that results in a connection to their existing knowledge, a process that results in new ideas or insights, they come to realize this is "new" knowledge that they created … it wasn't handed to them by someone else, they own it and this is the beginning of authentic engagement, independent learning, and deeper levels of understanding that schools like Miami claim to support and develop!

Assessment Strategy

I see the assessment of this project to be ongoing and overlapping. In "making thinking visible," there is built in "assessment" that comes from activities and routines. Instead of responding to questions with objective answers, the pedagogy I use requires students to identify with that see, think, and wonder. As these responses are documented they provide valuable information about what students have noticed and what connections are being made. The instruction and assessment should work together as students build their individual understandings of science content and process. I see the instruction leading to writing assignments that can be viewed as generating documentation of thinking over the course of a semester. It's this type of semester long, dialogue or ongoing conversation that I would look to capture in portfolio style and have students reflect on at the end of the semester.

Team Members

For this project, team members will include:

  1. Dr. Scott Sander (instructor of EDT 181 / 182)
  2. 2 Graduate Assistants assigned to teaching the lab portion of the course but mentored by me and active in "making thinking visible" during the weekly lab sessions
  3. Howe Writing Center staff for feedback and formative assessment during the 2015-2016 academic year


Summer 2015: Attend Howe Writing Center workshop "Improving Student Writing and Learning Across the Curriculum" and use this information to redesign all writing assignments in EDT 181 / 182

Fall 2015: Implement writing assignments into EDT 181, use assignments to provide students with formative feedback, use Howe Writing Center for support

Winter 2015: Analyze writing assignments from EDT 181 as documentation for 1) journal article and 2) adjustments for EDT 182

Spring 2016: Ongoing cycle of implementation and reflection of writing assignments in EDT 182


I am requesting the full $2,000 grant funds for:

  • Individual stipend for time to design and incorporate proposed grant ideas
  • Individual stipend for time spent with students and Howe writing staff discussing their writing and planning for future growth
  • Individual stipend for time to collect and analyze data that would lead to the submission of a journal article based on this aspect of the project


Feiman-Nemser, S. (2012). Teachers as learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Krechevsky, M., Mardell, B., Rivard, M., & Wilson, D. G. (2013). Visible learners: Promoting Reggio-inspired approaches in all schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states (Spi edition). Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Rosenblatt, L. B. (2011). Rethinking the way we teach science: The interplay of content, pedagogy, and the nature of science. New York, NY: Routledge.

Rothstein, D., & Santana, L. (2011). Make just one change: Teach students to ask their own questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Turner, T., & Krechevsky, M. (2003). Who are the teachers? Who are the learners? Educational Leadership, 60(7), 40-43.

Wiggins, G. (2012, September 3). Thinking about a lack of thinking. Retrieved from http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/thinking-about-a-lack-of-thinking/