Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Making educational innovations practical for teachers

How to make educational innovations practical for teachers

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Fred Janssen

Many innovative teaching approaches lack classroom impact because teachers consider the proposals impractical. In this research program we develop a theory on teachers’ practical decision making. This theory in turn provides the foundations for a methodology to make innovations practical for teachers.

Educational innovations as impossible teapots

Educational research has had only modest impact on classroom practice.  Hargreaves and Fink (2006) summarize the disappointing results as follows: "Change in education is easy to propose, hard to implement and extraordinarily difficult to sustain”.

We argue that the limited classroom impact can be attributed to characteristics of innovative educational designs. Educational innovations are often like the impossible teapot by the French artist Jacques Carelman: they are optimized for their primary purpose (i.e. learning of the students) but are not practical for the user (i.e. the teachers). This raises the question: how to make educational innovation practical for teachers?

 Since 2011 Fred works together on this project with Professor Walter Doyle (iversity of Arizona) nd dr. Hanna Westbroek (U Amsterdam)  Currently two post-docs and six PhD projects are connected to this research.  For an introduction to our research see a podcast of a  public seminar given by Professor Walter Doyle, University of Arizona, at the Oxford University Department of Education.

The twofold aim of our research

  1. Building a theory for understanding teacher practical decision making.
  2. Developing a methodology (derived from this theory) for bridging the gap between reform proposals and classroom practice

Toward a theory of teacher practical decision making

Our theory is grounded in practicality theory  and elaborated through recent theoretical advances on bounded rational decision making with respect to:  goal systems; heuristics; modularity;  and evolutionary planning. Brief outline of our heuristic goal system theory:

  • Teachers pursue multiple goals simultaneously, represented in a goal system
  • Teachers use heuristics (cost-effective procedures) to attain their goals.
  • Teachers do not optimize but  try to improve their existing actions plans, often by recombining and adapting existing lesson segments.

Toward a bridging methodology for making innovations   practical

Heuristic goal system theory provides the design foundation for  a bridging methodology. This methodology consists of tools for:

  • Constructing teachers’  heuristic goal systems
  • Performing a teaching impact analysis that connects the innovation to  a teacher’s heuristic goal system
  • Constructing both individual and group trajectories for teachers to gradually adapt their teaching practice in the direction of the innovation in a way that the teachers considers each step as an improvement

We have applied this approach successfully in making several ambitious forms of teaching practical for both beginning and experienced teachers: concept-context based teaching; task-centered teaching; open inquiry labs; differentiated instruction; guided discovery learning; and formative assessment. Moreover, we have developed a generative toolkit that teachers can use for a permanent stepwise expansion of their teaching repertoire.

  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Grossman, P., & H.B. Westbroek (2015). Facilitating decomposition and recomposition in practice based teacher education. The power of modularity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 15, 137-146.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Westbroek, H.B. & W. Doyle (2015). Practicality studies: How to move from what works in principle to what works  in practice.  Journal of the Learning Sciences, 24(1), 176-186.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M. & B. van Berkel (2015). Making philosophies of science education practical for science teachers. Science & Education. 24 (3)  229-258  
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Westbroek, H.B. & W. Doyle (2014) The practical turn in teacher education. Designing a preparation sequence for core practice  frames. Journal of Teacher Education, 65(3), 195-206.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Westbroek, H.B., & van Driel, J.H. (2014). How to make guided discovery learning practical for student teachers. Instructional  Science, 42, 67-90.
  • Janssen, F.J.J.M., Westbroek, H.B., Doyle, W. & van Driel,  J.H. (2013). How to make innovations practical. Teachers College Record, 115 (7), 1-43

Podcast of a public seminar on our research program given by Professor Walter Doyle, University of Arizona, at the Oxford University Department of Education.

Walter Doyle, Professor, College of Education. Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies, College of Education, The University of Arizona

Hanna Westbroek, Assistant Professor, Centre for Educational Training, Assessment and Research, VU University Amsterdam

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