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Moving teaching away from transmitting facts to co-constructing conceptual understandings: a cognitively activating instructional approach
Moving teaching away from transmitting facts to co-constructing conceptual understandings: a cognitively activating instructional approach
The recent science education reforms in Germany have stressed that biology teaching should move away from transmitting isolated facts to engaging students in co-constructing interconnected and conceptual level knowledge. It is known that cognitively activating instruction can warrant a deep level engagement with the subject matter. Cognitively activating instruction includes three key dimensions: teaching interconnected and complex subject matter knowledge, use of challenging tasks, and a thoughtful-constructive discourse. There is evidence that cognitively activating instruction can enhance students’ cognitive as well as affective outcomes. However, the research in this field has primarily relied on multi-dimensional rating manuals to measure the overall cognitive potential of the lessons. It remains to be investigated how the individual dimensions of this construct affect student outcomes. It also remains unclear how teachers could include the three dimensions of cognitively activating instruction in their regular lessons. Within the scope of this doctoral work, we addressed these research gaps by focusing on the following three research objectives: 1) describing German biology lessons based on two of the three key dimensions of cognitively activating instruction: teachers’ use of challenging tasks and teachers’ use of focus questions to initiate and direct thoughtful discourse; 2) ascertaining the influence of these teaching features on students’ topic-related knowledge structure; and 3) proposing a lesson-design model that supports teachers in planning and implementing cognitively activating biology lessons. A pre-selected sample of 30 out of 47 biology lessons (45 minutes each) on the common theme of ‘blood and circulatory system, from a previous quasi-experimental pre-post study were re-analyzed in this doctoral study. Additionally, we collaborated with one 11th-grade biology teacher to demonstrate how the explanation oriented teaching approach could be used to plan cognitively activating biology lessons. A descriptive analysis of biology lessons revealed that teachers mostly used lower cognitive level and lower content complexity tasks to orchestrate content-related interactions. This analysis also revealed that very few teachers used focus questions to highlight the purpose of the lesson; moreover, even fewer teachers used explanation-oriented specific and challenging focus questions to orchestrate meaning-making discussions. A multilevel analysis depicted a small magnitude positive effect of high-level cognitive processing tasks on students’ topic-related knowledge structure; however, we did not find any effect of higher content complexity tasks on this outcome variable. Furthermore, while the teachers’ use of specific and challenging focus questions predicted students’ topic-related knowledge structure, there was no significant effect of teachers’ use of non-specific or simple focus questions on the outcome variable. Additionally, the collaborative lesson-design work with the grade 11 biology teacher demonstrated how the scientific practice of constructing explanations could be used as a vehicle to plan and implement cognitively activating biology lessons. In conclusion, while the descriptive findings revealed that the teacher-centered, fact-driven instructional practices were prominent in German biology lessons, the correlational findings demonstrated a small magnitude positive effect of cognitively activating instructional features on students’ knowledge structure. Additionally, the explanation-oriented teaching model provided insights into planning cognitive activating biology lessons. Overall, the results obtained from this doctoral thesis advocate the use of cognitively activating instructional model in regular biology teaching in order to reform biology education.
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Nawani, Jigna Srichand
2018
English
Universitätsbibliothek der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Nawani, Jigna Srichand (2018): Moving teaching away from transmitting facts to co-constructing conceptual understandings: a cognitively activating instructional approach. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Biology
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Abstract

The recent science education reforms in Germany have stressed that biology teaching should move away from transmitting isolated facts to engaging students in co-constructing interconnected and conceptual level knowledge. It is known that cognitively activating instruction can warrant a deep level engagement with the subject matter. Cognitively activating instruction includes three key dimensions: teaching interconnected and complex subject matter knowledge, use of challenging tasks, and a thoughtful-constructive discourse. There is evidence that cognitively activating instruction can enhance students’ cognitive as well as affective outcomes. However, the research in this field has primarily relied on multi-dimensional rating manuals to measure the overall cognitive potential of the lessons. It remains to be investigated how the individual dimensions of this construct affect student outcomes. It also remains unclear how teachers could include the three dimensions of cognitively activating instruction in their regular lessons. Within the scope of this doctoral work, we addressed these research gaps by focusing on the following three research objectives: 1) describing German biology lessons based on two of the three key dimensions of cognitively activating instruction: teachers’ use of challenging tasks and teachers’ use of focus questions to initiate and direct thoughtful discourse; 2) ascertaining the influence of these teaching features on students’ topic-related knowledge structure; and 3) proposing a lesson-design model that supports teachers in planning and implementing cognitively activating biology lessons. A pre-selected sample of 30 out of 47 biology lessons (45 minutes each) on the common theme of ‘blood and circulatory system, from a previous quasi-experimental pre-post study were re-analyzed in this doctoral study. Additionally, we collaborated with one 11th-grade biology teacher to demonstrate how the explanation oriented teaching approach could be used to plan cognitively activating biology lessons. A descriptive analysis of biology lessons revealed that teachers mostly used lower cognitive level and lower content complexity tasks to orchestrate content-related interactions. This analysis also revealed that very few teachers used focus questions to highlight the purpose of the lesson; moreover, even fewer teachers used explanation-oriented specific and challenging focus questions to orchestrate meaning-making discussions. A multilevel analysis depicted a small magnitude positive effect of high-level cognitive processing tasks on students’ topic-related knowledge structure; however, we did not find any effect of higher content complexity tasks on this outcome variable. Furthermore, while the teachers’ use of specific and challenging focus questions predicted students’ topic-related knowledge structure, there was no significant effect of teachers’ use of non-specific or simple focus questions on the outcome variable. Additionally, the collaborative lesson-design work with the grade 11 biology teacher demonstrated how the scientific practice of constructing explanations could be used as a vehicle to plan and implement cognitively activating biology lessons. In conclusion, while the descriptive findings revealed that the teacher-centered, fact-driven instructional practices were prominent in German biology lessons, the correlational findings demonstrated a small magnitude positive effect of cognitively activating instructional features on students’ knowledge structure. Additionally, the explanation-oriented teaching model provided insights into planning cognitive activating biology lessons. Overall, the results obtained from this doctoral thesis advocate the use of cognitively activating instructional model in regular biology teaching in order to reform biology education.