Ambitious Instruction in Undergraduate Biology Laboratories
Strimaitis, Anna Margaret (author)
Southerland, Sherry A., 1962- (professor directing dissertation)
Underwood, Nora (university representative)
Andrews-Larson, Christine J. (committee member)
Winn, Alice A. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
School of Teacher Education (degree granting department)
National recommendations for undergraduate biology education call for orchestrating opportunities for students to "figure out" scientific explanations in the classroom setting by engaging in similar disciplinary practices and discourses as scientists. One approach to realize this vision, ambitious science teaching, describes four essential practices, each of which emphasizes classroom talk as an essential feature of student understanding. However, a critical element of reform is the instructor, who translates and enacts recommended practices in the classroom. This dissertation examines three specific aspects of ambitious science teaching in the context of an undergraduate biology laboratory course: how teaching assistants (TAs) take up the ambitious science teaching practice of eliciting and responding to student ideas, how TAs use positioning acts to support or constrain students' opportunities to engage in rigorous scientific discourse, and how engaging students in ambitious science teaching practices is mutually supportive for both the TAs develop as a professional scientist and the students' development of proficiency in science. The first study described how thirteen undergraduate biology TAs enacted one ambitious practice, eliciting and responding to students' initial and unfolding ideas, in a general biology laboratory course for nonscience majors before and after one semester of targeted professional development. Each participant was videotaped teaching the same lesson at the beginning of his or her first and second semesters as a TA. These videos were transcribed and coded for ambitious and conservative discursive moves. The findings describe four common profiles for how TAs changed in their practice of eliciting and responding to student ideas after one semester, with one profile eliciting more rigorous student discourse, one profile eliciting less rigorous student discourse, and two profiles fall in the middle of the spectrum. Implications for TA professional development are discussed. The next study was based on the premise that classrooms are complex systems, with a variety of factors influencing the teaching and learning that takes place within the system, including how teachers enact instructional practices. Teachers may translate and enact the same instructional practice differently, which could have important consequences for student learning opportunities. This study examined TA views about the role of the TA and the role of the students in classroom conversations and how these views supported or constrained opportunities for students to engage in scientific discourse. Using qualitative case study methodology, I examined how five TAs enacted whole class conversations in four different lab investigations over two different semesters. Using positioning acts as an analytical lens, the data were analyzed to develop themes describing how the role of the TA and the students was signaled in these five classrooms. The findings illustrated how TAs who positioned students as critical contributors to scientific conversations created opportunities for students to engage in scientific discourse while TAs who self-positioned as the authority on biology knowledge limited opportunities for students to engage in scientific discourse. Implications for classroom practice are discussed. The final study is based on the premise that, due to the calls for reforming undergraduate biology education, biology TAs are increasingly responsible for enacting student-centered instruction. However, TAs must balance coursework, research and teaching responsibilities, and teaching responsibilities are seldom considered opportunities to develop biology expertise needed as a professional scientist. However, some evidence suggests that using ambitious science teaching practices that engage students in the practices and discourses of science actually supports the TA in developing scientific expertise. This research investigated this link by examining how TAs organize biological knowledge before and after teaching a general biology lab curriculum that supported ambitious pedagogy. It also examined the relationship between knowledge organization and instructional practices. To capture changes in TA's knowledge organization, they completed a card-sorting task at the start and end of the semester. To capture instructional practices, TAs were videotaped teaching the same lab at the beginning of two consecutive semesters. The conversations in these teaching episodes were transcribed and TA talk was coded for ambitious discourse moves. TA knowledge organization was significantly more sophisticated after one semester of teaching experience. The sophistication of TA's knowledge organization was also positively related to their use of ambitious discourse moves to elicit and respond to student contributions. This relationship suggests a mutually supportive connection between ambitious teaching practice and disciplinary expertise. Implications for TA professional development are discussed.
ambitious instruction, biology education, discourse, knowledge organization, sociocultural learning theory
April 3, 2017.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Teacher Education in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Sherry A. Southerland, Professor Directing Dissertation; Nora Underwood, University Representative; Christine Andrews-Larson, Committee Member; Alice Winn, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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