Newswise — The University of Illinois at Chicago's Learning Sciences Research Institute has been awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant by the James S. McDonnell Foundation through the foundation's initiative to better understand teacher change and teachers as learners in K-12 classrooms.

The institute's newly funded project, "How Teachers Learn: Orchestrating Disciplinary Discourse in Science, Literature, and Mathematics Classrooms," focuses on instruction and classroom discussion that promotes critical inquiry, deep reading and reasoning on the part of students in science, mathematics, and literature/literary reading.

"We are concerned with two fundamental questions in the new grant," said principal investigator Susan R. Goldman, co-director of the institute and UIC distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, psychology and education. "What knowledge and instructional practices do teachers need to effectively promote these student learning goals? How do teachers learn these types of knowledge and practices?"

The grant builds on classroom and professional development activities conducted through two earlier Learning Sciences Research Institute projects, Project READI, led by Goldman, and iFAST. The latter is led by Alison Castro Superfine, UIC associate professor of mathematics education and learning sciences, who serves as the new grant's co-principal investigator.

Joining Goldman and Superfine on the new project are UIC team members MariAnne George, Monica Mon-Lin Ko, James Pellegrino, Allison Hall, Kathleen Pitvorec, and Angela Fortune. Carol D. Lee of Northwestern University is partnering with the institute on the grant. Classroom teachers from Project READI and iFAST complete the project team.

The initial work will involve all project team members in analyzing classroom and professional development data from Project READI and iFAST.

"These analyses will inform ideas about how teachers acquire the different forms of knowledge and practices that go into teaching science or literature or mathematics in ways that make it possible for students to problem solve and conduct their own inquiries," Goldman said. "This kind of teaching and learning goes far beyond lectures and factual recall."

According to Goldman, a key part of this type of teaching and learning is what happens in classroom discourse during whole and small group work and "how teachers support, structure and sequence materials and activities to ensure that all students can achieve these competencies."

The second phase of the grant will feature a small-scale trial with one or two districts and schools in the Chicago area to integrate lessons learned from the previously collected data.

"Local conditions vary considerably ensuring that a 'one-size-fits all' approach to professional development meets the needs of no one," Goldman said. "We plan to work with teachers to design approaches that 'fit' the context while adhering to important principles of what and how they learn."

Founded in 1950 by aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, the foundation supports research, scholarship and charitable causes aimed at improving the quality of life around the world.