Teacher Preparation

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Deans for Impact Launch Project to Teach Learning Science in Colleges of Ed.

By Sarah Schwartz — March 15, 2019 3 min read
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The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization led by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, announced a new grant today to support colleges of education that integrate learning science into their teacher preparation programs.

The group is giving $1.5 million to Deans for Impact, a nonprofit group of education school leaders, to create a national network of colleges of education that want to teach the research behind how people learn. Deans for Impact will select five to seven schools through a competitive process to participate in the two-year program.

“Schools of education get hammered a lot for not actually teaching the science of learning,” Benjamin Riley, the executive director of Deans for Impact, said in an interview. “This is proof positive that there’s tremendous energy and support for programs that do want to take that work on.”

The purpose of this project is to take answers to common questions—like how do students remember information, or what motivates them to learn—and apply these insights to teacher preparation, said Katrina Stevens, the director of learning science at CZI.

“This is really a pilot,” said Stevens, in an interview. “We’ll be learning with a set of teacher preparation programs what works, so that we can then do that with other teacher preparation programs and share that learning.”

The goal for these colleges of education is twofold: integrate learning science into how they teach their preservice teachers, and prepare these future educators to use these same principles in teaching their own students.

See also: Working Toward a Science of Teaching

There are, of course, some differences in how preservice teachers and their future students are taught—a college faculty member in front of a room of young adults wouldn’t use all of the same instructional strategies that an elementary school teacher would, working with 6-year-olds, for example.

But principles of learning science can inform the design and structure of teacher preparation programs, said Riley, providing a roadmap for how teacher candidates’ experiences should build upon one another and what type of feedback would be most effective.

“The pedagogy you see being modeled in your school of education should be the same pedagogy you hope you see those teachers employ when they start teaching,” said Riley.

Deans for Impact hopes that colleges in the network will also give teachers more practice applying research-backed instructional strategies across the entirety of teacher candidates’ preservice experience, said Riley. This could take the form of more opportunities to work in classrooms, he said, but it isn’t limited to student teaching in schools.

He pointed to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where teacher candidates work with instructional programs in libraries or museums. Virtual teaching could also be one among several options that colleges of education could integrate, offering a “no-stakes opportunity to practice,” he said.

“This effort exists in part because I’m not sure yet if there are any programs that have made learning science integral to the entire set of experiences, and we hope that’s what this will be,” said Riley.

Embedding the neuroscience of education into teacher training has been an ongoing priority for CZI.

In November of last year, the organization donated $1 million to expand the online professional development platform Neuroteach Global. The platform, run by the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, introduces educators to learning strategies backed by mind, brain, and education research.

“There’s a ton of human development research and learning science that gives great insights into how to better support student and educator learning,” Bror Saxberg, the vice president of learning science at CZI, said in November. “But we don’t really widely reflect those results in how we educate students or even in how we train teachers.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.