Understanding Teacher Change and Teachers as Learners in K-12 Classrooms

Important Note: The deadline to submit a pre-proposal for the 2017 Teachers as Learners program was April 26, 2017, 15:59 CDT (20:59 UTC).



Overview

The James S McDonnell Foundation (JSMF) announces a new program in 2017 that will fund education research on the science of teaching and expand our understanding of teachers as learners and as agents of change in education.

There is an urgent need to know how teachers think and work within complex, ever-changing educational systems to process, evaluate, and adopt “evidence-based” practices. There are numerous and ever growing lists of recommended evidence-based practices that teachers are encouraged to adopt, such as those identified in What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guides from the U.S. Department of Education (ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/) and the Core Practice Consortium (corepracticeconsortium.com). But there is little research on how teachers view, interpret, or work to improve their use of such practices. This is an absolutely necessity, but a largely overlooked component of efforts to reform education. Indeed, a new book on the topic of bridging research and practice asserts “there are too many guides and ‘cookbooks’ that indiscriminately propagate…dozens of techniques and strategies” without concern for how teachers understand, select, and take up these techniques.

The Teachers as Learners (TAL) program will emphasize a cognitive science perspective on teachers as learners – including a focus on the cognitive constraints that guide teacher thinking and change in attitudes, knowledge, skills and behaviors. We need to know what aspects of cognition (e.g., memory, knowledge, goals, expertise, collaboration) help explain teachers’ learning and change, particularly as it relates to adopting evidence-based practices in classroom contexts.

Understanding teachers as learners in the context of the many influences on teacher change across career trajectories is an important but understudied area of translational research with the opportunity for impact on both research and educational practice.  Understanding teachers as learners from a cognitive science perspective would advance the implementation of policies aimed at evidence-based reforms. We acknowledge that teaching occurs in a complex context and we want to situate the work in that context, but the focus of this program is on studying the cognitive dimensions of teacher learning as it takes place within these rich socio-cultural and institutional contexts, rather than the contexts themselves. A survey of the current landscape reveals that there is significant focus on small­scale experimental work on student cognition and on descriptive work on teaching – but the lack of a cognitive science framework for how teachers learn to process, evaluate, and improve their use of evidence­based practices within a complex, dynamic system.    

 

 


 

 

Call for Pre-Proposals

To contribute to filling this research and knowledge gap, the James S McDonnell Foundation (JSMF) is announcing a call for pre-proposals for team-based translational research as described in detail below.  Following review of pre-proposals a select set of teams will be invited to submit full proposals for funding consideration.  The pre-proposal and proposal application and review processes and important timeline information are provided with this call.  Projects can request a maximum of $2,500,000 over 5 years.  

The desired outcomes from the projects supported through this new JSMF funding initiative are twofold. First, it is expected that the research funded will lead to refined theories of teachers as learners that include motivators and causes of systematic improvements in teachers’ instructional practices. These theories will consider how attitudes and knowledge shape teachers’ instructional practices and how attitude, knowledge and practices improve. Second, it is anticipated that the knowledge acquired will lead to improvements in teachers’ uptake and effective use of evidence-based educational practices.

 

 


 

 

Program Rationale and Goals

In 2016, JSMF convened and charged a study panel to assist JSMF in identifying programmatic opportunities in educational research that would build on its prior investment in research at the interface of cognitive science research and education practices, (see Cognitive Studies in Educational Practice) while addressing contemporary challenges to research-based educational reform.

The study panel’s deliberations and analysis led to the observation that systemic education reform efforts based on integrating evidence-­based practices into classrooms will likely continue to encounter limited success unless such attempts were supported by a strong knowledge base built on a scientific understanding of how teachers acquire and use new knowledge, new curricula, and new approaches in their professional practice.  Although a substantial research effort has focused on understanding student’s learning there is not yet as concomitant a research effort dedicated to understanding teachers as learners. 

To help advance science of the understanding of teachers as learners, JSMF is inaugurating a program supporting research at the interface of cognitive science and educational practice that, over the next decade, will elucidate actionable knowledge from the study of teacher change across the trajectory of teaching careers, and teachers as learners.  Although widely acknowledged that teachers are critical agents in the national efforts to improve students’ educational success, educational innovations aimed at improving student learning and performance rarely consider how teachers will learn to implement these new practices or even whether or not new practices can or should be incorporated into existing practices.  Decades ago, cognitive scientists realized that effective educational interventions must be informed by scientific research on student learning and development.  There is a need to apply this insight to teachers: To effect real and lasting change, educational interventions must be informed by scientific research on teaching and teachers as learners.  A recent review by Goldsmith Doerr and Lewis (2014) concluded that “relatively little of the current literature focuses primarily on understanding teachers’ learning; instead, teachers’ learning is often treated as a black box.”

The JSMF program will focus on supporting research that builds from a cognitive science perspective on teachers as learners – including a focus on the aspects of cognition (attention, working memory, motivation, reward) that guide teacher thinking and change in attitudes, knowledge, skills and the adoption of evidence­-based practices in classroom contexts.  In particular JSMF is interested in research that can be characterized as translational, needs­-driven education research that identifies malleable factors that promote teachers learning to improve their use of evidence­-based practice.

 

 


 

 

Guidelines for 2017 Pre-proposals: Teachers learning to facilitate communication in the classroom

All submissions to the JSMF program will be evaluated by an expert advisory panel.

The inaugural call for pre-proposals is focused on supporting team based research addressing the topic teachers learning to facilitate communication in the classroom (e.g., eliciting student explanations, guiding collaborative discussions, making effective use of questions).     

The use of the term communication in this solicitation includes verbal, gestural, digital, and written modes of interaction and discourse.  Improving communication, such as orchestrating whole class discussion and facilitating high­-quality explanations, is universally identified as an evidence-­based practice for improving classroom instruction that is not being supported sufficiently in classrooms (corepracticeconsortium.com/core­practice).

Research projects described in the pre-proposal must be rooted firmly in the learning context, operate in real-time, and accommodate the constraints imposed by the local environment.  All pre-proposals must provide the following information: 

  • a brief but thorough description of the question or problem motivating the pre-proposal,
  • an explanation of the proposed approach including a description of a data acquisition/data management plan (research projects acquiring new data or utilizing existing data are welcome; where feasible, teams are encouraged to utilize existing data sets),   
  • the identification and qualifications  of the members of the interdisciplinary team, and
  • budget plan by year.    

 

 


 

 

Eligibility

Qualified domestic or foreign institutions with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status or domestic institutions that are instruments of the government can submit a proposal on behalf of a multi-institutional team.  The qualified institution will take responsibility for accepting the grant, signing the grant contract, negotiating all subcontracts, and managing the grant consistent with JSMF policies.  Entities that do not meet the above requirements can participate in the research as part of the team carrying out the project but cannot serve as the lead institution.

Each team must identify a team member with an appointment at the lead institution who will serve as the project manager and be the principal point of contact with JSMF.    

 

 


 

 

Pre-proposal and Proposal Preparation Process

Pre-proposals prepared according to the specifications of this RFP and submitted before the deadline will be reviewed by the Teachers as Learners advisory panel.   

Following the advisory panel review of pre-proposals JSMF will issue a limited number of invitations to those teams with the most responsive pre-proposals to participate in a collaborative workshop during which each of the teams will present their proposed project to members of the advisory panel and representatives from other pre-proposal teams.  Participation in the workshop is mandatory for all teams who wish to submit full proposals.  While the entire team need not be present, each team is expected to send 2 representatives.  During the workshop, members of each team will receive constructive feedback on their presentations. Members of each team will participate in topical break­out sessions intended to foster connections across teams and foster the development of a “network of networks” that extends the collaborative framework from the individual team projects to the work ongoing across all the teams.  Given the nature of the topic, it is anticipated each of the teams will benefit from the cross-fertilization of ideas and experiences.  After the workshop, each of the teams would finalize their full proposals and submit them to JSMF for review and final funding consideration.  The projects ultimately selected for funding through this JSMF program will demonstrate scholarly rigor and a substantial likelihood of effecting true translational impact.

It is anticipated that JSMF will host annual workshops or conferences involving all teams funded through this initiative.

 

 


 

 


Timeline

Call for Pre-Proposals Announced March 1, 2017
Electronic Submissions Accepted March 8, 2017
Pre-proposal Deadline     April 26, 2017 15:59 CDT (20:59 UTC)
Invitations to Participate in Workshop    June 21, 2017 June 23, 2017
Workshop       August 2-4, 2017
Final Proposal Deadline  September 1, 2017 15:59 CDT
Advisory Board Meeting Late September
Funding Decisions        October 27, 2017
Grants Commence      2018

 

 


 

 

 

Selection Criteria

To be successful pre-proposal should: 

  • Articulate a clear need within the K-12 educational setting that has the potential for broadly shared benefits for society, especially for those historically underserved and those lacking ready access to rich educational resources.
  • Demonstrate that project teams have the skill sets and expertise necessary to carry out the work. Preference will be given to interdisciplinary teams with diverse methodological and theoretical expertise and skills (e.g., cognitive science, teacher education, assessment, etc.).  It is important that the teams include classroom teachers as partners.
  • Provide a plan for establishing strong, flexible working relationships with all participating teachers and with other key educational system personnel.  Partnerships with under-resourced schools are encouraged.
  • Identify measurable and reportable annual performance objectives and milestones that provide a basis for making in-process course corrections and for evaluating project success.
  • Specify a set of clearly defined outcome measurements from the research efforts that are meaningful to practitioners and administrators.
  • Develop a dissemination plan that specifies how the team will disseminate findings to the scholarly and educational communities through publications, presentations and other activities.  
  • Describe an explicit translational plan for how the research findings will move into educational practice. Doing so means demonstrating a realistic understanding of how evidence­-based practices and principles are taken up by educational practitioners, students, parents, school administrators, or educational policymakers.
  • Discuss how the outcomes of the project will be determined.  It is expected that teams will report on scholarly publications emanating from the research and appearing in and cited by both the cognitive science and educational research literatures, the presentations and activities that involve teachers and other education stakeholders, the degree to which teachers and students directly participate in the research and directly benefit from it, and the ability of the research findings to influence policy documents, curricular standards, and practice guides. 

 

Examples of the types of research questions suitable to the call for pre-proposals include but are not limited to:

  • Where, when and in what contexts do teachers learn to be better teachers? For example, what are the typical ways teachers learn about recommended communication practices?
  • What are teachers’ beliefs about the role of classroom discussion (or other forms of communication) as a method to promote student learning and how does that influence their instructional practices?
  • Can we identify specific transitions among teachers from novice to expert in the ways they identify, learn about, take up, and observe evidence-­based communication practices, with some of the work focusing on the developmental trajectories of typical classroom teachers?
  • What is the current role of technology in teacher learning, and what opportunities are available by new forms of innovation?
  • How do teachers’ beliefs about discussion in face-to-face classrooms influence (both positively and negatively) their practices for facilitating discussions in online classes?
  • What are the causal factors that lead to improvements in teachers’ facilitation of communication in the classroom? How do these differ when teaching different age groups of students, different content areas, and in different types of learning settings?
  • Can we identify the range of factors that might explain the differential responses to teacher interventions (e.g., in-service professional development experiences, pre-service teacher education programs) and what it is that determines why some teachers change their beliefs and practices while others do not?

 


 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated April 4, 2017

 

I have an idea for a pre-proposal on education research. Is it appropriate for this program?
We usually don't advise potential applicants on the appropriateness of their research ideas or programs. We prefer that you carefully read the posted program materials and the white paper before deciding whether or not to apply.

  • The JSMF program will focus on supporting research that builds from a cognitive science perspective on teachers as learners – including a focus on the aspects of cognition (attention, working memory, motivation, reward) that guide teacher thinking and change in attitudes, knowledge, skills and the adoption of evidence­-based practices in classroom contexts.
  • JSMF is interested in research that can be characterized as translational, needs­-driven education research that identifies malleable factors that promote teachers learning to improve their use of evidence­-based practice.
  • The inaugural call for pre-proposals is focused on supporting team based research addressing the topic teachers learning to facilitate communication in the classroom (e.g., eliciting student explanations, guiding collaborative discussions, making effective use of questions).   
  • It is expected that a typical pre-proposal team will be made up of several different researchers representing different expertise and skills (e.g. cognitive science, teacher education, assessment, etc.) from different institutions. It is important that the teams include classroom teachers as partners.
  • Articulate a clear need within the K-12 educational setting that has the potential for broadly shared benefits for society, especially for those historically underserved and those lacking ready access to rich educational resources.

 

What is is considered an "interdisciplinary team"? Must pre-proposals cover more than one content area (e.g. math and reading)?
In the context of this RFP, interdisciplinary does not refer to content disciplines but to methodological and theroretical expertise and skills:

Preference will be given to interdisciplinary teams with diverse methodological and theoretical expertise and skills (e.g., cognitive science, teacher education, assessment, etc.). It is important that the teams include classroom teachers as partners.

I'm interested in participating in more than one team application.
We ask that you participate in only one team application during the pre-proposal stage.

 

How many Teachers as Learners grants will be funded in 2017?
It is anticipated up to 8 grants will be funded per grant cycle. After the 2017 competition, the next grant cycle will be held in 2019.

 

I've read that JSMF has an eligibility policy where researchers on unfunded proposals are ineligible to apply for another JSMF grant for 3 years. Does that policy apply to this program?
No. The "Once-Every-Three-Years" Eligibility policy does not apply to the Teachers as Learners program.

 

Do you fund internationally?
Entities that have a 501(c)(3) tax determination or domestic institutions that are instruments of the government can submit an application as the lead institution. Entities that do not have a US IRS 501(c)(3) tax determination and are not considered a domestic government instrumentality can participate in the research as part of team but cannot serve as the lead institution that will be responsible for accepting the grant and submitting required reporting. Read more about JSMF tax policies

 

Can a team be comprised of individuals with different expertise come from a single institution?
It is expected that a typical pre-proposal team will be made up of several different researchers representing different expertise and skills (e.g. cognitive science, teacher education, assessment, etc.) from different institutions. It is important that the teams include classroom teachers as partners.


Is there a limit on the number of applications that can be submitted from a single institution?
No.


Can we request less than the $2.5M maximum?
Yes. The requested budget should reflect the needs of the project and can less than the maximum.

 

Our planned budget requires more than $500,000 a year for the first two years but lower amounts in years 3-5.
There is no requirement to spend the grant in equal annual disbursements. The proposed budget should reflect the project needs. The nature of the budget requests will be an important criteria for review and selection.

 

What are allowable budget items for the Teachers as Learners grants?
Faculty salary, support for post-doctoral scholars, full or part-time research staff, travel, equipment (such as video equipment, computers for data collection and analysis, software for video encoding, etc.), and publication fees are examples of allowable budget items for this grant type. See the JSMF Allowable Budget Items document for more information.

 

Our research plan includes obtaining and processing existing video recordings of classroom interactions. Is that an allowable budget item?
Yes. The expenses for processing already existing recordings is an allowable budget item.

 

Are references included in the word limits?
No (within reason).


When can I submit a completed pre-proposal?
Pre-proposals will be accepted beginning March 8, 2017, up until the April 26, 2017, 15:59 CDT (20:59 UTC) deadline at this link.

 

Do you accept late pre-proposals?
No. We recommend you submit your pre-proposal at least 24 hours in advance to avoid any unexpected problems. No extensions will be granted.


I have a question not answered here. Whom should I contact?
Send an email to info@jsmf.org.