Important Note: The next opportunity to submit a proposal for the Teachers as Learners program will be in early 2019. To be notified when updated guidelines have been posted sign up for our mailing list, follow us on Twitter, or check this page again in early 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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-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.
|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|
|Workshop||August 2-4, 2017|
|Final Proposal Deadline||September 1, 2017 15:59 CDT|
|Advisory Board Meeting||Late September|
|Funding Decisions||October 27, 2017|
To be successful pre-proposal should:
Examples of the types of research questions suitable to the call for pre-proposals include but are not limited to:
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.
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'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.
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.
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.
I have a question not answered here. Whom should I contact?
Send an email to email@example.com.