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Should Teachers Be Gatekeepers or Coaches?

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Feb 4, 2017

The difference between an effective classroom and an ineffective one is whether the teacher acts as a gatekeeper of the content or a coach. You can see in the model above that the role of the teacher has changed significantly; they are no longer standing in between the student and the content. Instead, the role that the teacher is playing here is as a very skillful coach. They're trying to strengthen the connection between the students and their science and engineering practice skills, as well as the connection between students and content.

Next generation model of science instruction

The next generation model of science instruction removes the teacher from the gatekeeper role and puts students on the front lines. Instead of modeling, demonstrating and so on, the teacher tunes the inquiry environment to make content more accessible, encourage independence and keep students on track. Students interact with content, use their science and engineering practice skills and connect ideas using crosscutting concepts.

The key here is that students are developing and using the content by solving problems and answering questions, just as scientists and engineers do. The teacher is helping gradually adjust the supports for the students. They're helping the students understand how to engage appropriately as well as redirecting and monitoring this lab environment. Note that "lab environment" doesn't automatically mean a high school setting or a wealthy middle school with black-topped tables and hoods; students can "do" science and engineering just as well at lunch tables or on the floor.

Here, the student is no longer in a situation where the definition of proficiency is rote recall. The definition of proficiency is now very different. Rather than being about their ability to recall, proficiency is about students' ability to demonstrate that they can develop and use the content, that they can use science and engineering practices to solve problems and answer questions, and that they can form relationships between ideas, understanding and describing dynamic interactions between different areas of content. These are not accidental developments—the new Next Generation Science Standards actively call for them.

Performance standards

Each standard is broadly defined and then broken down into the science and engineering practices students will use, the disciplinary core ideas that will be called upon (the content), and the crosscutting concepts that will link various disciplines together.

The new standards showcase students' new multifaceted role very clearly. Looking at it, you can see how these three foundations come together to support the overarching performance of each Next Generation Science Standard. In the example above, for instance, students might pursue questions about how temperature affects the water cycle, how it in turn affects the rock cycle, how both impact ecosystems and how those determine which animals can or cannot live in particular areas. You can see that rather than calling for one particular rote "skill" as in the old standards, these new performance expectations call for practices, content and crosscutting concepts.

Often highly effective teachers have been using this next generation model for a long time. The problem isn't that it hasn't existed, but rather, that teachers as a whole have not been widely clued into it via educator preperation or PD programs. Now they are being forced to switch to this model because the next generation of standardized test assessments are going to require students to demonstrate understanding rather than simply remember a fact. Students will be tested not for recall, but for their ability to use the real world skills they'll need to succeed later in life.

Topics: Next Generation Science Standards

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