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Learning Orientation

Emphasize learning and understanding and de-emphasize grades, competition, and social comparison

Learning Orientation Activities


In the following section, we provide multiple examples, options, and variations of activities and instructional strategies that are aligned with the Belonging MDP in order to be as comprehensive and specific as possible. However, this does not mean that teachers must use all of these strategies to enact the Belonging MDP, nor that these strategies are the only way to do so. We encourage teachers to use their professional discretion to select what will work best for them and their classrooms, and to modify and innovate on these strategies.

Because the five MDPs are synergistic, some activities found in this MDP overlap or align strongly with activities found in other MDP sections. This alignment is conveyed through color-coded dots in the activity-specific page (“Learn More”).

Promote a culture of asking, exploring, and striving to answer scientific questions by providing question stems, explicit instruction about different question types with ample opportunities to practice, and structures to acknowledge and record questions
Use a Driving Question Board to have students list what they are curious about regarding a phenomenon/design problem, and then use that to generate questions that can be investigated to help them make sense of the phenomenon or design solutions to the problem. Post the question(s) the students are trying to answer and consistently return to them throughout the unit, asking the class what questions have been answered and what new questions have arisen along the way. This helps remind students that the overall purpose of their endeavors in science class is to develop greater understanding
A KWL graphic organizer is another way to encourage question-asking. After identifying prior knowledge in the “Know” column, students can pose questions for the “Wonder” column and see that their questions are central to the process of increasing/developing knowledge
  • As the class answers questions in the “Learned” column, include the supporting evidence (e.g., results of a lab or demonstration, reading of science text, etc.) to emphasize the connection between students’ effort and learning
Jigsaw protocols, which charge students with becoming “experts” on a component of a larger task or knowledge base, can help give students a sense of personal responsibility for learning and communicating new content. Jigsaws can be used for reading, question generation, argumentation, generating multiple solutions, etc.
Turn-and-talk/think-pair-share and other partner or group work allows students to discuss initial ideas before sharing out with the class, helping to decrease feelings of social comparison for students who feel less sure about their answers
Practices for soliciting more equitable participation in whole-class instruction, such as drawing name sticks to call on students, can promote students’ personal accountability for learning but must be accompanied by appropriate community-building to avoid feeling punitive and undermining belonging
Monitor students’ progress during independent or group work and, when possible, allow additional time when students are working thoughtfully
Build in pauses during or at the end of class, or small revision/modification/iteration cycles in classroom activities to allow students to reflect individually on how their thinking has changed and/or raise questions about what they are learning. This helps students integrate their new knowledge and reminds them that their focus should be on developing deeper understanding, rather than completing activities
Gallery walks can be an effective way to share visual work when there are multiple solutions or approaches
When students’ thinking isn’t necessarily visible, plan out protocols for how students can verbally share out
Pair the share-out with structure (e.g., sentence stems or a note-taking guide) to help students observe and reflect on how peers’ ideas are different without judging which one is “best”/“right.” Conclude by asking students to reflect on what they’ve learned/how their own understanding has changed/what new questions they have after taking in the new information
  • See Project Zero’s Connect/Extend/Challenge for a sample protocol of this kind of process
Create a poster or anchor chart of sentence starters/discourse moves to display in the classroom. Use these discourse moves as much as possible and remind students to use them as well. Identify focal talk moves for particular activities so that students can practice them in manageable chunks
Encourage discussion/debate among students with Four Corners or another continuum activity that prompts students to take a stance (e.g., strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree) and then explain their evidence and reasoning to try to persuade others
Project Zero has a number of “thinking routines” to provide consistent protocols and structures for student sense-making
Note: Effective discussions require sufficient time and fluency (for both students and teacher) in academic discourse. Use resources like the Accountable Talk Sourcebook, the “Supporting Discussions” chapter of the Open SciEd Teacher Handbook, Talk Science Primer, and Discourse Primer for Science Teachers to create expectations and guidelines around academic discourse that can be introduced at the beginning of the year and used throughout different learning activities
Design assessments such that they always include an opportunity for students to explain their thinking, not just provide answers. Provide feedback on these explanations as well as the skills students demonstrate, rather than just the percent of correct/incorrect answers, to help students track their progress in developing understanding and de-emphasize points
Use descriptive rubrics that explain to students what demonstrating different levels of conceptual knowledge and reasoning look like. This helps convey to students that they are being evaluated on their understanding and communication of that understanding, rather than on their ability to memorize or some aspect of their person (e.g., intelligence, favored status with the teacher, etc)
Grade a draft of a project with a rubric and allow students to respond to the feedback for the final version to demonstrate their understanding
Anonymous live polling (e.g., Poll Everywhere or Google Forms) can help place the emphasis on developing a deeper understanding among all students in the class and on the evolution of thinking (e.g., polling at the beginning and end of a class to show changes)
Frayer models for vocabulary can be used to help students develop and demonstrate a deeper understanding of concepts by applying their understanding in multiple ways, rather than merely trying to memorize definitions. They are also conducive to being shared through a gallery walk or other mechanism
Provide sentence stems, descriptive rubrics, and other structures to support students giving each other constructive feedback (verbally and in writing) to improve their ideas/work rather than merely praising or dismissing it as “good” or “bad”
Think-alouds can model a learning orientation to students by normalizing struggle, confusion, and mistakes; and modeling effective strategies and scientific practices such as asking questions, using feedback to improve a draft (including how to interpret a rubric), and reading a challenging scientific text #Consider gradually releasing responsibility of think-alouds to students as a way for them to share their thinking with the class
If using nonverbal formative assessments (e.g., fist-to-five, time checks) in class, make sure to pair them with explicit norm-setting and expectations around their purpose, to avoid social pressure for students to hold up higher numbers or compare themselves negatively to peers