Cultivating Teachers’ Epistemic Empathy to Promote Responsive Teaching (NSF #1844453)

This project aims to study and cultivate science and mathematics teachers’ “epistemic empathy”—their capacity for tuning into and valuing someone’s cognitive and emotional experiences in the process of constructing, communicating, and critiquing knowledge. The research will examine how such empathy influences teachers’ responsiveness and how it shapes students’ engagement.

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Target Audience: 
Preservice and In-service Science and Mathematics Teachers
STEM Discipline(s): 
Science; Mathematics
What Issue(s) in STEM Education is your Project Addressing?: 

When students perceive that their experiences are not relevant to their science and mathematics learning, they may view these fields as inaccessible to them. This in turn creates an obstacle to their engagement, which becomes particularly consequential for students from traditionally underrepresented populations. There is a pressing need, then, to prepare STEM teachers to be open and responsive to students’ diverse ideas and  experiences—including their linguistic, emotional, and cultural knowledge—and to leverage them as instructional resources. To address this need, this project aims to cultivate teachers’ “epistemic empathy” to promote an asset-based orientation towards all students as sense-makers, an orientation that may support teachers to be more responsive to students’ ideas and experiences. Using a design-based approach, the team designs and implements educative experiences for teachers aimed at fostering their attunement to and ways of leveraging learners’ ideas and emotions in science and mathematics. Further, the project explores how epistemic empathy shapes teachers’ views of their roles, goals, and priorities and how it influences their enactment of responsive teaching that pursues the productive beginnings in student work. Lastly, the project will investigate how teachers’ empathy shapes students’ engagement and responsiveness to each other’s experiences in the classroom.

What are your Findings?: 

Preliminary findings provide important insights regarding the complex ways in which epistemic empathy can be expressed and cultivated. An assortment of educative experiences seems particularly powerful for cultivating epistemic empathy, including the use of videos to showcase student reasoning around science and mathematics questions and teachers experiencing those same questions as learners. Additionally, our analysis surfaces several tensions between epistemic empathy and more general manifestations of empathy that may hinder learners’ epistemic pursuits and agency. Lastly, preliminary findings suggest potential connections between empathy, epistemic empathy, and the enactment of responsive teaching practices, motivating further explorations of the relationship between these constructs.

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  • Jaber, L. Z. (2016). Attending to students’ epistemic affect. In A. D. Robertson, R. E. Scherr, & D. Hammer (Eds.), Responsive Teaching in Science and Mathematics (pp. 162-188). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Jaber, L. Z., Herbster, C., & Truett, J. (2019). Responsive teaching: Embracing students’ divergent questions. Science and Children, 57(2), 89-89.
  • Jaber, L. Z., Southerland, S., & Dake, F. (2018). Cultivating epistemic empathy in preservice teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 72, 13-23.
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