CAREER: Cultivating Teachers' Epistemic Empathy to Promote Responsive Teaching

This CAREER award aims to study the construct of "epistemic empathy" and examine how it can be cultivated in science and mathematics teacher education, how it functions to promote responsive teaching, and how it shapes learners' engagement in the classroom. In the context of this project, epistemic empathy is defined as the act of understanding and appreciating another's cognitive and emotional experience within an epistemic activity aimed at the construction, communication, and critique of knowledge.

Full Description: 

When students perceive that their sense-making resources, including their cultural, linguistic, and everyday experiences, are not relevant to their science and mathematics classrooms, they may view these fields as inaccessible to them. This in turn creates an obstacle to their engagement and active participation which becomes particularly consequential for students from traditionally underrepresented populations. This issue points at the pressing need to prepare science and mathematics teachers to open up their instruction to students’ diverse ideas and meaning-making repertoires. This CAREER award aims to address this need by studying the construct of teachers’ "epistemic empathy” which is defined as the act of understanding and appreciating another's cognitive and emotional experience within an epistemic activity—an activity aimed at the construction, communication, and critique of knowledge. Through epistemic empathy, teachers take learners' perspectives and identify with their sense-making experiences in service of fostering their inquiries. The project’s goals are to examine how epistemic empathy can be cultivated in science and mathematics teacher education, how it functions to promote responsive teaching, and how it shapes learners' engagement in the classroom.

The five research questions will be: (1) Do the ways in which pre-service teachers display epistemic empathy change throughout a course aimed at promoting attention to and knowledge about learners’ varied ways of knowing in science and mathematics?; (2) How do the teaching domain and teaching context influence how teachers express epistemic empathy, and the concerns and tensions they report around empathizing with learners’ thinking and emotions?; (3) How does epistemic empathy shape the ways in which teachers understand and reflect on their roles, goals, and priorities as science or mathematics teachers?; (4) How does epistemic empathy shape teachers’ responsiveness to student thinking and emotions during instruction?; and (5) How does teachers’ epistemic empathy influence how students orient and respond to each other’s thinking in science and mathematics classrooms?

To address these questions, the project will conduct a series of design-based research studies working with science and mathematics pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers (n=140) to design, implement, and analyze ways to elicit and cultivate their epistemic empathy. Further, the project will explore how epistemic empathy shapes teachers’ views of their roles, goals, and priorities as science or mathematics teachers and how it influences their enactment of responsive teaching practices. The project will also examine the influence of teachers’ epistemic empathy on student engagement, in particular in the ways students attend and respond to each other’s epistemic experiences in the classroom. Data collection will include video and audio recording of teacher education and professional development sessions; collection of teachers’ work within those sessions such as their responses to a pre- and post- video assessment task and their written analyses of different videos of student inquiry; interviews with the teachers; and videos from the teachers’ own instruction as well as teachers’ reflections on these videos in stimulated recall interviews. These data will be analyzed using both qualitative methods (i.e., discourse analysis, interaction analysis) and quantitative methods (i.e., blind coding, descriptive statistics). The project’s outcomes will be: (1) an instructional model that targets epistemic empathy as a pedagogical resource for teachers, with exemplars of activities and tasks aimed at developing teachers' attunement to and ways of leveraging learners' meaning-making repertoires (2) local theory of teachers' learning to epistemically empathize with learners in science and mathematics; and (3) empirical descriptions of how epistemic empathy functions to guide and shape teachers' responsiveness and students' engagement. An advisory board will provide feedback on the project’s progress, as well as formative and summative evaluation.

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