Does the material include suggestions for teachers to find out what their students think about familiar phenomena related to key ideas before they are introduced?
Explanation. Although researchers have identified commonly held student ideas in several different topic areas, the total number of concepts or skills investigated is small and is unevenly distributed across fields. Teachers need guidance in identifying students' ideas in these unresearched areas. But even in areas in which there is research on commonly held student ideas, teachers need help in identifying whether their own students hold these ideas.
Responding to this criterion involves examining not only whether the material encourages teachers to determine what ideas their students hold, but also whether it provides specific suggestions for how to do so. Suggestions may include providing tasks in which students are asked to make predictions and give descriptions and explanations of familiar phenomena; represent their understandings in drawings; interpret information in light of key ideas; or describe important relationships between concepts.
Responding to this criterion also involves examining the quality of the suggestions provided. Tasks should be comprehensible. For example, tasks should make sense to students who have never studied the topic and include questions posed in ways meaningful to students who are not familiar with the scientific vocabulary. For example, asking "What do you think will happen if we let go of this ball? Why do you think this will happen?" is more meaningful to students who have not studied gravity than asking "What is the effect of gravity on this ball?" (Even for students who have studied the topic it is better to start with more general questions and avoid the use of technical terms in the beginning of the task, so that the teacher can find out how the students label and explain what they see.) And tasks should not focus exclusively on identifying students' meanings for terms. While including such tasks is useful, it is important to emphasize tasks in which students make predictions and/or give explanations of phenomena.
It is also important that the material encourages teachers to use probing questions to clarify what students mean or to get more information about students' thinking, and helps teachers in interpreting student responses (e.g., by providing annotated samples of student work).
The difference between this criterion and "Using assessment to inform instruction" (see Category VI) is that this criterion examines how well the material encourages and helps teachers to identify students' ideas before the scientific ideas are introduced. "Using assessment to inform instruction" examines how well the material encourages and helps teachers identify student ideas after the scientific ideas are introduced, so that student progress can be monitored.