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Engaging to Improve Your Practice

By Disan Davis

Teaching is not innate. It is a practice that can be taught and refined through feedback, observation, and reflection. While science outreach activities are not subject to the rigid structures of most teachers in formal education settings, we can still benefit from some of the practices and structures, and hopefully we can make this a part of our community of practice.

Improving one’s practice involves an openness to feedback, structures for evaluating or collecting data on effectiveness, and processes for robust implementation of modifications. Improvement of one’s practice is a cyclic, repeatable, and malleable process, just as we think of the scientific method in similar terms.

Radical Candor extols the benefits of transparent, frequent feedback. Because education is an interpersonal activity, I think this model applies extremely well. I can be very good at my ‘teaching’ as an individual, but if my audience doesn’t *learn* something from that interaction, then it was not effective. It does NOT mean that my teaching was not good, it just means that it was not effective in that situation. This could stem from a disconnect in content, in audience expectations, in implementation, etc. Going back to thinking about the person and the objective is a great way to start.

When it comes to establishing structures for evaluating your effectiveness or collecting data from students, you can go in many directions. Teachers in the classroom are often evaluated by others using a rubric. This can be an established rubric such as Danielson, or a rubric designed specifically for your situation. Similarly, collecting data from students can be extremely informative as to whether (or how well) students can satisfy the objective(s) as intended.

The challenge with these assessment mechanisms is carefully phrasing the questions so as to get exactly the information you’re looking for. This can require refinement as well. Importantly, when students give “incorrect” answers, the information they do provide can be extremely useful for analyzing where misconceptions, miscommunications, or incomplete learning have occurred and how to approach these situations going forward. Simply having conversations to better understand the student’s perspective can allow for new communication and ultimately learning.

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