The Dartmouth TEP Brand

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A Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) Approach

session photoThe TEP at Dartmouth College is unique in being an integral part of an undergraduate department of education with a Mind, Brain, and Education philosophy. Here, students have the opportunity to explore what we know about learning and development ­– from neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, linguistics, and other fields – that is relevant to pedagogy. Learning and development are amazingly complex and operate at many different levels of analysis (e.g., from the neural to the cultural); students in the TEP learn how to critically analyze and “unpack” complex concepts into their constituent components. Dartmouth undergraduates in the TEP build a rich, deep, interdisciplinary knowledge base on learning and development in children and adolescents by taking courses in which most readings are primary source research articles from various fields, participating in research experiences, and working directly with students. This useable knowledge serves as the foundation for evidence-based decision-making and problem solving when teaching.

What does this look like in practice? As an example, a key tenet from neuroscience is that the human brain is plastic: it changes with experiences, and is molded through interaction with the environment. Understanding the remarkable plasticity of the human brain has substantial implications for how we think about teaching. We can no longer treat our students’ intelligence as fixed; instead, we must seek to foster a learning mindset in students, such that students believe intelligence is changeable with effort. We see “mistakes” as learning opportunities; and growth- oriented learners and teachers seek out and persist at challenging learning tasks in order to increase their knowledge.4 As teachers, we thus measure our effectiveness in terms of evidence of the growth we can foster, and not the absolute level of performance our students demonstrate. 

instructional roundsTime is precious in a classroom, and the MBE approach can also help us teach strategically. For example, the MBE approach also helps to identify neurocognitive processes impacted by poverty so that we can target those neurocognitive processes through our teaching.5 For example, if stressors associated with poverty impair students’ working memory, which is critical to success with academic tasks, teachers need to design tasks and lessons in ways that both develop working memory and support students’ working memory until it is sufficiently developed for students to complete complex tasks independently. These are just two examples; an interdisciplinary approach to understanding learning and development offers the opportunity for constructing many meaningful connections.

An Evidence-Based Approach

Students in the TEP develop the habit of looking at and evaluating a variety of sources of evidence to assess the effectiveness of their own and others’ instruction and make decisions about changes or improvements. Courses in the program use primary source research articles, allowing students to develop the skills involved in critically reading, analyzing, and synthesizing research evidence. Most courses also directly address the “research-to-practice gap,” by encouraging students to consider how research evidence can be used in their classrooms. The TEP also challenges teaching candidates to engage in classroom-based research and produce knowledge about how to teach effectively. We provide many opportunities for our students to  sharpen observation skills, gather data through classroom observations, pose significant questions that can be investigated empirically, see patterns in data gathered in the context of their own teaching, and construct explicit, coherent chains of reasoning based on evidence.6 (See Instructional Rounds, Action Research Projects, and the Lesson Study and Analysis of Learning.) Taking an evidence-based approach means that research – and acquiring an “inquiring attitude to teaching”7 more generally – play a fundamental role in developing your capacity as a teacher.

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