Instructional practices in secondary science: How teachers achieve local and standards-based success

Beth A. Covitt, Elizabeth Xeng de los Santos, Qinyun Lin, Christie Morrison Thomas, Charles W. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This article reports on analyses of the instructional practices of six middle- and high-school science teachers in the United States who participated in a research-practice partnership that aims to support reform science education goals at scale. All six teachers were well qualified, experienced, and locally successful—respected by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators—but they differed in their success in supporting students' three-dimensional learning. Our goal is to understand how the teachers' instructional practices contributed to their similarities in achieving local success and to differences in enabling students' learning, and to consider the implications of these findings for research-practice partnerships. Data sources included classroom videos supplemented by interviews with teachers and focus students and examples of student work. We also compared students' learning gains by teacher using pre–post assessments that elicited three-dimensional performances. Analyses of classroom videos showed how all six teachers achieved local success—they led effectively managed classrooms, covered the curriculum by teaching almost all unit activities, and assessed students' work in fair and efficient ways. There were important differences, however, in how teachers engaged students in science practices. Teachers in classrooms where students achieved lower learning gains followed a pattern of practice we describe as activity-based teaching, in which students completed investigations and hands-on activities with few opportunities for sensemaking discussions or three-dimensional science performances. Teachers whose students achieved higher learning gains combined the social stability characteristic of local classroom success with more demanding instructional practices associated with scientific sensemaking and cognitive apprenticeship. We conclude with a discussion of implications for research-practice partnerships, highlighting how partnerships need to support all teachers in achieving both local and standards-based success.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-202
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • design-based implementation research
  • instructional practices
  • local success
  • research-practice partnerships
  • standards-based success
  • three-dimensional learning


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