Characterizing Adaptive Expertise In Science Teaching: Report On A Laboratory Study Of Teacher Reasoning


Crawford, V. M., Schlager, M., Toyama, Y., Riel, M., & Vahey, P. (2005). Characterizing adaptive expertise in science teaching: Report on a laboratory study of teacher reasoning. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, April 11-15, 2005, Montreal, Canada.


Project MAESTRo (Measuring Adaptive Expertise in Teachers’ Reasoning) is a 3-year study designed to characterize and measure adaptive reasoning and decision making processes in high school biology teachers’ analysis of student work, both individually and in collaboration. Our dual aim is to advance research on adaptive expertise as a central construct for understanding the socio-cognitive bases of teaching expertise and teacher learning through practice.

The three major goals of the project, each addressed in a separate sub-study, are to:ƒ

  • Define and document cognitive processes that are characteristic of adaptive expertise in biology teachers’ instructional reasoning about students’ content knowledge and understand their relationship to performance in problem solving (Year 1 study);
  • Characterize processes of adaptive expertise in the social context of professional collaboration among science teachers (Year 2 study);
  • Develop a self-report instrument that validly and reliably measures teachers’ propensity to exhibit adaptiveness in their instructional practices (Year 3 study).

Our goal in this project is to apply the concept of adaptive expertise to science teaching in order to understand what benefits adaptiveness confers to teachers’ learning, development, and performance. In addition, we hope to contribute to the effort to refine and clarify the construct of adaptive expertise and understand how it contributes to learning and performance in general. Our long-range goal is to enable STEM education researchers, teacher education faculty, and professional development providers to design research-based learning experiences for teachers that foster adaptive expertise and promote excellence in science teaching. The basic research described in this paper establishes a theoretical foundation for later controlled experimental studies investigating the relationship between adaptive expertise and instructional effectiveness and for the development of teacher education and professional development interventions.

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