Client:Learning Progression Modeling Project

Authors: Jenifer V. Helms, Michelle Phillips, Mark St. John

Type: Report

Publication: September 2011

Co-Evolution of Research and Practice: Lessons Learned from the Learning Progression Modeling Project (pdf, 43 pages)


The Learning Progression Modeling project is a Learning Progressions project funded through the National Science Foundation. Through this project, the two principal investigators, Richard Lehrer and Leona Schauble, have worked with teachers, a university researcher and professor in ecology from the University of Wisconsin, and their own Vanderbilt University graduate students. This work has taken place over the past five years in two school districts (in two states), to study how teachers create conditions that support students’ understanding of science and more specifically, ecology. While the impetus for this project was the development of a “learning progression,” what became visibly and overwhelmingly important was the relationship among research, practice, and guided reflection, and how they could be interwoven in such a way that they each supported and depended on the other. This Learning Progressions project is a strong instance of a mutually beneficial and generative approach to research on and development of a learning progression in elementary science that has relied heavily on the ongoing evolution of a cross-grade teacher community.

The emphasis of this report produced by Inverness Research is not the research on and construction of the learning progression itself, but the nature of how these researchers approached their work (e.g., the researchers’ work with and the development of a professional learning community among the teachers) and how this work contributed to more thoughtful and effective science instruction and learning. As a result, we describe: the arrangement among researchers, teachers, and students; how the arrangement led to research “findings;” and how teachers’ involvement in the research provided scaffolding to transform their practice.

The majority of this report focuses on the research occurring in Verona, Wisconsin, a close suburb of Madison. The researchers have a history of working in this district, long standing relationships with some of the teachers, and the site has a diverse student body, a very supportive administration, and, over time, the teachers have developed a very strong professional community. Conditions in their other research site—Nashville—were less conducive to supporting the kind of work with the teachers that this research and development approach required. In Nashville, the researchers were able to engage some teachers and assigned two graduate students to work intensely in a few classrooms. However, due to challenges both unique and predictable, progress there has been slower. In this report, we will reference Nashville where appropriate and when it helps to illustrate important supports and barriers to the researchers’ approach, which melded research and improvement of practice.

Intended Audience

Professional Development providers, Reform Leaders and Funders, and general public.


Any and all errors are claimed by the authors of this document, Inverness Research, Inc.

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