Advancing student thinking

Upon noticing the substance of their students chemical thinking, a teacher may decide to advance their students' thinking toward a curricular aim. Here we will consider the ways in which teachers may decide to do so according to our formative assessment model of enactment. This model was derived from rigorous analysis of classroom videos of experienced science teachers (many of whom are chemistry teachers, most are teacher leaders in their school district) doing formative assessment activities with their students.Excellent science teachers have a broad repertoire and use all of these different kinds of teaching moves in different moments, depending on the in-the-moment purposes that teachers have which are shaped by knowing the specific students and the challenges they are facing at that moment, as well as in the context of the overall lesson purposes. 

Excellent teachers decide to advance their students' thinking when they intend to move students toward specific learning goals by developing students’ understanding using their own or others’ ideas. This may involve walking a fine line between having students synthesize well-supported explanations, without having them simply reproduce surface level accounts or textbook definitions. The reproduction of a canonical explanation requires little more than memorization, aided in some cases by modest levels of comprehension.2 Advancing students' thinking however involves careful strategies on the part of the teacher to move students' chemical thinking in a meaningful and salient way. These advancing acts on the part of the teacher are categorized as more directive or more responsive in nature. 

Directive advancing

Directive advancing uses authoritative discourse that guides students toward particular ideas. When a teacher advances directively, they may move students towards scientific models, diagnose and explain mistakes, and encourage or question students in a stepwise fashion to arrive at the correct answer. There are several examples of what it may look like when teachers take a directive approach to guide students down particular lines of reasoning or toward particular ideas through authoritative discourse. One particular directive advancing strategy that a teacher may employ is pulling, in which the teacher asks a question or makes a statement that moves the student toward the teacher’s line of thinking. Another directive advancing strategy that teachers may use is diagnosing, where the teacher asks a question to make visible to the student a deficit or mistake in students’ thinking. A third directive advancing strategy is tracking, where the teacher gives feedback, often with inflection or gesture that the student is on the right track or not, or arrived at the correct answer. Teachers who are tracking often repeat students' statements, or a closely related statement that has been edited for correctness. Teachers that are attempting to advance their students directively may also engage in delivering, where they explain a topic while filling a gap in understanding, or provide an answer that does not necessarily build from a student utterance. Finally, directively advancing teachers may engage in rhetorical questioning by asking a question such that the asking of it provides clear clues to the answer. 

Responsive advancing

In contrast to the authoritative stance that the teacher takes when advancing directively, teachers who utilize a responsive approach focus their attention on the student lens by inviting students to denote progress, giving students space to think, and prompting for elaboration and justification. Students that advance responsively create opportunities for students to argue, to reason through various possibilities for themselves, to compare options, and to reflect on their own thinking. While teachers are responsively advancing, they use dialogic discourse that creates opportunities for students to discuss and think about their ideas. One responsive advancing strategy that a teacher could employ is recentering, where based on what the teacher has seen to that point, the teacher orients students’ attention to a common question to push their inquiry forward. Another method that responsive advancing teachers use is elaborating, in which the teacher may prompt students to propose or elaborate a mechanism for their explanation, justify their claim or provide evidence to support them, describe the effect of an action, connect to another idea, or assess the merits and shortcomings of an explanation. Responsive advancing teachers may also engage in acknowledging refinement by communicating that students have made specific progress in their inquiry and/or inviting students to characterize that progress. Teachers can responsively advance their students' chemical thinking by reflecting, where they reflect students' utterances back to them and give students space to think through a question or problem. Finally, teachers may advance their students responsively by drawing out, or encouraging students to continue providing their thinking.1


1. Dini, V., Sevian, H., Caushi, K., & Orduña Picón, R. (2020). Characterizing the formative assessment enactment of experienced science teachers . Science Education, 104 (2), 290-325.

2. Windschitl, M. (n.d.). Teaching practice set: Pressing for evidence-based explanations. Retrieved May 26, 2020, from