Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


First Advisor

Elizabeth B. Lewis

Date of this Version



Musson, A. A. (2018). Getting to the why: Exploring early-career physical science teachers' discourse and assessment practices (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies, Under the Supervision of Dr. Elizabeth B. Lewis. Lincoln, Nebraska : June, 2018.

Copyright (c) 2018 Aaron A. Musson


Formative assessment, or assessment for learning, is an essential component of the interactions between teachers and learners. Teachers elicit statements of understandings to decide their next instructional steps. Similarly, students communicate what they know, and apply teachers’ responses. Formative assessment is as much assessment as discourse; teachers use both to determine and respond to student needs. When teachers use formative assessments effectively, they can guide student understanding, extend discussions, probe for deeper meanings, and provide feedback. Formative assessment provides an understanding of how students are growing (or struggling), which teachers can use to adjust instruction. Frequent formative assessment is strongly linked to student learning and is an indicator of adaptive teaching.

Because of its importance for learning, formative assessment practices are emphasized in national teacher preparation standards. Therefore, it is important to understand how beginning teachers use discourse and assessment as part of formative assessment. Understanding supports and obstacles teachers encounter will help identify and address specific subject matter and pedagogical knowledge for development in teacher education and professional development programs.

The purpose of this study was to identify and describe assessment and discourse practices where early career teachers showed strengths and to illuminate areas in which they encountered challenges. Data sources include classroom observation data, coded to measure alignment with inquiry-based practices, of six beginning physical science teachers. Additionally, teaching self-efficacy survey data, in-field course hours and GPA were extracted from a larger, longitudinal data set, collected by a calibrated research team, of which I was a member.

I collected data from teaching beliefs interviews, classroom observations and video recordings, cognitive interviews, stimulated-recall interviews using video recordings, artifacts from teacher education program assignments, and post-study member-checking interviews.

These teachers showed strengths in inquiry-aligned discourse practices and confidence in using questions, and encountered challenges in assessing prior knowledge, adapting instruction, and providing opportunities for student reflection.

This study includes explorations of two third-year science teachers’ assessment and discourse practices, using a model developed by Bell and Cowie (2001), and documents how one physical science teacher developed and used an assessment plan to support student learning in a diverse urban school.

Advisor: Dr. Elizabeth B. Lewis