Physics Dept.
3307 3rd Ave. W.
Suite 307
Seattle, WA 98119
Phone: 206-286-7258
Fax: 206-378-5400

Teacher Professional Development Resources

Diagnostic Learning Environment

The guiding philosophy behind the SPU Physics Department’s teacher professional development courses is the concept of a diagnostic learning environment (DLE). A diagnostic learning environment is a classroom or informal learning environment wherein learner knowledge and/or skills are accessed, assessed, interpreted, and attended to in subsequent activities in an effort to improve understanding and performance of the learner. Like other learning environments, a DLE seeks deep learning of the discipline alongside the development of habits of mind and critical thinking skills required for the discipline. Additionally, though, in the DLE there is a deliberate attempt, both by the teacher and the learner, to diagnose and address the learner’s thinking in and about the discipline.

We believe that developers and instructors of teacher professional development courses should keep the goals of a diagnostic learning environment in mind during the planning and implementation of the courses. The classroom structure and activities chosen for the professional development should model a DLE so that teacher-participants will go back to their own classrooms having learned through a DLE.

The best way to create a DLE is to understand the essential components of such an environment and to monitor participant growth along these components as the course progresses. These essential components are content knowledge for teaching, formative instructional practice, and classroom culture needed for learning.

See the chart below for a detailed description of each of these components.

Essential Components of a Diagnostic Learning Environment

Content Knowledge
Needed for Teaching

Instructional Practice

Classroom Culture 
Needed for Learning

• Teacher knows the big ideas of the subject and the evidence that leads one to a deep understanding of these ideas.

• Teacher knows how the curriculum is designed to develop understanding of the big ideas; teacher knows the logic, reasoning, and representations used to build this knowledge.

• Teacher knows students’ initial ideas about the concepts.

• Teacher knows how the curriculum is designed to help students’ ideas evolve during instruction.

• Teacher elicits students’ initial ideas and uses these ideas during instruction.

• Teacher uses ongoing data collected on student ideas to adjust instruction by the minute, day, week, and year.

• Students and teacher are continually recording and reflecting on how their ideas are being strengthened or changed as a result of instruction.

• Teacher primarily sees instruction as facilitation; listening, questioning, bringing in resources as needed, and evaluating.

• Teacher has a genuine interest in the initial and evolving ideas of her/his students.

• Students take responsibility for their own learning and as a consequence know what they have learned and how they have learned it.

• The classroom is a place where ideas are shared and shaped through student discourse and reflective practices.

Keeping these components in view while designing and implementing a teacher professional development course will encourage a fruitful diagnostic learning environment in both the professional development course itself and the teacher-participants’ own classrooms.

We have created and offer to you tools for implementing these components and examples of course agendas and course objectives that use these components in an integrated manner. Please visit our Components for Implementation and Sample Agendas pages for more information.