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Former first lady Laura Bush visits Wilkinson, a Middle School Matters Tier III school
October 28, 2014

Former first lady Laura Bush recently visited Walter L. Wilkinson Middle School, sitting in and leading a class discussion at the Mesquite, Texas, school.

Wilkinson is one of three "Tier III" schools that receive on-site support from the Middle School Matters Institute. The Middle School Matters program is an initiative of the George W. Bush Institute in partnership with The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk. Also, Wilkinson recently received a $7,000 library grant from the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries, which awards grants to school libraries nationwide.

For a full story on Bush's visit to Wilkinson, visit the Dallas Morning News website.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

International scholar Emmelien Merchie successfully defends dissertation back home in Belgium
October 3, 2014

Congratulations to Emmelien Merchie, who successfully defended her dissertation at Ghent University in Belgium.

"I realized again how important the work was to me and I really had an opinion about it and could defend it as an educational researcher," Merchie wrote in a recent e-mail about her defense. "I hope I can continue working in this research area."

Merchie had traveled to Austin for a 5-week visit this summer at the invitation of MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, who served as an international member of Merchie's dissertation committee. During her visit, Merchie presented findings from a 4-year intervention study on using mind maps to foster graphical summarization and text-learning strategies for middle grade students. For more information on her visit, read the MCPER news feature.

Second cohort of schools selected to receive on-site support from Middle School Matters Institute
September 5, 2014

Three schools have been selected as the second cohort of Tier III sites to receive expert support from the Middle School Matters Institute. Advanced Studies Magnet–Haut Gap Middle School in Johns Island, South Carolina; Robert E. Lee Middle School in San Angelo, Texas; and Walter L. Wilkinson Middle School in Mesquite, Texas, will receive in-person, intensive support during the 2014–2015 school year from some of the nation's leading researchers in implementing research-based strategies for school improvement. The schools were selected from the eight schools invited to attend the 2014 Middle School Matters Institute Summer Conference, which in turn were selected from a large nationwide pool of applicants.

The Middle School Matters program is an initiative of the George W. Bush Institute in partnership with The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk. For more information, read the press release from the George W. Bush Institute.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Bastrop ISD embraces secondary coaching support through the Texas Literacy Initiative
August 26, 2014

With the ongoing support of the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts through the Texas Literacy Initiative, Bastrop Independent School District instructional specialists have enacted a robust coaching cycle to support all teachers at its secondary campuses in incorporating reading, writing, and vocabulary instruction in all of the core content areas.

Leaders in Bastrop Independent School District (BISD) first set out to implement the coaching model more than a year ago. At the time, the Director of Secondary Education at BISD, Nancy Roll, sought assistance from the Vaughn Gross Center and the Texas Literacy Initiative.

In the coaching cycle, instructional specialists meet with teachers to identify their professional development needs before observing teachers in the classroom and then providing meaningful one-on-one feedback based on the observations. The coaching cycle then repeats, enabling teachers to improve their craft, learn on the job, and immediately enact new techniques.

Vaughn Gross Center staff members have worked side by side with BISD instructional specialists throughout the process. First, the Vaughn Gross Center staff members directly provided coaching to teachers as the instructional specialists observed. Gradually, the instructional specialists took over the coaching process, with support from the Vaughn Gross Center. Collaborative planning and modeling have helped to build the coaching capacity of the instructional specialists.

A recent survey revealed that BISD instructional specialists found the Vaughn Gross Center coaching support to be highly beneficial, noting especially how assistance was individualized for specific content areas. Mary Gray, an instructional specialist at Bastrop High School, explained that the model of coaching support was beneficial because she could talk to her Vaughn Gross Center support provider before and after each of the three components of the coaching cycle to assist with the planning process and implementation. “I also like that this program allows us to work at our own pace,” she said. “It has been great.”

Instructional specialists described the support as being “most effective in showing us how to coach” with “no pressure.” One coach noted that repeating the process with a consistent teacher “really made the difference in how the teacher and I grew.”

Instructional specialists and teachers are beginning to notice the difference that instructional coaching can make. As one instructional specialist explained, “I’ve seen a difference in the teacher’s classroom instruction based upon our coaching conversations.” Teachers were happy to receive feedback from the instructional specialist and to implement new practices. Participating teachers have felt progressively more comfortable asking the instructional specialists for help and inviting them into their classroom. These increasingly open relationships have even served to create a more collaborative culture on the campuses.

BISD plans to continue strengthening the coaching model this upcoming school year by increasing the number of teachers involved in the coaching process and by introducing a peer-coaching model with the support of the Vaughn Gross Center. The peer coaching process will provide teachers with a space to work together to reflect on current practices and share ideas for continual improvement. “We want to create a culture where we welcome observers into our classrooms and we seek feedback,” Roll said. “Teachers can learn so much from one another.”

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

Middle School Matters Institute Summer Conference highlighted in College of Education news feature
August 25, 2014

A recent UT College of Education news feature detailed the 2014 Middle School Matters Institute Summer Conference, held from June 17 to 19 in Austin. Leadership teams from each of the eight Middle School Matters Institute Tier II schools joined national researchers, staff members from the George W. Bush Institute and The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, and other special guests at the second annual conference. Participants heard informative keynote addresses, engaged in interactive breakout sessions that focused on the research-based practices described in the Middle School Matters Research Platform and Field Guide, and worked collaboratively with their school teams to develop implementation plans specific to their needs. To read the full story, visit the College of Education website

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Scholar from Belgium visits Austin to collaborate with MCPER researchers
August 14, 2014

Emmelien Merchie, a doctoral student at Ghent University in Belgium, is wrapping up a 5-week visit in which she collaborated with MCPER researchers and presented findings from her 4-year intervention study on using mind maps to foster graphical summarization and text-learning strategies for middle grade students.

Merchie traveled to Austin at the invitation of MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn. The two met at the beginning of Merchie’s research, when upon reading several publications by Vaughn and colleagues during an initial literature review, Merchie asked Vaughn to serve as an international member of her dissertation committee.

“And she agreed, without even knowing me,” Merchie said. “I am honored that such an important researcher is part of my committee.”

Merchie applied for funding for her visit from the Research Foundation – Flanders, highlighting the unique expertise she could access at MCPER, such as knowledge about response to intervention, treatment fidelity, data analysis, research collaborations, and bridges between research and practice—particularly translating materials for teachers and parents.

But Merchie has also enriched the MCPER staff with her knowledge. On August 11, she presented an engaging brown bag session on her dissertation and 4-year study, “Measuring and Fostering Graphical Summarization Skills and Text-Learning Strategies: Using Mind Maps in the Middle Grades.” The study was conducted with students in more than 30 classes in Belgium, using informational texts with two experimental conditions (researcher-provided mind maps and student-generated mind maps) and a control group. During the research, Merchie also developed and validated measurement instruments.

“This has been a wonderful experience for me, coming from a small country to work with such important researchers,” she said. “I will take this knowledge back to Belgium to both explore research to practice and expand my own research.”

Nixon-Smiley strengthens the school-family partnership through the Texas Literacy Initiative
July 28, 2014

Recognizing the crucial role that families play in supporting their children’s literacy and learning, Nixon-Smiley Consolidated Independent School District has dedicated itself to improving the school-family partnership, including hiring a family literacy liaison to advance the district’s literacy goals.

Thelma DeLeon, the Nixon-Smiley family literacy liaison, helps families with children from age 0 through high school better understand how to support and encourage literacy development. DeLeon works directly with families in their homes to build strong parent-child relationships, helping families create academic workspaces, structure after-school time, support children with academic tasks, and foster a “whole-family approach” to reading at home.

DeLeon also collaborates with teachers, counselors, and administrators about the progress of students to ensure that school personnel and the families are united in their efforts to maximize the learning of each student. Additionally, she helps organize community literacy events to promote family involvement and awareness.

DeLeon has gained a strong reputation with her clients, and word is spreading in the community. Recently, a parent who received in-home support from DeLeon raved to another parent about the difference it had made in her son’s development. She stated that while she was first impressed with her son’s growth, over time she realized that the biggest change was in her parenting. The parent now regularly uses the strategies DeLeon introduced to her son.

DeLeon says that seeing these types of changes in parents may be the most rewarding aspect of her job. “It brings a smile to my face to see the parents emulate the strategies that I model for them,” she said, “to see them work with their children and to see their relationship with their child grow stronger because of my support.”

Nixon-Smiley allocated funds for the new position through the Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI). TLI is a professional development and technical assistance initiative focused on improving school readiness and ensuring that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college. TLI recognizes that many families do not fully understand the important role they play in their children’s literacy or how best to support their children’s development. To address the discrepancies in students’ home literacy experiences, TLI has developed a Texas State Literacy Plan focused on strengthening early childhood education and the school-family partnership.

The Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin has supported teachers and specialists, like DeLeon, across the state through TLI. DeLeon and others partner closely with the Vaughn Gross Center to develop implementation plans to promote best practices in literacy instruction.

One person who has taken notice of the excellent family literacy achievements of DeLeon and the Vaughn Gross Center is Dr. Cathy Booth, the superintendent of Nixon-Smiley. “We are so pleased to have Thelma DeLeon working with families in our community to develop early literacy and learning skills in their preschool children,” Booth said. “Research has long proven that school success is largely based on a child’s ability to read well. However, many of our children are living in poverty. This often puts them at a disadvantage because they lack the reading readiness skills developed in more affluent homes through a print-rich environment and parents who read to them. Thelma’s work with our community helps close the gap. The work she is doing with them today will impact the future of each child and family as she sets them up for school, and thus lifelong, success.”

Just as many parents cannot imagine being without her assistance, DeLeon says that she receives the expert support that she needs, too. “I could not do the work that I do without the support of the Vaughn Gross Center,” she said. “They have been integral to the everyday family literacy work that I do.”

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

MCPER researchers present at Dyslexia Foundation’s Extraordinary Brain Symposium in the Azores
July 16, 2014

Several MCPER researchers presented at the Dyslexia Foundation Extraordinary Brain Symposium XIV from June 20 to 26 in Horta, Faial, in the Azores. The theme of the symposium was research to practice in reading intervention. Among the MCPER contingent were Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, and researchers Amory Cable, Philip Capin, Garrett Roberts, and Melodee Walker. 

New teacher flip book targets vocabulary, comprehension gains of elementary English learners
June 9, 2014

MCPER's Project ELITE has created a step-by-step flip book with visuals for a teacher read-aloud routine focused on vocabulary and comprehension development of English learners in the elementary grades.

The flip book guides teachers through the steps of the routine and includes strategies for supporting English learners’ literacy development. Teachers can use the flip book throughout the weekly practice. The large-format resource, posted in the MCPER Library, was a collaborative effort based on feedback received from teachers on the project.

The eye-catching and user-friendly resource and read-aloud routine have been well received. 

"Since implementing the read-aloud routine in my classroom, my students' reading comprehension and vocabulary skills have truly grown," said Amanda Wilkie, a second-grade teacher at Baty Elementary School in Del Valle Independent School District, where Project ELITE has been working. "They've gained a deeper understanding and constantly make connections not only across texts we read in class, but also in their own independent reading. This routine has helped to create a community of readers in my classroom who work together to build meaningful relationships with text."

For more information about Project ELITE, visit the ELITE project website. For more information about this tool, contact ELITE Project Director Leticia Grimaldo.

Tags: Language for Learning Institute  English Learner Institute for Teaching and Excellence: Project ELITE 

With the Vaughn Gross Center’s support, Arlington ISD’s inaugural Parent University is a success
May 30, 2014

With more than 500 participants, close to 100 workshop sessions, and nearly 100 organizations represented, the inaugural Arlington Independent School District Parent University was a success.

Earlier this year, the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin helped Arlington Independent School District (ISD) kick off its first Parent University. The Parent University offered support and resources to parents of students of all grade levels through workshop presentations by educational experts and a community resource fair with participation from many local organizations.

Since 2011, Arlington ISD and the Vaughn Gross Center have worked to develop a strong partnership through the Texas Literacy Initiative, a statewide program launched to improve school readiness and ensure that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college by high school graduation. The Vaughn Gross Center collaborates with hundreds of Arlington ISD teachers, coaches, and administrators to advance literacy outcomes for children from age 0 through grade 12 through ongoing professional development and technical assistance. As demonstrated at the Arlington ISD Parent University, the Texas Literacy Initiative distinguishes itself from past state-funded literacy initiatives by building strong connections between families, schools, and communities to support early childhood literacy and ongoing academic achievement.

“The Texas Literacy Initiative has played a key role in building a thriving community for literacy in Arlington,” said Yoko Matsumoto, the Arlington Public Library program and community engagement administrator. “With the support of the Vaughn Gross Center, the Texas Literacy Initiative has strengthened the network of organizations that are making a positive impact on literacy and supporting quality education in Arlington.”

The Arlington ISD Parent University consisted of informative workshop sessions provided by local and state experts and a community resource fair that featured important organizations and institutions, including the Pathways to College Access and Career Readiness Program at The University of Texas at Arlington, the YMCA, and the Arlington Fire Department.

The Vaughn Gross Center led two presentations at the event. In the session “The Importance of Reading Aloud to Children,” parents learned of the benefits of reading with their children and were taught an eight-step routine to support vocabulary development and reading comprehension. In the “Praising Children” session, participants learned how “process praise” could be used to strengthen motivation, student achievement, and the child-parent relationship.

Building on the success of the inaugural event, Arlington ISD and the Vaughn Gross Center recently joined forces again for a second Parent University to support the families and children of Arlington ISD.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative