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Sharon Vaughn and colleagues to lead SXSWedu panel “Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning”
January 20, 2015

MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and three other national experts have been selected to lead the panel discussion "Equal Opportunity for Deeper Learning" at the 2015 edition of the SXSWedu Conference and Festival. The session is scheduled for 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9, in Room 16AB of the Austin Convention Center. Joining Vaughn will be Guadalupe Valdes of Stanford University, Louis Danielson of the American Institutes for Research, and Pedro Noguera of New York University. The session summary on the SXSWedu online schedule states that "After a dozen years of NCLB, teachers are clamoring for a new policy agenda, one that rewards efforts to engage students in truly high-level intellectual work. But is that realistic in every school? What does 'deeper learning' look like for students growing up in poverty, or those who are new to the English language, or who cope with learning disabilities? This session will address such questions head on, asking what schools can do to provide all students with genuine opportunities to learn."

SXSWedu 2015 is scheduled for March 9 through 12. More information about the event, which "fosters innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education," is available on the SXSWedu website.

Sharon Vaughn honors achievements, legacy of late friend and colleague Janette Klingner
December 19, 2014

In the latest installment of the Equity Alliance Advancing the Conversation Video Commentary Series, MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn pays tribute to her longtime friend and colleague Janette Klingner, who passed away in March 2014. The video is available online: "English Language Learners With Special Needs: In Honor of Janette Klingner."

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.