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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 

Eight schools selected to receive targeted support in second cohort of Middle School Matters program
May 30, 2014

The Middle School Matters Institute, an initiative of the George W. Bush Institute in partnership with The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, is pleased to announce that eight schools have been selected to participate in the second year of the Middle School Matters program. Of a large nationwide pool, the following were selected: 

  • Advanced Studies Magnet–Haut Gap Middle School of Johns Island, South Carolina
  • Baytown Junior School of Baytown, Texas
  • Grant Middle School of Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Lee Middle School of San Angelo, Texas 
  • Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School of Pharr, Texas
  • Trinity Middle School of Trinity, Texas
  • Wilkinson Middle School of Mesquite, Texas
  • Woodward Elementary School of Manteca, California

National experts will provide the selected schools with ongoing training and support in research-based school improvement strategies. The schools also will attend the second annual Middle School Matters Institute Summer Conference from June 17 to 19 in Austin, Texas. At the conference, school leadership teams will attend sessions with top researchers and practitioners in the field of middle grades improvement. This guidance will help each school develop a Middle School Matters Implementation Plan tailored to its strengths and needs. Three of the eight schools will be selected to receive further, more intensive support for their Implementation Plan.

For more information, see the Bush Institute press release.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Farah El Zein featured in College of Education’s “Meet Our Graduates” feature
May 20, 2014

Farah El Zein, a researcher with MCPER's Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, is one of five graduates featured in the UT College of Education's "Meet Our Graduates" feature. According to the college, the feature celebrates "five exemplary students—one from each college department—whose diligent work and dedication won them accolades from faculty and advisers alike." El Zein is the representative from the Department of Special Education, in which she earned her doctorate this year. To read the full story, visit El Zein's profile on the College of Education website.

Tags: Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute 

Collaboration, communication help Texas Literacy Initiative boost student literacy across Austin ISD
May 13, 2014

In a recent survey, Austin Independent School District teachers, reading coaches, and administrators reported that the Texas Literacy Initiative has significantly improved student literacy.

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) is a professional development and technical assistance project that works to improve school readiness and ensure that all students are prepared to meet the literacy demands of college. For the past 2 years, Austin Independent School District (AISD) has participated in TLI for prekindergarten through grade 12, benefiting more than 20,000 students.

In November 2013, AISD’s Department of Research and Evaluation conducted a survey of 297 teachers, 51 literacy coaches and reading specialists, and 48 administrators.

Across the board, AISD educators reported being well supported in their efforts to improve students’ reading outcomes. In the survey, 93% of teachers and 94% of reading coaches said that their campus administrators supported their TLI work, and 83% of administrators reported that they received “the support I need” from district-level TLI staff.

An impressive 98% of administrators reported that TLI improves student literacy at their school. A substantial majority (81%) of teachers noted that TLI reading coaches are important to the academic success of their students.

TLI’s emphasis on data-informed decision-making is one of the factors driving improvement in student achievement. Data meetings helped 87% of teachers “drive my instruction to support the needs of my students.” One surveyed teacher explained that a benefit of meeting with reading coaches is “…being able to sit down and review the data showing student progress and being able to work together to collaborate on different activities that will help support our students’ learning.”

Teamwork and collaboration play key roles in TLI’s success. With a high number of AISD schools and educators involved, the implementation plan depends on consistent communication across the school sites and strong professional learning communities.

The Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin works closely with the leadership at AISD to develop effective grant implementation teams and prepare literacy coaches to support teachers in meeting their instructional goals. As Marissa Campbell, the reading coach at Guerrero Thompson Elementary School, said, “Often, I feel my job enters uncharted territory—yet the [TLI] training and support help me find my path.”

To ensure that best practices for instruction, professional development, and community involvement are consistently employed, similar surveys and student data reporting will continue to track TLI’s progress in the district.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

Middle School Matters school in spotlight for piloting Pennsylvania dropout-prevention data system
May 12, 2014

Roosevelt Middle School in Erie, Pennsylvania, one of eight schools selected in 2013 to receive targeted support through MCPER's Middle School Matters Institute, was featured in the local news for its role in piloting a data system aimed at identifying middle schoolers at risk for later high school dropout.

Roosevelt is one of four schools piloting the Opening Doors Early Warning System, part of Pennsylvania First Lady Susan Corbett's Opening Doors initiative. Corbett toured the school on May 8. For a full story and a video on Corbett's visit to the school, visit the Erie Times-News website.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

Colleen Reutebuch selected to attend Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials
May 12, 2014

Colleen Reutebuch, a director of MCPER's Reading Institute and principal investigator in the Language for Learning Institute, has been selected to attend the 2014 Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials from July 7 to 17 in Evanston, Illinois. The eighth annual event, hosted by the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research and supported by the National Center for Education Statistics, aims to "increase the national capacity of researchers to develop and conduct rigorous evaluations of the impact of education interventions. The course sessions will provide intensive training on planning, implementing, and analyzing data for cluster-randomized trials," according to the event website.

Tags: Reading Institute Language for Learning Institute