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News from October 2013

Texas Literacy Initiative sees success in Arlington ISD
October 29, 2013

For the community, its educators, and—most importantly—more than 40,000 students, the Texas Literacy Initiative’s early work in Arlington Independent School District is already paying off.

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) works to improve the school readiness and success in language and literacy of disadvantaged students in targeted local education agencies and their associated early childhood education providers. In Arlington Independent School District (ISD) alone, TLI works with 14 early childhood education centers, 31 elementary schools, 6 junior high schools, 3 high schools, and the Arlington Public Library. In very little time, TLI has helped Arlington ISD accomplish a great deal in the areas of professional development, data collection and analysis, and community involvement.

Professional development is a focus of TLI efforts in the district, including sessions on the features of effective instruction, vocabulary and oral language development, and phonological awareness. The vocabulary session was delivered in a “training of trainers” format, in which TLI planned and practiced with campus coaches prior to them, in turn, training teachers. Follow-up by coaches with teachers during grade-level meetings and implementation visits will help support a deep understanding of the content, effective instructional delivery, and engaged and motivated students.

On her blog, an Arlington ISD junior high teacher wrote the following about trying out a vocabulary routine that she learned through TLI professional development. “By the time we finished, one of my girls called me over and said, ‘Are we going to do more words this way? This was fun!’ Out of all my students, she was one of the last I expected to hear this from.”

TLI also conducts technical assistance observations in Arlington ISD. According to Becki Krsnak, the TLI project manager in the district, these visits “have been eye opening not only for the teachers and administrators on those campuses, but also for our district specialists. ... Conversations now focus on not only modeling these instructional strategies, but also on aligning trainings from grade level to grade level, following up on trainings, repeating basic trainings annually, and exploring the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and how to teach them. From these visits, campuses have requested targeted professional development, including planning sessions and demonstration lessons with teachers.”

TLI stresses the importance of data for all involved with the initiative. Now, Arlington ISD teachers in prekindergarten through second grade administer assessments three times a year, allowing district specialists, teachers, and administrators to identify missing links in their primary instruction. Teachers hold focused data discussions and district specialists align their support to match student need.

Last year, TLI held two meetings for principals, early childhood education directors, and campus representatives to review data and identify strengths and areas of need. These data meetings have led to a district TLI plan and individual site and campus plans, which are reviewed and revised throughout each school year.

Further, teams from each campus have completed an inventory to identify their level of implementation in several areas. Campuses use these data to identify action steps and participate in an online course that provides research-based information to guide their efforts.

Increased community involvement is another positive effect of TLI work throughout the district. Through its close partnership with TLI, the Arlington Public Library has provided many services to young children, parenting classes for the parents of prekindergarten students, literacy mentoring programs for high school students, training for daycare teachers, and parent training on effective read-alouds.

For more information about TLI, visit the Striving Readers page of the U.S. Department of Education website.

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

Lisa McCulley leads workshops for California teachers on PACT strategies
October 22, 2013

MCPER's Lisa McCulley recently answered a request to lead a workshop in California on how to implement the research-based strategies developed as part of the Promoting Adolescents' Comprehension of Text (PACT) project—and the response has been very positive.

"You were a sensation," wrote Dr. Ruth Nathan, chair of McCulley's sessions from October 18 to 20 at Asilomar 62, an annual conference held in Pacific Grove, California. "And not only because of the thoughtful PACT protocol that you so beautifully took us through, but for your 'boots on the ground' knowledge that brought research-based and proven practice to teachers tired of being lectured to, teachers tired of Ivory Tower expertise with little classroom experience being forced on them in daylong workshops...and tired because so many of them have too many students (some as high as 39) in their very diverse classrooms. What a breath of fresh air!"

Conference organizers in California learned of the PACT intervention and its proven effects from "Improving Reading Comprehension and Social Studies Knowledge in Middle School," a paper in Reading Research Quarterly detailing a study that the What Works Clearinghouse recently found to "meet evidence standards without reservation." Nathan requested someone with teaching experience and work in the classrooms involved with PACT to lead four sessions and an "Around the Hearth" discussion. McCulley fit the bill. Before joining MCPER, McCulley was a secondary language arts and reading teacher for 21 years. For PACT, she both develops the intervention and supports teachers.

For more information, visit the PACT project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text 

Sharon Vaughn wins Career Research Excellence Award
October 21, 2013

Sharon Vaughn, executive director of MCPER and director emeritus of VGC, has received UT Austin's Career Research Excellence Award. For full details on the honor, including reaction from Vaughn and College of Education Dean Manuel J. Justiz, read the official MCPER announcement.

MCPER researchers publish analysis of interventions for struggling readers from 1980 to 2011
October 18, 2013

MCPER researcher Nancy Scammacca Lewis, Associate Director Greg Roberts, and Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, along with University of Houston colleague Karla Stuebing, have published an update to their wide-ranging meta-analysis of interventions for struggling readers. "A Meta-Analysis of Interventions for Struggling Readers in Grades 4–12: 1980–2011" will appear in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Learning Disabilities. Currently, the article is published online. In the new publication, the authors expand their 2007 review to include studies published from 2005 to 2011, finding considerably smaller mean effects. The authors attribute the decline in effect sizes in part to "increased use of standardized measures, more rigorous and complex research designs, differences in participant characteristics, and improvements in the schools' 'business-as-usual' instruction that often serves as the comparison condition in intervention studies."

Tags: Reading Institute 

Marcia Barnes, Stephanie Cawthon join MCPER Board of Directors
October 15, 2013

MCPER is pleased to announce that Marcia Barnes and Stephanie Cawthon are the newest members of the MCPER Board of Directors.

Barnes is the Manuel J. Justiz Endowed Chair in Math, Science, and Technology in Teacher Education and a professor in the Mild/Moderate Disabilities and Diversity program in the UT Austin Department of Special Education. Her research interests include typical and atypical development of reading comprehension and mathematics.

Cawthon is the director of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute at MCPER. She is an associate professor in the UT Austin Department of Educational Psychology. Her research interests include education for individuals who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, assessment, accommodations, modifications, policy, access, research design, constructivist learning, drama-based instruction, mediators of student achievement, best practices in professional development, underserved populations, action research, multilevel modeling as a way to measure test equity, cross-disciplinary partnerships, and graduate student research and development.

Tags: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute 

Booklet highlights partnership with Australia on arts integration
October 11, 2013

The arts integration work of Stephanie Cawthon and Fellow Kathryn Dawson is featured in a new publication by the Australian Department for Education and Child Development. Creativity, Arts, and Learning Conversation: Stimulating a Culture of Innovative Learning details the work of the Drama for Schools project and its partnership with Australian researchers in the section "The Austin Experience." For more information, download the booklet.

Professional Development in Drama-Based Instruction With Drama for Schools 

MCPER awarded $9 million to start statewide writing initiative
October 10, 2013

The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk has been awarded a $9 million grant from the Texas Education Agency to launch the Texas Writing Initiative, a statewide professional development center tasked with improving writing instruction in the secondary grades.

Major activities of the new initiative will include developing and deploying a series of professional development training sessions; developing a set of research-supported, guiding principles to be used when implementing a schoolwide writing program; and piloting writing programs in schools that pair state-vetted coaches with classroom teachers. The duties of these coaches will include observing and providing feedback, modeling effective instructional practices, mentoring, co-teaching, and working with school leadership to implement a schoolwide writing program.

Min Kyung Kim appointed president of the Council for Learning Disabilities Texas Chapter
October 7, 2013

Min Kyung Kim, a doctoral student in the UT Austin Department of Special Education and graduate research assistant for MCPER's CSESA project, has been appointed to serve as the 2013–2014 president of the Council for Learning Disabilities Texas Chapter. She also serves as a member of the council's Research Committee.

Kim earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and her master’s degree in special education from Seoul National University of Education in Korea. She has taught elementary students in inclusive classrooms for more than 4 years, worked as an after-school coordinator for elementary students with learning difficulties in public schools, and served as a project coordinator for the High School English I Learning Disabilities Project at UT Austin.

Tags: Reading Institute