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News from August 2017

MCPER to create science program with focus on second-graders with, at risk for learning disabilities
August 7, 2017

MCPER has been awarded a $2.5 million, 4-year federal grant to launch the Scientific Explorers project, which will design and test a science program for the full range of second-grade learners, including those with or at risk for learning disabilities in mathematics, reading, and science.

The goal of the Scientific Explorers program, funded by the National Science Foundation Discovery Research PreK–12 program, is to lay an early foundation for science learning, drawing upon the disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts related to Earth’s Systems in the Next Generation Science Standards. The project also will develop and test an accompanying science assessment. In year 4, the project will conduct a pilot study of the program and assessment in 40 second-grade classrooms in Texas and Virginia. 

MCPER's Christian Doabler is the project's principal investigator. Sarah Powell of MCPER, Victor Sampson of the UT Austin College of Education, and Bill Therrien of the University of Virginia are the co-principal investigators. MCPER's Greg Roberts and Anna-Mari Fall are the project’s methodologists.

"A robust understanding of disciplinary core ideas and practices in science is necessary for obtaining jobs in the STEM fields," Doabler said. "Yet, few effective instructional tools exist for the science classroom."

For more information, visit the Scientific Explorers project webpage.

Tags: Mathematics and Science Institute for Students With Special Needs  Promoting Scientific Explorers Among Students With Learning Disabilities 

New project to develop read-aloud tools to improve literacy and math skills of children ages 3 to 6
August 3, 2017

MCPER researchers Sarah Powell and Sharon Vaughn have received a $1 million grant from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to develop and use math and reading read-alouds with young children.

The 5-year project, Interactive Read-Alouds for Prekindergarten and Kindergarten to Improve Literacy and Numeracy Skills, will aim to improve the read-aloud practices of caregivers and teachers of children ages 3 to 6. A read-aloud is when an adult reads aloud to a child and engages the child in discussion and exploration as the reading occurs.

“Many parents and teachers read story books aloud to young children, but books about early math concepts are used infrequently,” Powell said. “With this project, we aim to improve typical routines with read-alouds so that teachers and parents not only focus on reading but also discuss math vocabulary and math content with young children.”

One aim of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, based in Lufkin, Texas, is to address low rates of educational attainment in East Texas. With this grant, the researchers will work with caregivers and teachers in East Texas to increase home and school literacy and numeracy discussions and activities.

The project will design a set of research-based practices that will be useful and effective for caregivers and teachers throughout Texas, ensuring that youngsters will be more prepared for kindergarten and beyond. 

“We are so proud to be working with the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to better outcomes in early literacy and numeracy,” Vaughn said. “We consider it a huge honor to have received this grant and are very grateful for their support.”

For more information, visit the project webpage.

Tags: Mathematics and Science Institute for Students With Special Needs  Interactive Read-Alouds for Prekindergarten and Kindergarten to Improve Literacy and Numeracy Skills 

News from July 2017

Sharon Vaughn, Sarah Powell to be featured at Central Texas Dyslexia Conference
July 25, 2017

MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Principal Investigator Sarah Powell will share their expertise as featured presenters at the Central Texas Dyslexia Conference this fall in Austin. 

Vaughn will be a featured speaker for the event, which will be held October 19 at the Austin Independent School District Performing Arts Center. Her presentation, "Reading Strategies That Work," will explore the features of successful reading interventions in grades 4 to 8 and the importance of explicit and systematic phonics instruction.

Powell will lead a breakout session titled "Math Strategies That Work." She will discuss areas of difficulty, explicit instruction, the concrete-to-abstract continuum, fact fluency, and word problems.

According to the website, the conference "will help teachers and parents by identifying the cognitive strengths common among dyslexic students and will explain how to nurture these gifts in dyslexic students. In addition, dyslexia experts will provide instructional best practices proven to help dyslexic students improve reading fluency, comprehension, and math skills."

For more information on this free event, including registration and a full schedule, visit the conference website.

MCPER, Utah State to test story-skills program for those at risk for language, literacy difficulties
July 17, 2017

Researchers at Utah State University (Ron Gillam and Sandra Gillam) and The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (Sharon Vaughn and Greg Roberts) have been awarded a $3.3 million, 4-year federal grant to test a program for improving the narrative comprehension and composition of first- through fourth-grade students at risk for language and learning difficulties.

The funding from the Institute of Education Sciences will allow the researchers to evaluate the effects of the Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL) curriculum in a large randomized clinical trial in Utah and Texas over the next 4 years.

This work will build on previous research on the impact of early instruction in narrative language skills, such as story structure, character development, and causation. This research demonstrated the importance of narrative language proficiency to academic success. Students with language and learning difficulties will be the focus of the efficacy studies at the Utah and Texas sites.

Students randomized to receive the language and literacy intervention will participate in approximately 40 half-hour sessions. Instruction will focus on story structure, strategies for constructing situation models, and the integration of new information into long-term memory. The literature-based texts and activities will closely align with the kinds of texts students read and write in general education classrooms. The project team will evaluate the effects of the curriculum by examining student performance on measures of narrative language during oral and written storytelling, reading comprehension, and early written language.

For more information about this project, visit the project webpage.

Tags: Reading Institute  Supporting Knowledge in Language and Literacy (SKILL) 

New project to examine practices for improving reading comprehension and reducing anxiety
July 10, 2017

The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk and Boston University a $2.9 million, 5-year grant to investigate practices for improving reading comprehension and reducing reading anxiety of fourth- and fifth-grade students with reading difficulties.

The grant will allow MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Amie Grills of Boston University to build on their previous research investigating the relation between reading difficulties and reading anxiety and approaches to improving reading performance and reducing anxiety. Their previous research demonstrates a high prevalence of anxiety among children experiencing reading difficulties. To address this problem, Grills and Vaughn conducted a pilot study examining the effects of a reading intervention program that featured strategies for reducing anxiety. Their research findings provide preliminary evidence that significant reductions in anxiety occur when students receive anxiety-management instruction within a reading intervention.

Over the next 5 years, the researchers will further develop and test an integrated approach in a randomized clinical trial with students in Texas and Massachusetts. Students randomized to receive the intervention will participate for 2 consecutive years beginning in fourth grade. Instructional practices for reducing anxiety will focus on three core areas: (1) recognizing feelings and understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related; (2) practicing various relaxation and stress-management skills; and (3) recognizing anxious and unhelpful thoughts and changing them. These practices will be embedded within reading intervention lessons found in previous studies to improve student decoding and reading comprehension outcomes. The project team will evaluate the effects of the reading and anxiety practices by examining student performance on reading and socioemotional measures.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to conduct a relatively unique approach to better understanding whether we can both reduce anxiety and improve reading outcomes for students with significant reading problems," Grills said.

For more information about this project, visit the project webpage.

Tags: Reading Institute  Improving Reading and Reducing Reading Anxiety Among Students With Reading Difficulties 

News from June 2017

MCPER math experts publish guidance on research-based practices for all grades
June 7, 2017

In a new article, MCPER Mathematics Institute Director Diane Bryant and Principal Investigator Sarah Powell provide a consise summary of the mathematics practices that are supported by the best evidence and can be implemented every day in all grades. 

"Making the Numbers Add Up: What Solid Research Tells Us About Teaching Math" appears in the June issue of Texas Lone Star, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards. In the article, Bryant and Powell explore the importance of teaching mathematics vocabulary; having students show their work; and starting early on the path to college and career readiness—in elementary school—by ensuring that young students develop fluency and automaticity with computation, and with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. 

The article also points readers to MCPER's 10 Key Mathematics Practices for All Elementary Schools and 10 Key Mathematics Practices for All Middle and High Schools. Both guides include practical, research-based recommendations that states, school districts, and schools can use to improve students' mathematics outcomes.

For more information on MCPER's mathematics work, visit the Mathematics Institute for Learning Disabilities and Difficulties

Tags: Mathematics and Science Institute for Students With Special Needs 

News from May 2017

MCPER’s Gleb Furman honored at national event for graduate student research
May 3, 2017

MCPER's Gleb Furman won the In-Progress Research Award for his research poster presentation at the American Educational Research Association Division D Graduate Student In-Progress Research Gala in San Antonio. 

Furman's poster was among nine finalists selected to present at the gala. And among those finalists, he was one of three selected to present on his research at an invited session at next year's meeting.

The following is from the poster's abstract: "Use of the multiple membership random effects model (MMREM) has gained recent popularity in educational statistics and various other social and health sciences. The MMREM allows one to appropriately model multilevel data where level 1 units move across level 2 units, as in the case of mobile students. Weights are used to estimate the contribution of each cluster on level 1 units' outcomes; however, research into the impact of misspecifying these weights and the ability to compare model fit given different weight specifications is limited and often suggests that weight specification may not matter. A sensitivity analysis found substantial differences in the variance/covariance estimates of fixed effects when slopes were free to vary. The proposed study seeks to expand this research to a more complex random intercept and slopes model and to determine the extent to which the deviance information criterion (DIC) can be used to compare different weight specifications on model fit."

News from April 2017

Write for Texas publishes report showcasing success stories
April 24, 2017

Since 2014, Write for Texas has promoted and supported improved academic writing instruction in the secondary grades through a cadre of regionally based instructional coaches and an extensive collection of online resources available at no cost to all educators.

Instructional coaches employed by the 27 regional project sites work with a variety of educators in grades 6 through 12 to provide opportunities for students to read, write, and discuss a variety of genres throughout the school year. From developing workshops for administrators and teachers to modeling lessons in classrooms, the coaches improve the instructional landscape in participating schools and districts.

Success Stories From a Literacy Initiative showcases one successful aspect of Write for Texas work at each site, helping to illustrate the breadth and depth of work happening locally and statewide. These snapshots are meant not only to document and recognize the work of these Write for Texas sites, but also to inform and inspire other educators to adopt similar practices.

The site snapshots are organized into the following sections, which begin with introductions containing general advice or tips for educators:

  • Focus on Classroom Coaching
  • Spotlight on District and Administrator Support
  • Think Big to Reach Groups of Teachers

Write for Texas 

News from March 2017

New resource: National Center on Improving Literacy launches website
March 30, 2017

The National Center on Improving Literacy, a partnership including longtime MCPER collaborators at Florida State University and the University of Oregon, has launched a new website. "The center is funded to provide technical assistance to families to improve literacy outcomes for children in pre-K through grade 12 with (or at risk of) literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia," according to an announcement. The website includes resources for families, schools, communities, and states.

MCPER and Boston University seek applications for postdoctoral researcher
March 29, 2017

MCPER and the School of Education at Boston University are seeking applications for a postdoctoral researcher to work on a multisite research grant under the mentorship of MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Boston University associate professor Amie Grills. 

The 5-year, multisite randomized clinical trial is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The project will evaluate the innovative integration of evidence-based practices for reducing anxiety and improving reading among middle grade students who struggle with reading. Students in grades 4–5 will be included in this study, which will take place in elementary schools in the Austin, Texas, and Boston, Massachusetts, areas.

The selected Fellow will be located at the Boston University site and will have a leadership role on this project, assuming responsibilities that may include: (a) assisting in general project oversight, management, and site recruitment; (b) supervising data collection, management, and implementation; (c) applying methodological and data analytic approaches in addressing research questions; and (d) collaborating on research presentations, publications, and practice and policy reports. The establishment of unique and independent strands of research culminating in the solicitation of future grant funding will be encouraged. In addition, the Fellow will receive (a) mentored professional development, independent writing, and grant development; (b) immersion in large-scale research drawing from multiple disciplines (e.g., clinical psychology, special education); (c) didactic research training; and (d) tailored professional development geared toward the Fellow’s career aspirations (e.g., teaching, university leadership experience). The initial appointment will be for 2 years, with the potential for subsequent reappointment or promotion. 

Qualified applicants will have obtained a degree in a social science field with a focus on developmental science (e.g., clinical psychology, educational psychology, special education, child development/family studies) by the start of the position. Those with a demonstrated publication record or excellent writing ability and a background in clinical child psychology, reading disabilities, and/or school-based intervention delivery are strongly encouraged to apply. Experience with project management and quantitative statistical methods is a plus.

Application materials should be submitted electronically to Dr. Amie E. Grills at agrills@bu.edu. Please send (1) a cover letter that briefly summarizes qualifications, research experience, and career goals; (2) a complete curriculum vitae; (3) one or two publications or writing samples; and (4) two letters of recommendation (at least one from a faculty advisor or mentor). Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.