News from August 2014

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.”

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

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.”