IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The Enduring Friendship of the MOCCA Team: How Camaraderie Benefits Research

This blog is a part of our Spotlight on IES Training Programs series and was written by Shirley Liu, a virtual intern for NCER.

One of the important—though sometimes overlooked—benefits of the IES training programs is friendship. When you think of what makes a good research team, friendship is probably not your first answer. However, the researchers behind the Multiple-Choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) demonstrate just how crucial strong bonds are. This blog shares how three long-time friends and members of the MOCCA team–Drs. Gina Biancarosa, Sarah Carlson, and Ben Seipel–have benefited from friendship.

 

(From top left: Sarah, Gina; Ben, Sarah; Gina, Ben)

 

How they met

Sarah and Ben first met during their IES predoctoral program at the University of Minnesota. During a grant-writing course, they developed a proposal for what would eventually become MOCCA. When Sarah attended the University of Oregon for her IES postdoctoral program, she met Gina, who ultimately joined in the MOCCA research.

The three scholars shared a passion for reading comprehension and assessment and a love for trading jokes. The team’s love of cute animal stories, especially otters, as another reason they get along well. “Every otter story that was in the news got shared multiple times,” Ben said as others laughed in agreement. Over the years, they have continued to invest in their shared interests and in one another.

How their friendship benefits their work

The three credit their friendship as contributing to their personal and professional growth in three key ways.

Combatting loneliness. According to Gina, “[Socialization] just gets you out of your head. That is not only good for your emotional health and mental health, but also for stimulating new ideas and improving the rigor of old ideas.” Whether it is visiting cool restaurants, taking pictures of each other with funny filters after long conferences, or going on retreats, the MOCCA team makes sure to create time for non-research related activities. Even during the pandemic, MOCCA still prioritizes the socialization aspect of their research by meeting online instead.

Creating a supportive atmosphere that encourages taking risks. The MOCCA team has found that their friendship creates an open-minded and supportive atmosphere for their research. This environment encourages risk taking and helps researchers voice their opinions. In turn, this stimulates innovation and intellectual diversity. “It makes it easier to float ideas that you think might not be all there and not have to risk rejection. They’ll tell you if it’s not all there, but you’re not going to feel crushed,” explained Gina. “It makes you take more risks.”

Fostering growth and personal development. The MOCCA team has also found that friendship leads them to see one another as more than just experts. Instead, they acknowledge their individual strengths while encouraging one another to grow intellectually as complex and constantly learning individuals. As a result, each member of the MOCCA team contributes to the research in unique and equally appreciated ways. “We all have that creative energy, but we have different types of creative energy,” said Ben. “Sarah is really the dreamer: What can this look like? What can it do for teachers? And I really am an innovator: I take things that are different, make them new, and get at things that we have not been able to get at in the past. But Gina really brings that maker aspect: How can we actually make this work? What are the things that function in our toolbox to make it happen?”

The value of friendship

Although the MOCCA team’s bond seems like a uniquely serendipitous union of like-minded people, all of us can reap the benefits of friendship in research and in everyday life. This past year has taught us the value of community and personal relationships in times of isolation. Researchers like the MOCCA team have known this for years.


Dr. Carlson and Dr. Seipel were predoctoral fellows in the Minnesota Interdisciplinary Training in Education Research program, Dr. Biancarosa was a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford University’s Postdoctoral Research Training in the Education Sciences program, and Dr. Carlson was a postdoctoral fellow in the Preparing Education Scientist training program. For more information about MOCCA, please visit the MOCCA webpages (here and here). 

The MOCCA team has been awarded three IES grants to support their measurement work: Multiple-choice Online Cloze Comprehension Assessment (MOCCA) (R305A140185); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment for Postsecondary Students (MOCCA-College) (R305A180417); Multiple-choice Online Causal Comprehension Assessment Refinement (R305A190393).

By Shirley Liu, virtual intern for NCER and an English/Anthropology & Sociology double major at Lafayette College.

Towards a Better Understanding of Middle-Schoolers’ Argumentation Skills

What is the difference between fact and opinion? How do you find relevant evidence and use it to support a position? Every day, teachers help students practice these skills by fostering critical discussions, a form of argumentation that encourages students to use reasoning to resolve differences of opinion.

In their IES-funded study, Exploring and Assessing the Development of Students' Argumentation Skills, Yi Song and her colleagues are uncovering activities (both teacher led and technology supported) that can improve middle-school students’ ability to generate better oral and written arguments.

This project began in 2019 and is working in classrooms and with teachers and students. The researchers have created a series of videos that describe their work. In this series, Dr. Song and her co-PIs, Dr. Ralph Ferretti and Dr. John Sabatini, discuss why the project is important to education, how they will conduct the research plan, and how educators can apply what they are learning in classrooms.

 

 


For questions and more information, contact Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer, NCER

"Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It": Examining Gender Stereotypes in Mathematics Achievement

In 2020, Andrei Cimpian, along with co-PIs Sapna Cheryan, Joseph Cimpian, and Sarah Lubienski, were awarded a grant for “Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It”: The Development and Consequences of Gender Stereotypes About Natural Talent vs. Effort in Mathematics. The goal of this project is threefold: 1) to explore the origins of the gender stereotype that girls achieve in math due to effort and boys achieve in math due to natural talent, 2) to investigate the consequences of these stereotypes, and 3) to identify ways of reducing the negative effects of these stereotypes on mathematics outcomes. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Andrei Cimpian on his inspiration and insights on this research, as well as his plans to disseminate the findings to education practitioners.

 

Dr. Andrew CimpianWhat spurred your research, and what prior research was foundational for this current study? 

The co-PIs and I were inspired to do this research because we were struck by the contrast between two sets of facts. On the one hand, girls do better in school than boys from kindergarten to grade 12. Women also obtain more bachelor’s and graduate degrees than men. On the other hand, we as a society still think of men as more brilliant and genius-like than women. For example, participants in a 2018 study referred more male than female acquaintances for a job that they were told requires natural smarts1. When the same job was said to require a strong work ethic instead, participants referred equal numbers of women and men.

Of course, societal views of women and men have changed quite a bit over the last century. With respect to general competence, women are now equal with men in the eyes of the American public. But the stereotype that associates “raw,” high-level intellectual talent with men more than women seems to have resisted change. Why?

Our research is testing a promising hypothesis: It is possible that people give different explanations for women’s and men’s intellectual successes, explaining men’s competence as being due primarily to their inborn intellectual talent and women’s as being due to their efforts. This effort-vs.-talent stereotype “explains away” women’s achievements by attributing them to a quality—perseverance—that is less valued in American culture than natural ability.

Versions of this explanatory stereotype have been documented in adults, but our project will provide its first systematic investigation among children. In particular, we will investigate the effort-vs.-talent stereotype in the domain of mathematics because innate ability is particularly valued in this domain1, which might make this stereotype especially consequential.

 

What are some examples of language or behavior that might suggest an individual holds a particular stereotype? Are there potential ways of mitigating the negative effects of stereotypes?

The best example of this stereotype that I can think of—and this is in fact the anecdote that crystallized our team’s interest in this topic—was recounted by co-PI Joseph Cimpian in a recent piece for The Brookings Institution (emphasis is mine):

About five years ago, while Sarah [Lubienski] and I were faculty at the University of Illinois, we gathered a small group of elementary teachers together to help us think through […] how we could intervene on the notion that girls were innately less capable than boys. One of the teachers pulled a stack of papers out of her tote bag, and spreading them on the conference table, said, “Now, I don’t even understand why you’re looking at girls’ math achievement. These are my students’ standardized test scores, and there are absolutely no gender differences. See, the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough.” Then, without anyone reacting, it was as if a light bulb went on. She gasped and continued, “Oh my gosh, I just did exactly what you said teachers are doing,” which is attributing girls’ success in math to hard work while attributing boys’ success to innate ability. She concluded, “I see now why you’re studying this.”

In terms of what can be done to mitigate the effects of this stereotype, our project will investigate a potential strategy: normalizing effort by making it clear to students that everyone (not just particular groups) needs to work hard to learn math. This message reframes what is viewed as necessary for success in math away from the belief that natural talent is key, thereby undercutting the power of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes.

 

The current study focuses on elementary school students in grades 1 through 4. What was the motivation for choosing this specific age group?

In general, gender stereotypes about intellectual ability seem to emerge quite early. For instance, girls as young as 6 and 7 are less likely than boys to associate being “really, really smart” with members of their own gender. For this reason, we think it is really important to focus on young children—we need to understand when effort-vs.-talent stereotypes first take root!

“Catching” these stereotypes when they first arise is also important for intervention purposes. If left unchecked, the effects of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes may snowball over time (for example, differences in the types of careers that young women and men are motivated to pursue).

 

What plans do you have to disseminate the findings of this research in ways that will be useful for education practitioners? 

We are mindful of the importance of getting this research into the hands of teachers so that they can use it in practice. We hope to write articles on this work for media outlets that draw educationally oriented audiences. To reach parents as well, we will coordinate with popular media outlets to disseminate the results of this work to general audiences. More generally, we will make every effort to ensure that the findings have maximal societal impact, raising awareness of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes among parents, educators, and the general public.

 


Andrei Cimpian, PhD (@AndreiCimpian), Professor of Psychology at New York University, has conducted extensive research on children’s conceptual development, explanations, and motivation in school.

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences.

Photo credit: Brian Stauffer


1The full PDF and resources are available at https://www.cimpianlab.com/motivation.

The Center for the Success of English Learners Launches Website to Support Policy and Practice for English Learners

Policies and practices affect English learners’ (ELs) education access and quality. Supporting these students requires alignment across all levels of the education system—from federal and state governments to districts and schools to individual classroom teachers and students. 

About the Center

To address these issues of policy and practice, IES funded the Center for the Success of English Learners (CSEL) with the goal of improving access and outcomes for English Learners across the United States. Specifically, CSEL’s focused program of research includes identifying and removing barriers related to ELs’ access to the classroom and developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches (for example, foregrounding content knowledge and building knowledge and academic language simultaneously) to improve instruction for ELs in Grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. Some research questions that will be explored include:

  • How are potential barriers, such as educator attitudes and mindsets and stated policies, associated with school tracking practices?
  • How do educators encounter and/or overcome barriers to providing ELs with access to the general curriculum?
  • What is the impact of the CSEL developed lessons on student vocabulary, language, and content knowledge in science and social studies?
  • Can student outcomes be improved in science and social studies through integrated formative assessments that allow teachers to make meaningful interpretations of student learning and informed decisions to guide their instruction?

New Website Launched

CSEL has launched a brand-new website to engage with the larger education community to exchange ideas, disseminate information and resources based on their findings, and create learning and collaboration opportunities for state and local education agencies. Visit www.cselcenter.org for information to learn more about their research, resources, and events, including an upcoming event based on their recently published brief, Education English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners Portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

 

Supporting Teachers and their English Learners during Online Learning

Under an IES grant, Drs. Leslie Babinski, Steve Amendum, Steve Knotek, and Marta Sánchez are evaluating the impact of the Developing Consultation and Collaboration Skills (DCCS) program. The DCCS program is a year-long professional development intervention designed to support English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and classroom teachers to develop their skills in collaboration, literacy instruction, and parent outreach and engagement for their Latino students. Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted their study, but rather than calling it quits, the research team used it as an opportunity to explore how teachers are responding to a new normal and learned some important lessons along the way.

 

Last spring, we were in the middle of conducting a randomized control trial in elementary schools working with teaching teams of kindergarten, first grade, and ESL teachers when COVID-19 hit, and schools pivoted to online instruction.

As we paused our efficacy trial and adapted our plans, we continued to stay engaged with teachers despite the rapidly shifting circumstances. We realized that the foundational skills central to our intervention—using high-impact instructional strategies for English learners (ELs), building on families’ cultural wealth, promoting collaboration between ESL and classroom teachers, and ongoing, supportive implementation coaching—could be modified and adapted for different contexts and modes of delivery. These ongoing interactions with teachers provided us with an up-close look at their experiences as they connected with families remotely and adapted to this new and unfamiliar way of teaching. We learned about the challenges, successes, and possibilities for providing online instruction for young ELs.

While online teaching during the current school year looks and feels very different from the emergency shift to remote teaching from last spring, we learned important lessons from the experiences of teachers and students.

 

First, we learned that our implementation coaching model could be productive in a virtual format. In fact, teachers were eager to engage in reflective conversations despite the demands on their time and the stress of the pandemic. Each of the school teams continued to meet with our implementation coach. Together, they found new ways to scaffold instruction for ELs during online learning. Teachers supported one another in finding creative ways to use technology to communicate with families and provide support that reached beyond academics. They also created lessons that intentionally adapted instruction to reach ELs in their classrooms. For example, embedded in the videos the teachers created, they continued to use our core instructional strategies, such as previewing academic vocabulary before reading a new text, supplementing student background knowledge related to the content, providing sentence frames for both oral and written participation, and selecting texts related to student cultures and families.

 

Second, it is clear that there are serious inequities in access to online schooling. In our study, even as teachers made the commendable efforts described above, they also reported that more than half of their EL students required a device from the school district, while one-third of the families also needed a Wi-Fi hotspot to access online learning. This rate is considerably higher than a Pew Research Center poll that found that one in five parents reported difficulties with online learning due to lack of a computer or Wi-Fi access, highlighting the fact that many English Learners may have limited access to the technology necessary for online learning.

 

Third, online learning requires a partnership between teachers, families, and other caregivers. Even with a device and internet access, many young children and their families had difficulty logging onto their school accounts and navigating the technical aspects of the learning platforms for online schooling. Teachers reported that about half of the EL students in their classrooms had a parent or guardian who was able to help them with schoolwork at home. About 20% had help from another adult or a sibling. In one case, a teacher described a family in which a kindergarten student received support for online schooling from her brother in second grade. In our study, support at home was critical for student participation in online lessons. Our work with teachers during remote teaching and learning highlighted how parents and other caregivers are important advocates for their children’s education and are eager to partner with teachers and schools to help their children succeed.

 

Looking to the future, it is clear that instruction for ELs will need to focus on equitable access to high-quality instruction, whether online or in-person. Access to devices and Wi-Fi is essential, not only for online teaching and learning, but also for extending learning into the home. Finally, we note that teacher collaboration and coaching can be effectively adapted for an online environment and is an essential component in providing support to teachers for high-quality instruction for ELs.

Although we could not have anticipated the value of continuing to work with teachers during the pivot to remote instruction, we are grateful for the experience and all that we have learned during the process.

 

For more information, see this EdWeek article and this interview on The TakeAway.


Dr. Leslie Babinski is an associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Director of the Center for Child and Family Policy.

Dr. Steve Amendum is a professor at the School of Education at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Steve Knotek is a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Marta Sánchez is an associate professor in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

This is part of a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19.