Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

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.

National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March has been National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month since 1987. President Reagan’s goal for this annual observation was to increase “public awareness of the needs and the potential of Americans with developmental disabilities” and to provide the opportunities and supports individuals with developmental disabilities may need to lead productive lives and reach their full potential.

Special education research is improving ways in which educators help realize this goal by enhancing teaching strategies for working with students with developmental disabilities and their families from early childhood through the transition to young adulthood. Below are examples of current NCSER-funded projects that are focused on supporting educators who work with students with developmental disabilities across childhood and adolescence.

Early Childhood

Early childhood and education (ECCE) providers play an important role in the development and well-being of children; however, training opportunities focused on working with children with developmental disabilities are often limited for ECCE providers. Dr. Rebecca Landa at the Kennedy Krieger Institute is developing a professional development program for ECCE providers to implement Early Achievements (originally developed for young children with autism spectrum disorders) with children with developmental disabilities. The program will train ECCE providers to implement the three evidence-based practices of Early Achievements—explicit targeting of language, social, and cognitive development; strategies to enhance meaning (such as themes and hand-on learning); and naturalistic developmental behavior strategies (such as prompts and natural reinforcers).

Elementary Level

At Purdue University, Dr. Rose Mason and colleagues are developing Para-Impact, a PD package for educators who work with elementary students with developmental disabilities. Para-Impact trains special educators to use practice-based coaching to support paraprofessional implementation of systematic instruction. Paraprofessionals often have access to few formal training opportunities on how to implement evidence-based practices, and special educators often have limited experience supervising and training paraprofessionals to implement such practices. Dr. Mason’s work addresses this gap by supporting educators in training and supervising paraprofessionals in the use of systematic instruction with students with developmental disabilities. The ultimate goals of this work are to increase the engagement of students with developmental disabilities in the classroom and to increase student progress on their individualized education goals.

High School

At the University of Massachusetts Boston, Dr. Allison Hall is exploring whether and how the information special educators provide to parents about transfer rights and guardianship may support or limit transition outcomes for students with developmental disabilities. Special education regulations state that parental decision-making rights will transfer to students at the age of 18 unless parents obtain guardianship. During transition planning, special educators frequently encourage parents to seek guardianship despite the growing array of available formal and informal alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision making. Dr. Hall and her research team are examining the factors that affect how special educators provide this information to families and the ways in which this information may impact transition outcomes, such as parent expectations and student self-determination.

We look forward to seeing how these projects support students with developmental disabilities in leading productive lives and achieving their full potential.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service.

Middle Level Education Month: Celebrating the Early Adolescent Years

March is Middle Level Education Month, a month in which we recognize the important early adolescent years for learning and growth. For young adolescents, particularly adolescents with or at risk for disabilities, these can be important years to further develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills as opportunities for independence expand and the academic and behavioral expectations increase. For middle school teachers of students with or at risk for disabilities, classroom management and effective behavior supports may be particularly important. Many middle school teachers experience student disengagement and disruptive behavior. To support middle school teachers and students, several researchers are exploring ways to promote appropriate behavior, support executive functioning and self-regulation skills, and enhance academic engagement in middle schoolers with or at risk for disabilities through grants from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

Two NCSER-funded researchers are currently developing interventions to improve learning and behavior for middle school students. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Andrew Garbacz has an Early Career Development and Mentoring grant to iteratively adapt and test the Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC) service model for middle school students with or at risk for serious emotional disturbance. CBC (also known as Teachers and Parents as Partners) is an indirect service delivery model, previously tested with younger students, that partners parents, educators, and other key stakeholders in data-driven, collaborative problem-solving and implementation of evidence-based interventions to address challenging behavior. At the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Leanne Tamm is adapting and testing the Teaching Academic Skills to Kids—School-based intervention. This intervention was originally developed for individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is currently being adapted to focus on the specific needs of middle schoolers with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. The adapted intervention will target executive functioning skills, academic behaviors (such as homework completion), and academic outcomes.

In addition to this work on developing interventions, three NCSER-funded researchers are testing the efficacy of existing interventions that aim to improve the behavior, engagement, school adjustment, and academic outcomes of middle school students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). At the University of Florida, Dr. Stephen Smith is examining the efficacy of I Control, an intervention for middle school students with EBD that targets executive functioning skills. At the Oregon Social Learning Center, Dr. Rohanna Buchanan is evaluating the efficacy of the Students with Involved Families and Teachers (SWIFT) program, which is intended to improve school adjustment for students with EBD who are transitioning between school placements or who are at risk of being placed in a more restrictive setting (such as a residential facility). The goal of SWIFT is to promote successful student transitions and to increase parental involvement in schools. At the University of Kansas, Dr. Howard Wills is evaluating the efficacy of Class-Wide Function-Based Intervention Teams Middle School (CW-FIT MS). CW-FIT MS aims to improve engagement, academic outcomes, and socially appropriate behaviors of middle school students with or at risk for EBD while improving teacher classroom management practices.

IES is committed to improving learning opportunities and outcomes for middle school students with and without disabilities, and we look forward to seeing how these projects will help support this goal.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service.

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

NCSER Principal Investigators Receive 2021 CEC Awards

This week, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is holding its annual Convention and Expo virtually. Several scholars are being presented with awards during the event to recognize their research contributions to the field. IES-funded investigators Linda Mason, Nicholas Gage, and Patricia Snyder are among those recognized.

Dr. Linda Mason, Endowed Director of the Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities at George Mason University, received the CEC Special Education Research Award. This award is given to an individual or team whose research has made significant contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Mason’s research focuses on content reading comprehension and writing interventions to support students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms. She has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on two National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) grants. For one, she developed a writing intervention for middle schoolers with behavior disorders. Currently, Dr. Mason is the PI for a project that is exploring the relationships among teacher use of evidence-based practices, teacher experience with and attitudes about adapting instruction for students with disabilities, and student writing outcomes.

Dr. Nicholas Gage, Associate Professor at the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Martin J. Kauffman Distinguished Early Career Research Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving doctoral degree. Dr. Gage’s research focuses on identification of policies and practices to support the academic, social, and behavioral needs of students with or at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders. A former IES post-doctoral fellow, he has also served as the PI on a NCSER grant that developed a technology-based intervention to support students with visual impairments in locating key information in math word problems that include graphics. Currently, Dr. Gage serves as a mentor for an early career grant.

Dr. Patricia Snyder, a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Researcher Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of research resulting in more effective services or education for exceptional individuals. Dr. Snyder’s research focuses on developing, validating, and evaluating interventions for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with or at risk for disabilities or experiencing social and behavioral challenges. Dr. Snyder has been the Principal Investigator number of NCSER-funded research grants. She and her colleagues designed a professional development program, Tools for Teachers, to support teachers in using embedded instruction with preschool children with disabilities. Following up on the initial grant, she and her colleagues recently completed an efficacy trial of Tools for Teachers to examine the impact of the professional development intervention on teacher practices and child outcomes and she is serving as a co-PI for a grant developing Tools for Families, a program for teachers to engage families in embedded instruction for learning across school and home. Dr. Snyder has also been a co-PI for a study examining the efficacy of the Pyramid Model, a class-wide model aimed at promoting social-emotional development and positive behavior for preschool children; a project that developed Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers, an early intervention program aimed at coaching caregivers of infants and toddlers to embed learning opportunities in every day routines; and a current project developing a professional development intervention focused on teaching vocabulary to children at risk for communication difficulties. Finally, she has been actively involved in training the next generation of researchers, serving as PI on a postdoctoral training grant focused on preparing postdoctoral fellows to conduct research on improving outcomes for young children with or at risk for disabilities and serving as a mentor for an Early Career program grant.

Congratulations to the award recipients!

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Amy Sussman, Program Officer at NCSER.