Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Award-Winning Efficacy Research on Improving Cognitive and Motor Skills in Infants with Neuromotor Disabilities

Headshot of Regina (Reggie) Harbourne

Congratulations to Regina (Reggie) Harbourne and her colleagues for receiving the most prestigious award of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM)—for the second time!—for their NCSER-funded research on the efficacy of the START-Play intervention. The Gayle G. Arnold Award is presented annually to the authors of the best scientific manuscript in the field. Dr. Harbourne and her colleagues received the award in 2019 for their first publication on the initial motor and cognitive outcomes of this study. They recently accepted this award again at the 2022 annual meeting for a follow-up publication on the impacts of the intervention on the important cognitive construct of object permanence.

Sitting Together and Reaching to Play (START-Play) is an intervention designed to target sitting, reaching, and motor-based problem solving in infants with motor delays or disabilities. Physical therapists work in the child’s home with the family on providing intensive, individualized activities to promote these motor skills, building toward goal-directed movements, problem-solving, and learning basic cause-effect relationships based in early motor skills. In this study, the research team conducted a randomized controlled trial with 112 infants aged 7 to 16 months. Those receiving START-Play and those in the control group all continued to receive their usual early intervention services. Children were assessed at various timepoints during the 12-week intervention as well as follow-up visits up to examine maintenance of outcomes.

In their first award-winning manuscript, START-Play Physical Therapy Intervention Impacts Motor and Cognitive Outcomes in Infants With Neuromotor Disorders: A Multisite Randomized Clinical Trial, the authors report on the primary impacts of the intervention. They found that for those infants with more significant motor delay, those who received START-Play had greater improvements in cognition, fine motor skills, and problem-solving (at the 3-month follow up), and greater improvements were maintained for fine motor skills and for reaching at the 12-month follow up when compared to the infants receiving usual care. In addition to the Arnold Award, this manuscript won another prestigious research award from the American Physical Therapy Association, the Chattanooga Award, which recognizes authors who publish work in the association’s journal, Physical Therapy Journal.

The most recent Arnold award was for the research team’s new secondary outcomes manuscript, Early vs. Late Reaching Mastery’s Effect on Object Permanence in Infants with Motor Delays Receiving START-Play and Usual Care Early Intervention.[1] Object permanence is the cognitive construct that allows us to maintain a continual mental representation of an object, an important working memory skill for infants to develop. This manuscript reports that, overall, infants who mastered the motor skill of reaching early showed greater development of object permanence understanding than infants who mastered reaching later. Children who reached early and also received the START-Play intervention continued to improve their object permanence understanding to a greater degree than children receiving usual care. This study extended our understanding of how object permanence relates to developing motor skills, described in the authors’ previous publication, which revealed that object permanence skills improved as sitting skills improved. Together, these two papers show how developing the motor skills of sitting and reaching are important to building cognitive skills and understanding objects in the world.

After accepting the award, Dr. Harbourne answered some questions from NCSER about her team’s research on START-Play.

What was the motivation behind your work on developing and testing the efficacy of START-Play? 

Early intervention services for children with motor delays or dysfunction are often siloed into disciplines by functional areas. For example, educators address cognitive skills and physical therapists address only motor skills. But our study supported the idea that early learning that combines movement with problem solving can advance cognitive skills, problem-solving, and fine motor skills, all areas important to eventual success in school.

What do your results tell us about how the intervention is working and its implications for implementation?  

Because we found that adding problem-solving and cognitive challenges to our motor intervention did not slow progress in motor skills, we believe that integrating motor and cognitive challenges may be better for overall development than separating these areas during service delivery. We also had a strong fidelity of intervention program, assuring that the key ingredients of the intervention were adhered to, and that it was clearly different from usual care. However, one implication is that early interventionists need further training to deliver this type of service to families of children with significant motor delays.

Please tell us about your current and ongoing work on START-Play. How are you moving forward with these positive results?

We are currently examining the data from our long-term follow-up study that we conducted with supplemental funding through NCSER. We are also working on a study, funded through NIH, to look at a dose-matched comparison of START-Play intervention with a formalized version of usual care called MORE-PT for infants with cerebral palsy. In addition, we have developed an online continuing education course that translates our findings from the original START-Play study and will help therapists to implement the key ingredients of START-Play in early intervention. We are excited to work on implementation and hope to gain further understanding of the implementation process as we move forward.

Regina (Reggie) Harbourne is the director of the infant development lab and associate professor of physical therapy in the Rangos School of Health Sciences, Duquesne University. This blog was produced by Amy Sussman, the program officer for NCSER’s Early Intervention and Early Learning program.


[1] Manuscripts are submitted for review for this award before they are published. Although AACPDM has first option to publish the wining manuscripts, the paper is not yet published or available publicly.

It Takes a Village: Supporting the Next Generation of Education Researchers

The IES Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Dr. Guadalupe Carmona, Principal Investigator of the P20 Pathways to Education Research training program at University of Texas at San Antonio to share her career journey and advice on supporting the next generation of education researchers.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

It takes a village….

My goal has been to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by providing all students access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age. My own early life experiences guided my scholarship and career in mathematics education. I was born and raised in Mexico City by my mother, an English teacher, and my father, a chemical engineer. They always inspired me to wonder, to ask questions, to seek for answers and to ask more questions, to never settle.

I was inspired to become an educator at the age of 15 when I volunteered for an adult literacy program. There, I had the opportunity to meet an amazing group of (mainly) women who taught me the best lessons of my life. One of my students, Doña Lola, was 70 years old. For 40 years, she sold newspapers at the stand only 2 blocks away from where I lived. Every day she would earn a living by selling news that she was unable to read. Doña Lola was an example to her two daughters, who were 35 and 40, who also enrolled to obtain their middle school certificate. For three consecutive years, I met with Doña Lola and her friends every week. Their perseverance and knowledge earned them an elementary school certificate. When graduation day came Doña Lola’s daughters received her diploma because she had passed away.

Doña Lola and all the wonderful people I met in this program have inspired my scholarship and career. They taught me that education was a privilege that I had taken for granted. They taught me about the joy in learning new things that can transform lives in better ways and about the joy of teaching in their learning. Even in these early years in my life, they taught me that students’ agency and participation in learning communities are fundamental to provide all students access to fundamental ideas from an early age.

At the age of 16, I became inspired to become a mathematician. By a teacher’s recommendation, I registered for the Mathematics Olympics. I didn’t know what this was about, but I knew I had to show up on Saturday and Sunday. I was handed three problems and was given four hours to solve them. I found great joy in finding different ways to solve these problems and in finding ways to explain my thinking process clearly so that the judges would understand my reasoning. Several months later, I received a phone call asking me to come with my family to receive an award. In that ceremony, I met Dr. María Trigueros, faculty at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, who offered me a scholarship for the mathematics program. She inspired me to write my honor’s thesis about the Conceptualizations of the tangent line and its relation to the derivative, my introduction to mathematics education.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

My research, teaching, and service have been guided by an integrated vision to build a scalable and sustainable research program to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by broadening access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age, through innovative approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment. In our research group, we use low-cost technologies that are easily available to develop learning environments in STEM. My work centers on impacting the field to become more diverse and more inclusive of populations who have historically been underrepresented. As a scholar and an educator, I work on broadening participation in STEM and STEM education and building bridges to create pathways from K-16 that leads to improved access and quality to education innovation, research, and workforce in the STEM fields.

In a time when Hispanic students are the fastest growing population in this country, providing support for STEM education resources that are also bilingual/biculturally sensitive in Spanish and English, and especially, strengthening ties with STEM and STEM education researchers in HSIs, Mexico and Latin America, are fundamental pieces to achieve these needed changes. This vision cannot be achieved by a single individual. I am fortunate to work within learning communities formed by national and international network of scholars, research and resources who share this vision.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

It is important that the education research community respond to the imminent need to broaden participation in education research—especially by engaging groups that historically have been underrepresented—and work together towards systemic change. There are at least four key action items:

  • Increase research focus in educational systemic changes by simultaneously addressing equity and knowledge, in the design of PreK-16 learning environments for all students, teacher professional development to support these learning environments, and innovative assessments to capture the complexity of student thinking in these learning environments.
  • Support training programs, such as the IES Pathways Research in Education Training Programs, for underrepresented individuals to develop careers and create new pathways in education research. These programs support fellows to develop knowledge, tools, and experiences in doing research and participating in learning communities and networks to support their lifelong careers in education research.
  • Foster collaborations for interdisciplinary research that requires broad and diverse perspectives to solve grand challenges in education. It is important to have a shared vision and work together in coordinated ways for changes to occur systemically.
  • Make use of science communication training for scholars to disseminate results of educational research, especially when addressing interdisciplinary challenges in education so that relevant knowledge quickly becomes part of public domain and citizen literacy.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Ask questions. Seek answers. Find mentors. Learn and participate. Be grateful for the doors they will open for you. Build community. Become mentors. Inspire others and open doors for them.

Be passionate about changing the world. Be strategic about the ONE thing you want to change; prioritize and focus. Always remember that YOU are part of the change!


Dr. Carmona is a Professor in STEM Education at The University of Texas at San Antonio and also serves as Executive Director of ConTex, an initiative between the University of Texas System and Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to foster binational academic collaborations between Mexico and Texas that are mutually beneficial for both countries. Dr. Carmona’s research agenda for the past 20 years has focused on broadening participation in STEM and addressing the need to prepare the next generation of students who can have democratic access to the fundamental and complex ideas in STEM from an early age. 

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.

Meeting the Needs of Students in Real World Education Settings

This year, Inside IES Research is featuring a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Michael P. Mesa, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. His research focuses on examining factors that can maximize children’s academic and behavioral development, particularly in the context of small-group instruction. We recently caught up with Dr. Mesa to learn more about his career, the experiences that have shaped it, and his view of the role of diversity and inclusion in education research.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

Headshot of Michael P. Mesa, PhD

I became interested in education research while working as an undergraduate research assistant at the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University. I worked on IES-funded research studies focused on behavioral interventions, such as the Summer Preparatory Program for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As part of the primary intervention, I used applied behavior analysis (ABA) in the context of a summer camp. I found supporting the behavioral development of children rewarding and the process of conducting research to be interesting. Over time, I was given opportunities to become more and more involved in the research side of the behavioral interventions.

At the same time, I was also a professional tutor and found that many of the students referred to tutoring for academic support also had behavioral difficulties. I wound up using the same strategies that worked in the behavioral intervention while tutoring students. For example, I was liberal with my use of labeled praise and consistent with my expectations and feedback and found that using ABA helped students stay engaged and motivated during the tutoring session. These experiences supporting students with academic and behavioral difficulties in research and applied settings inspired me to pursue my doctorate at the College of Education at Florida State University. Here I became interested in strategies that can be used to maximize learning and development, particularly in the context of targeted small-group instruction. For my dissertation, I explored the role of classroom management strategies in the context of small-group literacy interventions for children at risk for reading difficulties.

What are you researching now?

Currently I am investigating the role that group composition and peers play in maximizing student learning in the context of targeted, small-group interventions. My research suggests that the language skills of peers is related to their own language development in this context, such that students benefit from interacting with and being exposed to peers with more developed language skills.

What do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

As researchers, I think it is important to focus on research questions with practical implications that meet the needs of students and teachers in real world classrooms or education settings. The development of and participation in researcher–practitioner partnerships is one path towards assuring that we are aware of the needs of the teachers and students we are serving and that our research is relevant for diverse communities. I believe these partnerships should include active participation from diverse stakeholders in various stages of research, including project development, implementation, analysis, and dissemination. Within the context of these partnerships, researchers can solicit research questions of importance and interest to teachers and other stakeholders.

I also believe that one of the ways we can improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities is by increasing the diversity of the research workforce. This means attracting individuals with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, who will bring fresh and relevant ideas to the field. During my graduate studies, I was part of a department and organizations with colleagues and faculty from diverse backgrounds. For example, I served various roles in an IES-funded Pathways training program, Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE), focused on increasing the diversity of individuals in education research. As a Hispanic and first-generation graduate student, I found being part of these diverse research teams helped make me feel welcome in the field of education research and supported the development of my professional identity. I also observed that many of the research projects developed by these diverse individuals aimed to support marginalized students that are typically understudied. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars that are pursuing a career in education research?

Protect your writing time and create a writing routine—find a consistent time and place to write for your primary research task and don’t schedule over it. I would encourage emerging scholars to treat their writing time like a meeting, class, or job that they can’t miss. This may require saying ‘no’ to requests from others in order to prioritize writing. Research requires sustained effort and I have found that protecting my writing has supported me in making continuous progress on my manuscripts and projects.

My next recommendation aligns with my research in the area of peer effects that has found that the skills of one’s peers are related to one’s own skill development. I would encourage early researchers to find colleagues and peers with common goals or interests, particularly peers who are at more advanced stages in their career journey, and to find ways to collaborate and work with them. Throughout my career journey, a constant theme is that I have been part of a supportive village of researchers, and that others have provided opportunities for me to become involved in their projects. I have also found it beneficial to have at least one accountability partner within my village of researchers. An accountability partner is somebody with whom you share your goals and your plans to meet these goals. During times of success, your accountability partner is somebody that you can celebrate with. During times of stress, your accountability partner is somebody that can help with reflection, problem solving, and encouragement. Participating in recurring meetings with a writing group is a way to combine these pieces of advice.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Michael P. Mesa, PhD is a postdoctoral researcher at the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Statistics from Florida International University. Dr. Mesa earned his MS and PhD from the Educational Psychology and Learning Systems program at Florida State University, where he also earned certificates in Measurement and Statistics and College Teaching and completed the nationally recognized Preparing Future Faculty program.

This blog was produced by Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research and Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-chair of the IES Diversity Council.

 

A Bilingual Perspective on Literacy Development

This year, Inside IES Research is featuring a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Dr. María S. Carlo, associate professor at University of South Florida, about her career journey and the need for more research on bilingualism. Dr. Carlo is the PI of an IES grant that compares bilingual and monolingual methods of explicit vocabulary instruction for Spanish-speaking English learners, as well as another IES grant exploring instructional strategies intended to help English learners learn the meanings of new words.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

My memories of childhood are tagged by language. Language is a marker for where I lived, who my friends were, and my feelings toward school. My interest in bilingualism stems from life-long experiences managing my personal and academic identity through the use of Spanish and English.

In a graduate school course on applied and basic cognitive development, my instructors Dr. Keith Rayner and Dr. Alexander Pollatsek told us that we would be learning the scientific explanations for everything our grandmothers could already tell us about human cognition. My anxiety about the course rose because I was convinced that my grandmother, who had not been to college, had nothing to say about human cognition. About a year later, I explained to my mom a study I was doing testing the belief that academic skills can transfer across languages in ways that support the development of the second language. Perhaps sensing that I was sounding a little too impressed with myself, my mother looked at me and said, “Well, your grandmother could have told you that!”  And then she told me a story.

Upon hearing that I was having difficulty learning to read in English, my grandmother got on an airplane for the first time in her life and travelled from Puerto Rico to New Jersey to teach me how to read. She brought with her a cartilla fonética (phonetic primer) that she had used with her five children. Her rationale: “You need to teach her to read in Spanish first before teaching her to read in English.”  As my mom tells it, I was reading English perfectly after my grandmother’s intervention. This, and other experiences with language, have shaped my interest in the role of the mother tongue in second language development. 

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity, equity, and inclusion and to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I think that one of the problems we face in studying bilingualism is that we really have not figured out exactly how to measure bilingualism. I often find myself having to rely on measures that were normed on monolingual speakers of Spanish and English, and that I believe, often fail to fully capture how bilingual experience impacts performance in each language. One important theoretical assumption about bilingual language processing is that bilinguals never “turn off” a language. We assume that both languages are always simultaneously active and thus susceptible to each other’s influence through bottom-up processes. I believe this has profound implications on language measurement as it can impact everything from item response times to judgements about the plausibility of item distractors.

I think we need measures that are based on a model of the expert bilingual and that are sensitive to the changes individuals experience in language as they move from the novice bilingual state to the expert bilingual state. But to get there, I think we need more research that helps us understand what expert bilingual performance looks like. Some of the most influential concepts guiding our understanding of the development of reading among monolingual children have emerged from research on fluent adult monolingual readers. In education, we are understandably preoccupied with the progress of the beginner. But I think there is much that we can understand about the beginner from looking at the expert. So, if I had a magic wand, I would ensure programmatic support to study expert bilingualism.  

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

My perception is that young scholars from underrepresented groups do their work feeling a high sense of urgency to transform education to better serve their communities. I tell them that it is true that their work is urgently needed, but that they need to take the long view. My doctoral advisor, Dr. James M. Royer of the Psychology Department at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, encouraged us to think of our work not as single studies but as a series of studies. It is hard to take the long view when you are constantly having to sell your work for being innovative and cutting edge. The process of securing research funding is an example of a context in which innovation is paramount. One of the conversations I have had with young scholars (and with myself) is about making the distinction between innovation (which leads to change) and novelty. I think that we serve our transformative goals better when we identify small changes in our research approach that allow us to move knowledge forward. I believe that these increments in knowledge across an entire community of scholars seeking to advance equity and inclusion inevitably leads to innovation.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

I try to take a bilingual perspective when I study the English development of English learners. One can study the English development of English learners by measuring progress on English measures exclusively, but researchers who take a bilingual or multilingual perspective have shown that you gain a great deal of explanatory power when you choose not to ignore the other half of students’ language repertoire. My hope is that the work I do advances the idea that a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens is integral to producing high quality rigorous research. 

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

Dr. Royer made me a part of his lab long before I was admitted into the department. He needed a research assistant who was proficient in Spanish and English to help him develop a series of listening and reading comprehension tests using a test development technique he had developed called the Sentence Verification Technique. I had recently completed my BA in psychology without ever working as an undergraduate research assistant. I had no real sense of what psychology research entailed or that it could offer me a career. The day I joined his lab he gave me a desk and a computer and added my name to list of lab members on the door. My socialization into a research career started that day. I was allowed to be fully immersed into the experience. I was invited to lab meetings, to guest talks, to proseminars. I eventually applied and was admitted to the doctoral program in educational psychology.

I share this story to make the point that many others have made before me, that the work of increasing access to academia by members of minoritized groups needs to start long before graduate school admission. We need to open our academic space to young people who may not be able to articulate why they wish to be in that space. I don’t think I would have pursued a doctoral program otherwise. 


Dr. María S. Carlo is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida in the Department of Child and Family Studies. Dr. Carlo specializes in bilingualism and literacy development in children and adults. Her research focuses on the cognitive processes underlying reading in a second language and in understanding the cross-language transfer of reading skills and how it affects the development of such skills. She is also interested in generating educational interventions that support first- and second-language development, particularly around vocabulary.

This blog was produced by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), program officer for the English Learner Portfolio at NCER.

 

Language Equity Matters: Recognizing the Incredible Potential of Bilingual Learners

This year, Inside IES Research is featuring a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Dr. Aída Walqui, director of the IES-funded National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners at WestEd about her career journey and language equity for minoritized populations.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

My background has been a tremendous influence. I was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up the first child of a modest, hard-working, politically involved, and well-educated family. From very early on, issues of language, education, and discrimination—and the way in which diverse groups were perceived—have been central in my life.

My father was born in the Peruvian jungle, and he grew up in Lima speaking Spanish. Through family conversations at the dinner table and other experiences, I became aware that Peruvian society was deeply segregated by ethnic and linguistic boundaries. For example, as a little girl, I did not understand why it was good for me to study German in a German school, where my emergent German was viewed as wonderful, and not something that negatively impacted my first language, Spanish. . . while the children in the Highlands, where we vacationed, were admonished for speaking Quechua, their native language. Their native language was considered almost an illness that needed to be eradicated, and their emergent Spanish was derided as imperfect.

Although my parents were not linguists, they explained that the language was just an excuse—the real issues were political, social, and economic control. I realized that the children who spoke Quechua were just as talented. But for them, learning Spanish was mandatory. Society saw it as the only thing to be proud of. My father also helped me understand that language was not just used for purposes of communication, but also to classify or package people—which impedes learning who people are as individuals. And that the experience of education itself had a lot to do with this.

Overall, I have had an immensely rich intellectual life. I owe my family, my late husband, and colleagues around the world for making it possible for me to live and work in many contexts, including working in Andean intercultural, bilingual education, teaching Spanish as a second language for the Peruvian Ministry of Education, teaching in Alisal High School in Salinas, CA for six intense and rewarding years, as well as living and working in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ve noticed the same patterns in all these places. The languages are different, but the patterns are the same: the dismissal of populations that had been minoritized due to language issues, the enormous contribution language minority populations play in these nations, and that additional languages are assets that help you learn.

I’ve become even more determined upon realizing the incredible potential that people have. As a Latina in the United States, I have focused on developing the incredible resource of Spanish that Latinos have, while also developing English at the same level of proficiency.

Success depends on educators and those who support them envisioning the richness of these people, and by extension the richness they can provide to society. It is only looking at the seeds of time that I can say that change is possible. While sociolinguistic discrimination still exists in Peru, tremendous positive changes have also occurred. In the United States, we have similarly made strides, but still have a long way to go. In education, it is important to follow Gramsci’s old advice: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity, equity, and inclusion and to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

We must coherently put together examples of what is possible. For example, our Center colleagues are working on policy levers such as how to integrate English learner development with subject matter courses to strengthen the education of English learners.

In the classroom, in the past, we have been singularly worried about how well English learners are using language, how to construct grammatical sentences, how to make those sentences correct, and so forth. In reality, the focus needs to be on multiple learning modalities as well as the subject matter, critical understanding, and the ability to express ideas—language—related to the content. That is, multiple forms of learning all matter in the moment, not just one.

We all need to know how to use language well, but we also need to simultaneously learn the content and critical thinking that language brings to life, not just grammatical labels or how you conjugate verbs.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

I would say that above all, it is essential for emerging scholars from minoritized groups to know what about education research or development is specifically important to them, and how they intend to contribute to their field, to society, and to the improvement of the groups they represent.

Knowing where your passion resides brings more than just constant direction to scholarly efforts. During difficult moments, it will sustain those efforts. Embrace educational causes you care for, even if they don’t always seem important or popular. Think through them, research them, and communicate them, time and time again, in increasingly more potent ways.

Finally, it is essential to cultivate critical dialogue with colleagues to re-examine ideas, advance proposals, and gain sight into how synergetic efforts can advance the societal educational impact of immensely talented but minoritized groups.


Dr. Aída Walqui directs the National Research and Development Center for Improving the Education of English Learners in Secondary Schools at WestEd where she started and developed one of its signature programs, the Quality Teaching for English Learners (QTEL) initiative. QTEL focuses on the development of the expertise of teachers and educational leaders to support elementary and secondary English Learners’ conceptual, analytic, and language practices in disciplinary subject matter areas. Her main area of interest and research is teacher expertise in multilingual academic contexts and how to promote its growth across the continuum of teacher professional development. In 2016 on the 50th anniversary of the International TESOL Association Dr. Walqui was selected as one of the 50 most influential researchers in the last 50 years in the field of English Language teaching.

This blog post was produced by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), program officer for the English Learner Portfolio at NCER.