Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Resolve to Study Effectively in 2018

Students of all ages want to study more effectively and efficiently, while teachers want to improve their students’ understanding and retention of important concepts. The Institute’s Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) program has invested in several research projects that test the effectiveness of different strategies for improving learning and provide resources for teachers who want to implement these strategies in their classrooms.  Two strategies that are easy for teachers and students to implement and do not require a lot of time or money are retrieval practice and interleaving.

 

Retrieval practice (also known as test-enhanced learning) involves recalling information that has been previously learned. Research has shown that when students actively retrieve information from memory (e.g., through low-stakes quizzes), their ability to retain that information in the future improves when compared to other common study strategies like re-reading and highlighting key concepts while reading class texts.

Interleaving is the process of mixing up different types of problems during practice. Unlike blocking, where a student practices the same type of problem over and over again, interleaved practice involves multiple types of problems that require different strategies to solve. In mathematics, where interleaving and blocking have been studied most, blocking is frequently employed at the end of each chapter in a textbook. With interleaved practice, students must choose a strategy to solve the problem and apply that strategy successfully. Research has shown that students learn more when engaged in interleaved practice relative to blocked practice.

For decades, research has shown the benefits of both retrieval practice and interleaving for learning; however, until this point, there were no easily accessible resources that practitioners could turn to for concrete details and suggestions for how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two of the IES CASL research projects that have focused on these study strategies (Developing a Manual for Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom, PI: Henry Roediger and Interleaved Mathematics Practice, PI: Douglas Rohrer) resulted in guides for teachers that provide information on how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. These guides are freely available through the website www.retrievalpractice.org (download the Retrieval Practice Guide here and the Interleaving Guide here). With these guides, teachers can learn more about how to use retrieval practice and interleaving to improve their students’ understanding and retention of the concepts they are learning. Happy studying!

By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer, Cognition and Student Learning

Taking Education Research Out of the Lab and Into the Real World

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to supporting research that develops and tests solutions to the challenges facing education in the United States and working to share the results of that research with a broad audience of policymakers and practitioners. In this blog post, Katherine Pears (pictured right), a principal investigator from the Oregon Social Learning Center, shares how an IES-funded grant supported not only the development and testing of an intervention, but its implementation in classrooms.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am a research scientist, they say "Ok, but what do you do?" What they are really asking is whether the work I am doing is helping students and families in actual schools and community. It’s a good question and the short answer is “Yes!” but moving programs from the research lab to children, families and schools takes time and funding. Here is how it worked with my program.

I wanted to help children at risk for school failure to start kindergarten with skills to help them to do better. I teamed up with Dr. Phil Fisher and others, and we built on years of research and program development at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) to create a program called Kids in Transition to School (KITS). This is a summer program that continues into the first few weeks of school and focuses not only on letters and numbers, but also on teaching children how to get along with others and how to learn (such as focusing their attention). We also train the KITS teachers to use positive teaching strategies and help parents learn the same techniques to increase the chances that children will succeed.

However, before a school will put a program like KITS in place, they need to have some proof that it will actually work. That is why we sought external funding to evaluate the program.  With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we were able to test KITS with three different groups of children at high risk for difficulties in school: children in foster care, children with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, and children from low-income neighborhoods. 

Across these studies, KITS led to positive outcomes for children and the parents. Funding from IES helped us show that the KITS Program worked with different groups of children and that it was a good candidate for use in school settings. In many cases, this is where the process of moving programs from research to practice can get bogged down due to a gap between researchers and the people in the education systems that could use the programs. IES is strongly committed to bridging that gap by supporting partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In our IES-funded study, we partnered with two of our local school districts and United Way of Lane County (UWLC). Working with the schools and community agencies helped us to both test KITS and develop plans for how the districts could keep the program going after the funding for the research study ended.

Our partnership with UWLC also enabled us to start a new project to bring KITS to more schools. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund, UWLC offered grants to education foundations in Lane County, Oregon to implement KITS in the local school districts. The Social Innovation Fund allows promising programs to be brought to scale (i.e., made available to large numbers of people) by providing funding for community agencies to start and develop plans for sustaining these programs. In 2015, the KITS Program had about 30 educators serving about 120 children and families in 6 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. By summer 2017, two years into the grant, the KITS Program had trained 125 educators to serve approximately 435 children and families in 13 school districts in the county. That’s more than a threefold increase in the number of children and families served, as well as the number of teachers trained in the KITS Program.

We will continue to work with partners to evaluate the effects of the KITS program and make it available to more school districts. However, without the funding from IES and other federal agencies, we would not have been able to both test the program and partner with schools to make KITS a part of their everyday practice. 

 

IES-supported Technology to be Used in Hundreds of Schools

A technology-based instructional tool—developed and evaluated through IES funding—will now be put it to use in hundreds of schools across the country with the goal of improving students’ literacy outcomes. The United2Read Project was recently awarded a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The EIR grants provide funding to develop, expand, and evaluate innovative, evidence-based programs designed to improve student achievement.

A2i (pictured right) includes a series of assessments to measure component literacy skills of students and provide information that teachers can use to individualize literacy instruction in Kindergarten through Grade 3.  The assessments cover a wide range of literacy skills, including vocabulary, decoding, word reading, spelling, sentence and paragraph writing, comprehension, and inferencing.

A2i assessments are given throughout the school year to monitor student progress, and A2i’s algorithms are updated in real-time to provide teachers with recommendations for instruction for each student and changes to grouping.

This project demonstrates the critical role IES plays in supporting research to develop innovative teaching and learning products and test those products for efficacy.  Over the past 13 years, A2i was developed, evaluated, and scaled with a progression of awards from IES, as well as the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHD).

  • With a 2004 IES research grant, researchers at the University of Michigan and Florida State University conducted basic research to understand how the effects of different types of literacy instruction (e.g., phonics vs. meaning focused) depend on children’s constellation of language, phonological awareness, decoding and encoding, and comprehension skills. The team then used the findings from this initial work to build and test an initial version of A2i with first-grade students. The research demonstrated that instruction tailored to students’ skills and learning needs, and adjusted over time, is more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches.
  • With a 2007 IES research grant, the researchers expanded A2i into second- and third-grade classrooms. They also tested the effects of implementing the system with second-grade students who had received A2i-informed instruction in Grade 1, as well as those who had not.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant and grant support from NIH/NICHD, researchers at Florida State and Arizona State conducted seven randomized controlled studies examining the impact of A2i on student reading. The results suggest that individualizing literacy instruction with A2i recommendations led to stronger literacy gains for K-3 students. On average, students who used A2i across multiple years ended third grade reading at a grade 5 level. The research included students who qualified for the National School Lunch Program and who received special education services.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant to Arizona State University (which was later transferred in 2016 to University of California, Irvine) and a 2014 award from the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to Learning Ovations, an education technology development firm, the researchers upgraded the underlying data architecture of A2i to enable scale and implementation in classrooms across the nation. Research results demonstrated that the more teachers viewed student test scores, the greater the students’ literacy skill gains.
     

(Findings from all publications on the A2i software and related professional development are posted on Learning Ovations website.) 

The new EIR expansion grant was awarded to a consortium of researchers and developers, including researchers at UC Irvine, Learning Ovations, Digital Promise (a non-profit), and MDRC, a national evaluation firm. At least 300 schools and 100,000 students will be served through the grant, which will also support a large-scale effectiveness trial to measure the impact of the project on student reading achievement.

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.

Erin Higgins is an Education Research Analyst at IES, where she leads the Cognition and Student Learning Research Grants program.

Using Game-Based Technologies for Civic Education

It is clear that civic education is a priority in the United States. All U.S. states require students to take a civics or government course and many provide opportunities for students to perform community service or service learning to practice active citizenship.

Screenshot of ECO

However, reports illustrate that many young people are not being adequately prepared as citizens. For example, in the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in Civics only one-quarter of students reached “proficient” in knowledge of key facts on the U.S. Constitution or the functions of government.

Amid calls to strengthen civic education, IES has funded several interventions that are leveraging technological innovation and game design to engage students. These projects are mainly funded through two IES programs—the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and Education Research Grants in Education Technology.

Among the projects IES has funded:

  • ECO (pictured above) is a game-based virtual environment where students collaboratively build a shared civilization and, in the process, apply democratic skills such as making rules and laws, analyzing data, and deliberation (watch video);
  • Discussion Maker is a role-playing game where students debate a civic issue, such as freedom of speech. The technology assigns each student a role, facilitates analysis and using evidence to make an argument, and organizes face-to-face debates and deliberation (watch video);
  • GlobalED2 is a role-playing game addressing a simulated global crisis (e.g., major oil spill or water scarcity) where students act as representatives of different countries governments. Students analyze the issue from the perspective of their country and negotiate with other countries to create a solution (watch video);
  • EcoMUVE is a 3D multi-user virtual pond or forest environment where students apply inquiry-based practices to understand causal patterns in ecological science (watch video); andScreenshot of Up from the Dust
  • Mission US’s Up from the Dust (pictured right) is a historical fiction adventure style game where students take on the role wheat farmers during the Great Depression in Texas 1929, and in doing so guide decisions by learning about the interaction of agriculture, the environment, and how government policies affect the economy (watch video).

Specific design elements of these games offer new ways to stimulate young people’s civic knowledge, skills, and engagement. For example:

All of these interventions employ game-based learning to motivate and engage students in new ways. For example, ECO is an unscripted “sandbox” where students create unique and personalized worlds, while Up from the Dust follows an adventure-based historical story. GlobalED2 and Discussion Maker employ role-playing and EcoMUVE guides inquiry-based virtual and real-world exploration.

Additionally, these programs all seek to build citizenship skills with cross-disciplinary content. For example, ECO, EcoMUVE, and GlobalED2 focus building citizen-science skills such as inquiry and analysis; Discussion Maker can apply content from almost any course within democratic debate; and Up from the Dust immerses students in a storyline with history, economics, and government concepts.

At the same time, these interventions also promote collaborative civic learning by simulating democratic processes for a whole class of students, both virtually and face-to-face. In ECO, students collaborate to create their own government with which they need to maintain through rules and laws. Discussion Maker and GlobalED2 use analysis, deliberation, and debates for individuals and groups of students. In EcoMUVE, students can conduct inquiry-based learning within the virtual environment. In Up from the Dust students engage in group discussions after gameplay to assess how specific decisions influenced results.

Several of these games also allow for feasible classroom implementation of what would otherwise be complex interventions. For example, some of the interventions provide real-time cues to students as they progress through the game, allowing a teacher to focus on facilitating overall instruction rather than coordinating every step of the game for every student.

To learn more about these projects, and to learn more about upcoming funding opportunities for the research and development and evaluation of technologies that support civic learning, visit the IES website or follow IES on Facebook and Twitter @IESResearch

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs. 

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences recognizes some of its fellows for their academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected Rachel Baker as the 2016 Outstanding Fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.

Dr. Baker (pictured right) received her doctorate in Higher Education Policy and the Economics of Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy at the University of California, Irvine, where she studies inequalities in postsecondary access and success using behavioral economic models of decision making and quasi-experimental and experimental methods. Dr. Baker will receive her award and present her research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2018.

For the first time this year, IES is also recognizing two finalists for the outstanding fellow award, Dr. Elizabeth Tighe and Dr. Karrie E. Godwin.

Dr. Tighe received her doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from Florida State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Georgia State University where she focuses on advancing our understanding of the literacy skills and instructional needs of struggling adult readers who attend Adult Basic and Secondary Education programs.

Dr. Godwin received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences at Kent State University. Her research examines how cognitive and environmental factors shape children’s development and learning in the laboratory and in the classroom.

We asked all three awardees how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Rachel Baker, Fellow in Stanford University Predoctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis

With full acknowledgement that it is impossible to know for certain how my development as a researcher has been shaped by participating in the IES pre-doctoral fellowship (where’s the counterfactual?), I can point to three factors that I think have been critical:  (1) the community of Stanford’s IES pre-doctoral fellows and  associated faculty, (2) the tightly structured curriculum and frequent opportunities to engage with high quality research, and (3) the freedom, within this structure, to engage with my own research questions.

From my first day at the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, I was exposed to a pervasive culture of intellectual rigor and the pursuit of high-quality research. But this culture of exactitude was paired with diversity of thought, a true investment in the ideas and work of students, and a sense of collegiality and collaboration. Every day, I felt both challenged and supported by the Stanford IES group. This professional network has been essential to my growth.

CEPA’s core curriculum prepared me well to conduct high-quality, policy-focused research. In particular, the classes on designing and implementing quasi-experimental studies has influenced my work tremendously – from the large, obvious ways, such as how I conceptualize and design research, to the small details of implementation that can make or break a study. The series of required classes was complemented by frequent, less formal engagement with the practice of research in the form of weekly seminars in which students presented work in progress and an unparalleled seminar series with speakers from other institutions.

But within this tight community and academic structure, a real benefit of the IES fellowship was my ability to engage with the research questions that I was most interested in. The financial security of the fellowship meant that I could work on projects, directed by faculty or of my own design, that I thought were timely, important, and interesting. In my five years, I worked closely with four CEPA faculty members, each of whom influenced the way I ask and answer questions in essential and unique ways.

I am grateful to the IES pre-doctoral fellowship, and especially the Stanford IES group, for the five years of opportunities, resources, and professional community.

Elizabeth Tighe, Fellow in Florida State University Program to Increase Research Capacity in Educational Science

The IES predoctoral training fellowship provided multiple avenues for me to work with interdisciplinary research teams and take courses that developed my quantitative skills within the realm of education research. Three benefits in particular were integral in shaping my development as a researcher: rigorous quantitative training; generous financial support for designing and implementing my own studies as well as providing networking opportunities at conferences; and the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the coursework and research.

For my graduate studies, I chose Florida State University for the innovative and interdisciplinary research conducted through the Florida Center for Reading Research. By assisting on various projects, I honed my quantitative skills and learned new theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines. For example, I gained experience with eye-tracking equipment, assessment and measurement of reading-related constructs, and evaluation of classroom curricular materials. The flexibility of the fellowship allowed me to develop my own program of research, which focused on struggling adult readers enrolled in adult literacy programs. In addition, I utilized my quantitative skills on large-scale, existing datasets of students enrolled in K-12 education. These experiences provided ample opportunities to bridge my interests in adult literacy and quantitative methodology and to publish and present at different outlets.    

The financial support for conferences afforded me extensive networking opportunities with colleagues. This helped me to establish grant-writing collaborations, provide statistical consulting for projects, participate in cross-university symposia, and form professional friendships from which I continue to reap benefits today. I attended practitioner-oriented conferences in adult education and a training workshop for using a large-scale dataset on adults’ literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills. In conjunction with a colleague at the University of Iowa, my current lab received a grant to use this large-scale dataset to examine the literacy skills of United States inmates. 

My accrued training, experiences, and interdisciplinary collaborations are directly applicable to my current role as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Assistant Director of the Adult Literacy Research Center (ALRC) at Georgia State University. I work alongside an interdisciplinary team of scholars within the Language and Literacy Initiative, which affords me the opportunity to work with professors and to mentor graduate students in multiple departments. My lab is currently is working with the ALRC and Applied Linguistics Department to investigate the comprehension monitoring skills of struggling adult readers using eye-tracking equipment. As a result of my IES training, it was imperative for me to find a position that supported my multidisciplinary research interests.

Karrie E. Godwin, Assistant Professor, Kent State University, Fellow in Carnegie Mellon Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER)

My participation as an IES predoctoral fellow in the PIER program at Carnegie Mellon University was seminal in guiding my development as a researcher. For me, there are three aspects of the program which were especially formative.

First, I was fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful, caring, and passionate mentors who embody the goals of the PIER program. I am especially grateful to Anna Fisher, David Klahr, and Sharon Carver, who provided incredible guidance, advanced my critical thinking skills, taught me the importance of good experimental design and research hygiene, and how to effectively disseminate my work—not only to other scientists, but also to practitioners and stakeholders.

Second, PIER is committed to training scholars in rigorous research methodology that bridges theory and practice. My training has enabled me to conduct disciplined research in which I examine children’s cognitive development and the underlying mechanisms of change which inform educational practices by identifying causal and malleable factors that can be leveraged to promote better learning outcomes for children.

Lastly, PIER exposed me to a diverse set of scholars affording unique and dynamic opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations that would have been highly improbable in more traditional and siloed environments. For example, in addition to working with other psychologists, I formed productive collaborations with colleagues in robotics, human computer interaction, and statistics. This was a unique and powerful component of the program. Additionally, this feature of the program encouraged and developed my communication skills to groups and communities outside of my specific domain where traditional jargon is typically ineffective. This skill has been incredibly important in helping to communicate my research to other scientists from different disciplines but also to practitioners and the media.

In my new role as an assistant professor at Kent State University, I am drawing upon my experience in PIER and using the skills I gained during my fellowship to build my program of research. I am continuing to investigate children’s cognitive development in order to create more optimal learning environments and instructional materials that aim to enhance children’s learning outcomes. In addition, my new position allows me to help train students to become producers of high-quality research and to help future educational practitioners be thoughtful consumers of research. I am certain the skills I gained as an IES fellow at Carnegie Mellon will enable me to fulfill my commitment to improve children's learning outcomes through disciplined research.

Compiled by Katina Stapleton, National Center for Education Research