Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Leveraging Multiple Funding Sources to Train Special Education Researchers: Part 2

This blog is part of a series that highlights the experiences of graduate students in special education research who receive funding through the Department of Education. In the initial blog, two doctoral students shared their experiences with training opportunities made possible through OSEP and NCSER funding. For this second blog, we interviewed two additional scholars and included varying OSEP training mechanisms funded under the Personnel Development to Improve Services and Results Program, including the Preparation of Special Education, Early Intervention, and Related Services Leadership Personnel grant program (ALN 84.325D) and the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention funded under the Doctoral Training Consortia Associated With High-Intensity Needs grant program (ALN 84.325). We asked them to discuss their experiences as OSEP Scholars, their work on NCSER-funded research grants, and how both opportunities prepare them to conduct research in special education.

Nathan Speer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Headshot of Nathan Speer

I have had a great experience as an OSEP Scholar! From the beginning, I was excited about the opportunity to pursue a PhD in special education intervention design, an area I have always been interested in as a professional educator. The funding and support I receive is comprehensive and practical. The OSEP-funded Research Interventions in Special Education (RISE) project funds my tuition, pays a non-work stipend, provides support for expenses associated with completing my degree program (including books, supplies, travel for required meetings or conferences), and helps with research by providing technology, software, and dissertation support.

I have been working on the IES-funded WORDS (Workshop on Reading Development Strategies) for Pandemic Recovery in Nebraska project for approximately a year. The research focuses on investigating the efficacy of professional development intended to aid teachers in implementing a tier 2 reading intervention for students in kindergarten through third grade who are at risk for reading disabilities. For the project, my roles are primarily conducting data analysis and coding. These two experiences have worked well in tandem. I have been able to attend several conferences and trainings thanks to the RISE grant that have positively impacted my work on WORDS, and my work with WORDS has provided me with an opportunity to participate in serious research as a PhD student.

Both experiences are helping me work towards a leadership role in academia and research in special education! WORDS provides me with experience participating in impactful research and RISE provides countless opportunities to learn and grow as an educator and build a professional network both on campus and in my field of interest. In the future, I hope to work in academia, preferably as a professor of practice working with undergraduate and graduate educators in special education. More specifically, I would like to focus my research and instruction on behavior (for example, applied behavior analysis, functional analysis, and behavior intervention planning).

Blair Payne, University of Texas, Austin

Headshot of Blair Payne

The National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention-2 (NCLII-2) training grant prepares special education leaders to have expertise in supporting students with complex and comorbid learning disabilities and behavior disorders. As a cohort of scholars, we meet two to three times a year for small conferences, which are centered around topics such as preparing for the job market, supporting education policy, or conducting and disseminating research. NCLII-2 provides scholars with tuition to one of the universities in the consortium, travel funds, and funding for our dissertation or a small research project. During our meetings, we can meet faculty and students from other universities to create mentorship or collaboration opportunities. 

Over the past 4 years, I've had the privilege of working on three IES-funded research studies. The project on which I have worked the longest is Developing an Instructional Leader Adaptive Intervention Model (AIM) for Supporting Teachers as They Integrate Evidence-Based Adolescent Literacy Practices School-Wide (Project AIM). Project AIM is a partnership with Dr. Jade Wexler at University of Maryland and Dr. Elizabeth Swanson at University of Texas, Austin. As the Texas project coordinator, I have supported material creation, educator training, test administration, recruitment, data preparation, and dissemination. Since the grant is a development grant, it has been a remarkable experience to learn the boots-on-the-ground requirements of working in schools.

My work as an OSEP Scholar has provided me with the background knowledge that I need to conduct research. Through my work on IES grants, I can use this background knowledge to support project implementation. Both funding sources work together, hand-in-hand, and I am incredibly grateful that I have been able to learn so much from both experiences.

My future goal is to work at a research university as a faculty member. Through my IES work, I am getting direct experience on how to implement school-level research. I hope to one day support schools through this research, and when I do, I'll be able to lean on my experiences from various IES projects to support this endeavor. My experience as an OSEP Scholar supports this goal by building foundational knowledge of special education research, which is instrumental to take into a faculty position in which I may wear many hats for a department. The NCLII-2 grant has helped to ensure that the graduates of the training grant are prepared to enter the field of special education with up-to-date knowledge from the field. As future faculty, we will enter the field ready to prepare the next generation of teachers and providers and build their capacity to serve and support children with disabilities and their families.

While OSEP and NCSER are separate funding mechanisms, they can be leveraged to work synergistically by providing student scholars a comprehensive research experience that includes training in research methodologies and opportunities to apply this knowledge within current research projects. Thank you to Nathan and Blair for sharing their experiences as OSEP Scholars working with research supported by NCSER. NCSER looks forward to seeing the future impact you will have in your field!

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at NCSER and doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University. Shanna is also an OSEP Scholar through RISE.

Integrated Opportunities: Addressing Adult English Learners’ Digital Skill Needs Through Supplemental Videos

In recognition of National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, we want to highlight an IES-funded research project, Content-Integrated Language Instruction for Adults with Technology Support (CILIA-T). This work focuses on the needs of adult English learners (ELs) to help them build not only language proficiency but also knowledge of U.S. history and civics, akin to what may occur in part of adult education Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education programs while also enhancing digital literacy skills. In this interview blog, Theresa Sladek (Northstar, co-PI of CILIA-T), Aydin Durgunoglu (University of Minnesota Duluth, PI of CILIA-T), and Leah Hauge (Northstar), describe a creative approach to building adult digital literacy skills as a part of their curriculum for adult English learners. To help ensure the learners will benefit from technology-supported instruction, the team has created a series of videos and an instructional guide that are all publicly available and free.

What are the videos about, and why did you make them?

In addition to building  knowledge of English, civics, and U.S. history, we are also building digital proficiencies through CILIA-T. For example, we want to help adult learners become efficient in using digital tools such as Gmail and Zoom as part of their coursework and build digital proficiencies such as digital safety, finding reliable and relevant information online, knowing how to solve technical problems in different contexts and with different tools, and accessing, comprehending and integrating information across multiple modalities and resources.  

To help learners build these skills, we created six short, free videos in partnership with Northstar Digital Literacy, allowing any individual, anywhere in the world, who has a device and internet connection to access them. By partnering with Northstar, we are increasing the reach of this resource, as the Northstar website saw over 800,000 hits in the last year alone, and its YouTube channel has over 2.18k subscribers. Since being posted about three months ago, the videos have already had 900 views. These free tools are a step towards removing the digital divide through clear and concise entry-level video tutorials.

The tutorials cover six topics: Finding Information Online, Zoom, Smartphone Apps, WhatsApp, Quizlet, and Gmail. The videos help learners build entry-level skills in each topic and can also be used to onboard instructors (teachers or tutors) to each topic.

In addition, we also created an instructional guide for teachers or tutors, which is available in the Educator Resources section of the Literacy Minnesota website. The instructor guide that accompanies the video tutorials supports every step of the teaching process, including instructions for teachers or tutors to guide learners before, during, and after viewing the video content. Educator Resources has an extensive national and international reach, getting over 20,000 visits a year. Through our work in the adult foundational skills system (also called adult education), we know that many programs have limited budgets, and free curricula and teaching aids are a key to those programs being able to provide much-needed services. Although we made these materials with ELs and CILIA-T curriculum in mind, these materials can be used in a wide variety of contexts, with both ELs and native  speakers and in settings outside of education.

Why are the videos important for your project?

Because not all learners, teachers, and volunteers are familiar with these tools, we did not want this to be a barrier to accessing the CILIA-T curriculum. Addressing this barrier is an intentional act to bring equity and access to adult learners and those assisting them.

As part of the CILIA-T project, these videos are critical not only because they teach digital skills that can be used in a wide variety of settings and purposes but also because they assist students in learning the civics and U.S. history content in the curriculum and English language through a variety of modalities. Learners will be using these tools to read texts, answer questions, use multimodal resources, make presentations, create and share content, perform self-checks, comment on others’ work, engage in discussions and group projects, and complete internet searches and evaluations.  

What did you learn about making videos and disseminating them as part of this process?

We learned a few things along the way:

  • Consider different operating systems. Because phones are the main device to perform digital tasks for most adult learners, we incorporated variations relevant to different operating systems (for example, iOS and Android) into digital skill teaching tools. For example, the process for downloading apps varies a bit between iOS and Android, so we have modeled both with our videos showing students when processes may vary between devices. 
  • Always consider viewers’ English language level. For example, CILIA-T curriculum was written to support intermediate-level English language learners. So, we had to design the instructional script with digital skill vocabulary for such speakers in mind and use many examples and visuals to define vocabulary in the videos.
  • Build in opportunities for learners and educators to pause, practice, and reflect. To do this, we intentionally divided videos into sections to make finding specific pieces of learning easier. We also added titled chapters to each portion of a video. 

We are excited about this new resource and invite teachers and learners to try them out and reach out to us with any feedback and questions: Theresa Sladek (tsladek@literacymn.org), Aydin Durgunoglu (adurguno@d.umn.edu), and Leah Hauge (lhauge@literacymn.org).


This blog was produced by Dr. Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), research analyst and program officer for postsecondary and adult education research at NCER.

 

Early Intervention and Beyond: How Experience with Young Children and Special Education Motivated a Career in Autism Research

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with Dr. Stephanie Shire about her Early Career Development and Mentoring project. Dr. Shire, associate professor of Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Oregon, focuses her current research on young children with autism and their families. In this interview, she discusses this project as well as her prior experiences in early intervention and special education and advice for other early career researchers.

Please tell us about your IES Early Career project.

Headshot of Dr. Stephanie Shire

My IES Early Career project is titled LIFT: Leveraging Autism Interventions for Families through Telehealth. The idea behind this project—exploring the technology-assisted delivery of an established evidence-based, in-person, one-on-one, caregiver-mediated social communication intervention—began even prior to the pandemic, before the field had to shift service delivery to online family-mediated services for young children with autism. The project focuses on helping caregivers use the existing intervention strategies to advance their children’s social communication and play skills. We’re not changing or testing the established intervention for the children, but rather the way in which we support caregivers in their learning.

The project is being conducted in partnership with early intervention and early childhood special education community practitioners and leaders. Our partners were fundamental in the development and revision of the online intervention program, which took an intervention manual of several hundred pages designed for clinicians and turned it into a series of brief online modules that families can read or listen to at their own pace. Our partners also shaped the implementation strategies that we are now testing in a pilot randomized trial. Families enrolled in the trial are being served by their local early intervention and early childhood special education practitioners in their home communities in Oregon.

How did you become interested in research on interventions to help young children with autism?

I was introduced to young children with autism as a high school student volunteering in a hospital playroom and as a special education classroom volunteer in my first year as an undergraduate student. In both cases, these preschool and school-age children had few or no words. I watched the practitioners try to connect and engage with the children with mixed success. I then spent the next several years as an undergraduate student working as an in-home intervention aide delivering services to young children with autism, many of whom had few or no words. I found myself failing to support the children’s progress, particularly with their communication skills. My desire to do more for these children prompted me to pursue additional resources and learn more about practices to better support them. This led me on a path to graduate school, first at the master’s level and then doctoral-level training, focused on intervention science to learn more about the development and testing of interventions to maximize communication development for young children with autism.

What do you find most rewarding about conducting research with young children with autism and their families?

Children and their families are at the heart of all my research team’s projects. Celebrating the moments when a child shows us a new idea in play, makes a joke, or points to something to share it with us lights up my entire lab! The greatest reward is seeing children shine and experience victories, big and small.

What are your next steps in this line of research?

We’re taking what we’re learning now, as well as the training that I’ve received in implementation science, to work on the next steps in this research project. We need to understand how to personalize implementation strategies for caregivers to help more families advance their children’s social communication skills through play and daily activities. Because this intervention has an adaptive component, we are now looking at combining sequences of supports for caregivers based on their individual progress halfway through implementing the intervention.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Persist. In special education and early intervention, we are still acutely feeling the effects of the pandemic on a system that was already experiencing many challenges. There will be bumps along the way, but children show us every day that they can keep accomplishing small victories even in the face of obstacles. Let’s follow their lead and do the work in partnership with their caregivers and educators to keep building toward big victories for all children and their families. 

Thank you, Dr. Stephanie Shire, for sharing your early career research experience!

This blog was produced by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. KatieTaylor, NCSER program officer, manages grants funded under The Early Career Development and Mentoring Program Program.

 

Observations Matter: Listening to and Learning from English Learners in Secondary Mathematics Classrooms

April is National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. We asked Drs. Haiwen Chu and Leslie Hamburger, secondary mathematics researchers at the IES-funded National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners (EL R&D Center), to share how classroom observations are critical to analyzing and improving learning opportunities for English learners.

Could you tell us about your IES-funded project?

Haiwen: As part of the EL R&D Center portfolio of work, we developed RAMPUP, or Reimagining and Amplifying Mathematics Participation, Understanding, and Practices. RAMPUP is a summer bridge course for rising ninth graders. The three-week course is designed to challenge and support English learners to learn ambitious mathematics and generative language simultaneously. We will conduct a pilot study during summer 2024, with preliminary findings in fall 2024.

 

What motivated you to do this work?

Haiwen: English learners are frequently denied opportunities to engage in conceptually rich mathematics learning. We want to transform these patterns of low challenge and low support by offering a summer enrichment course that focuses on cross-cutting concepts uniting algebra, geometry, and statistics. We also designed active and engaged participation to be central to the development of ideas and practices in mathematics. English learners learn by talking and interacting with one another in ways that are both sustained and reciprocal.

Leslie: In addition, we wanted to offer broader approaches to developing language with English learners. As we have refined the summer program, we have explicitly built in meaningful opportunities for English learners to grow in their ability to describe, argue, and explain critical mathematics concepts in English This language development happens simultaneously with the development of conceptual understanding.

What have you observed among English learners so far in RAMPUP study classrooms?

Leslie: Over the past two summers, I have observed RAMPUP in two districts for two weeks total. The classrooms reflect America’s wide diversity, including refugee newcomers and students who were entirely educated in the United States. I was able to see both teachers facilitating and students learning. I observed how students developed diverse approaches to solving problems.

Through talk, students built upon each other’s ideas, offered details, and expanded descriptions of data distributions. Over time, their descriptions of data became more precise, as they attended to similarities and differences and developed labels. I also observed how teachers assisted students by giving hints without telling them what to do.

Haiwen: As we observed, we wanted to understand how English learners engaged in the activities we had designed, as well as how their conceptual understandings and language developed simultaneously. I have spent two summers immersed in three districts over seven weeks with diverse students as they developed relationships, deep understandings, and language practices.

I was honestly surprised by the complex relationships between how students wrote and the development of their ideas and language. Sometimes, students wrote to collect their thoughts, which they then shared orally with others, to collectively compose a common way to describe a pattern. Other times, writing was a way to reflect and give each other feedback on what was working well and how peers could improve their work. Writing was also multi-representational as students incorporated diagrams, tables, and other representations as they wrote.

From closely observing students as they wrote, I also gained valuable insight into how they think. For example, they often looked back at their past work and then went on to write, stretching their understanding.

Why are your observations important to your project?

Haiwen: RAMPUP is an iterative design and development project: our observations were driven by descriptive questions (how students learned) and improvement questions (how to refine activities and materials). By observing each summer what worked well for students, and what fell flat, we have been able to iteratively improve the flow and sequencing of activities.

We have learned that observations matter most when they directly inform broader, ongoing efforts at quality learning.

Now, in our final phase, we are working to incorporate educative examples of what quality interactions looked and sounded like to enhance the teacher materials. Beyond the shorter episodes confined within a class period, we are also describing patterns of growth over time, including vignettes and portfolios of sample student work.

Leslie: Indeed, I think that wisdom comes both in practice and learning by looking back on practice. Our observations will enable teachers to better anticipate what approaches their students might take. Our educative materials will offer teachers a variety of real-life approaches that actual students similar to their own may take. This deep pedagogical knowledge includes knowing when, if, and how to intervene to give the just-right hints.

We will also soon finalize choices for how teachers can introduce activities, give instructions, and model processes. Having observed marvelous teaching moves—such as when a teacher created a literal “fishbowl” to model an activity (gathering students around a focal group to observe their talk and annotations), I am convinced we will be able to provide teachers with purposeful, flexible, and powerful choices to implement RAMPUP with quality and excellence.


To access research-based tools developed by the National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners to help teachers design deeper and more meaningful mathematics learning for all students, particularly those still learning English, see How to Engage English Learners in Mathematics: Q&A with Dr. Haiwen Chu.

To receive regular updates and findings from the Center, as well as webinar and conference opportunities, subscribe to Where the Evidence Leads newsletter.

This blog was produced by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), program officer for the Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners portfolio at NCER.

How IES-Funded Research Infrastructure is Supporting Math Education Research

Every April, we observe Mathematics and Statistics Awareness month to increase public understanding of math and stats and to celebrate the unique role that math and stats play in solving critical real-world problems. In that spirit, we want to share some exciting progress that SEERNet has made in supporting math education research over the past three years.

In 2021, IES established SEERNet, a network of platform developers, researchers, and education stakeholders, to create and expand the capacity of digital learning platforms (DLPs) to enable equity-focused and rigorous education research at scale. Since then, SEERNet has made significant progress, and we are starting to see examples of how researchers can use this new research infrastructure.

Recently, IES held two rounds of a competition to identify research teams to join SEERNet to conduct a study or series of studies using one of the five DLPs within the SEERNet network. Two research teams joined the network from the first round, and the second round of applications are now under review. We want to highlight the two research teams that joined SEERNet and the important questions about math education that they are addressing.

  • Now I See It: Supporting Flexible Problem Solving in Mathematics through Perceptual Scaffolding in ASSISTments – Dr. Avery Closser and her team are working with the E-Trials/ASSISTments team. ASSISTments is a free tool to support math learning, which has been used by over 1 million students and 30,000 teachers across the nation. IES has supported its development and efficacy since 2003. E-Trials is the tool that researchers can use to develop studies to be implemented within ASSISTments. The research team’s studies are designed to test whether perceptual scaffolding in mathematics notation (for example, using color to highlight key terms such as the inverse operators in an expression) leads learners to pause and notice structural patterns and ultimately practice more flexible and efficient problem solving. This project will yield evidence on how, when, and for whom perceptual scaffolding works to inform classroom practice, which has implications for the development of materials for digital learning platforms.
  • Investigating the Impact of Metacognitive Supports on Students' Mathematics Knowledge and Motivation in MATHia – Dr. Cristina Zepeda and her team are working with the Upgrade/MATHia team. MATHia is an adaptive software program used in middle and high schools across the country. UpGrade is an open-source A/B testing platform that facilitates randomized experiments within educational software, including MATHia. The research team will conduct a series of studies focused on supporting students’ metacognitive skills, which are essential for learning in mathematics but not typically integrated into instruction. The studies will seek to identify supports that can be implemented during mathematics learning in MATHia that improve metacognition, mathematics knowledge, and motivation in middle school.

Both research teams are conducting studies that will have clear implications for curriculum design within DLPs focused on math instruction for K-12 students. The value of conducting these studies through existing DLPs rather than through individual researcher-designed tools and methods includes—

  1. Time and cost savings – Without the need to create materials from scratch, the research teams can immediately get to work on the specific instructional features they intend to test. Additionally, since the intervention and pre/post assessments can be administered through the online tool, the need to travel to study sites is reduced.
  2. Access to large sample sizes – Studies like the ones described above are frequently administered in laboratory settings or in a handful of schools. Since over 100k students use these DLPs, there is the potential to recruit a larger and more diverse sample of students for studies. This provides more opportunities to study what works for whom under what conditions.
  3. Tighter feedback loops between developers and researchers – Because the research teams need to work directly with the platform developers to administer their studies, the studies need to be designed in ways that will work within the platform and with the platform content. This ensures their relevance to the platform and means that the platform developers will be knowledgeable about what is being tested. They will be interested to hear the study’s findings and likely to use that information to inform future design decisions.

We look forward to seeing how other education researchers take advantage of this new research infrastructure. For math education researchers in particular, we hope these two example projects inspire you to consider how you might use a DLP in the future to address critical questions for math education.


This blog was written by Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer, Accelerate, Transform, Scale Initiative.