Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

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.

Connecting to Place and People: How My Experiences with Native American Communities Motivate My Work

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In this guest blog, Dr. Tabitha Stickel, a second-year postdoctoral research fellow at the Georgia State University (GSU) Postdoctoral Training on Adult Literacy (G-PAL) program shares her experiences working with adult education programs in Native American tribal lands and how it has shaped her work and purpose.

Entering Adult Education: Connection to the Land and Peoples of the Southwest

Prior to graduate school, I found work as an adult education teacher at a rural, southwestern community college in the traditional lands of the Diné (Navajo), the Hopi, and the Ndee (Western Apache). This college, which served the indigenous communities, was set in the short-grass prairies, spotted with juniper trees in a land that seemed silent and empty to the untrained eye. But the land was full of life and opportunity, and the students I met gave me new appreciation for the opportunities adult education could provide.

As an adjunct faculty in an adult basic and developmental education program, I traveled several hours each week to teach classes on the Diné and Hopi tribal lands. I was immediately struck by the students’ dedication to their education and personal goals—to be the first in their families to earn a college degree, help their children or grandchildren with homework, find or keep employment, and/or fulfill the promise of completing high school made to themselves or others. 

Challenges in Adult Education for Rural Students

Despite this dedication, adult students face a variety of barriers to attending classes. Adult students often must contend with the challenges of caretaking, work, and transportation—a perennial problem for rural students, as there is no public transportation. Some students were able to carpool, and some of the tribes arranged vans to transport the “closer” students to the campus.

Even when faced with such challenges, students showed up each week. I had students without electricity at home who used their cell phones to access class materials, one of many such examples of the digital divide in rural areas. I had a student who made burritos each week and sold them to raise money for a desk for her schoolwork. These students drove my passion for my work. When students overcome incredible odds for their education, how can an educator do anything other than rise to meet them? Earning an education credential, such as a high school equivalency, could have far-reaching positive outcomes for the students and their families. 

What My Students Taught Me

In addition to learning about the challenges and rewards adult learners face, I also learned the importance of listening to students and checking assumptions. For instance, I had a GED student who was chronically late. One day, I called her because I was frustrated that she was over an hour late, only to learn that she was on her way. In fact, she was walking more than 20 miles to come to class. She had been unable to hitch-hike to class as she normally would. I was completely humbled in that moment and realized that my assumptions were keeping me from understanding her. She ended up earning her GED a month later.

When my students shared their stories, I learned how their lived experiences—including the very land on which they lived—shaped them. When I began to truly listen to these stories and understand their importance, I became a better teacher. And I knew that these stories deserved to be heard and answered with more than I could offer as a single teacher.

Moving Between Two Worlds: Research and Practice

My experiences in the southwest prompted me to attend graduate school and research how to understand, empower, and teach adult learners. In general, however, there is insufficient research on adult education within and for certain populations. I wanted help to address this gap, so I centered my work on identifying culturally relevant themes of belonging for Native adult education students to explore the various pathways along which student belonging might develop.

In 2020, I returned to the adult education program I had worked in to gather stories from the students for my dissertation. I found student stories became intertwined with the pandemic and revealed the extent of the devastation the COVID-19 pandemic was having on the Native American communities and students’ sense of belonging. COVID-19 was making it more difficult for students to balance attending class and providing for their families. It was also making the digital divide even more apparent—as adult education programs transitioned to remote instruction, students had to navigate the realities of participating and belonging in the digital sphere. I further explore these themes in the Coalition on Adult Basic Education’s (COABE) forthcoming special issue on COVIDs effects on adult students.

As with other challenges, these Native communities and students continued to survive and thrive despite the tragedies of COVID-19. The students and staff in the adult education programs in these tribal communities deserve all the recognition in the world for their dedication, their creativity in addressing ever-present and ever-arising challenges, and their persistence.

My own commitment to this endeavor led me to become a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia State University (GSU) Postdoctoral Training on Adult Literacy (G-PAL) program. I hope to soon return to the land and communities that have so integrally changed my life.  

Although I may return with more knowledge of the adult education field and how to facilitate classroom learning, I will occupy not just a “teacher” role but a student one as well, as I have much to learn from the lands, the people, and the experiences they inevitably shape.


Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants and Postsecondary and Adult Education research at NCER.

Understanding NCER and NCSER’s Investments in Research Training

Since 2004, NCER has invested over $270 million dollars in education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants. NCSER has invested over $32 million in special education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants since 2008.

This investment has supported the training and professional development of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early- and mid-career researchers. But what guides NCER’s and NCSER’s investments? What roles do NCER and NCSER play in research training in the education sciences, and how can the centers determine whether these investments are successful?

In June 2022, IES awarded a joint-center contract to WestEd to document the background and rationale for these training programs and help articulate the theoretical models for each of the programs, including assumptions, inputs, activities, and outputs. WestEd will then work with IES to identify metrics and potential data sources to better understand the successes and impacts of the current and possible future programs.

 

The commissioners for the centers, Drs. Elizabeth Albro and Joan McLaughlin, are excited about the opportunity to delve into the training programs that they believe have transformed the education sciences:

We see the benefits of these trainings every day, including the quality of the applications that we receive, ability of the research teams to conduct thoughtful and rigorous studies even when confronted with the practical challenges of working in schools, the number of early career applicants taking on important research, and the growing diversity of the research teams. 

 The commissioners see the contract as an exciting opportunity:

WestEd is supporting us as we take stock of our various research trainings and help us identify metrics for measuring success both within and across our training programs.  We want to make sure our research training programs stay current and address the needs and evolving challenges of the field and are looking forward to working with the WestEd team on this project. 

 

Dr. Nick Gage, a former NCSER postdoctoral fellow and current mentor on an NCSER Early Career grant leads the WestEd team and notes –  

I believe deeply in the capacity of IES to impact change through the training programs and am passionate about working with IES to find the connections among the programs and to develop a plan for measuring success across the training programs. I believe thinking broadly while also attending to the unique features of the training programs when developing models and a unified conceptual framework will be an on-going challenge, but one my team is excited to tackle. 

By understanding the connections between what is being done during these programs and the impacts on grantees, trainees, institutions, and the education sciences in the short and long term, we can develop new approaches for measuring and understanding success resulting from training program implementation. 

To build the models and identify metrics, WestEd is talking with IES staff, reviewing public and internal documents, leveraging natural language processing and other data analytic approaches, and soliciting input from former training program grantees and participants. Dr. Gage’s goal is to incorporate the voices of all those involved in training programs to help bring together multiple perspectives and ideas in this effort.

 

For more information about the research activities or to provide input, contact Dr. Nick Gage ngage@wested.org.

 

NCER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)  
  • Methods Training for Education Research 
  • Pathways to the Education Sciences 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training 
  • Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training 
  • Training in Education Use and Practice 

  

NCSER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Development and Mentoring in Special Education 
  • Methods Training for Special Education Research 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention 

 


This blog was written by Dr. Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), an NCER Postdoctoral Training program officer and current coordinator for the NCER/NCSER Training Program team. She is also the contracting officer representative for the NCER/NCSER Education Research Training Program Support contract. 

New Grant to Develop a Learning Game About the Supreme Court Features ED/IES SBIR Education Technology Platform

In April 2022, iCivics was awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop Supreme Justice, a live-action multiplayer experience that simulates the deliberation process used by Supreme Court justices.  The game is being developed in partnership with small business Gigantic Mechanic and deployed using their VOXPOP platform, which was developed through the ED/IES SBIR program with awards in 2018 and 2019.

VOXPOP is a technology-enabled, class-wide, role-playing game for high school students. Using any web browser, teachers access a library of simulations on a range of topics drawn from the AP U.S. history curriculum and Common Core History Standards. VOXPOP’s platform provides resources to guide implementation, including videos, individualized student profiles, and real-time voting, and facilitates each student playing a unique historical role. Throughout the experience, the software guides participants with facts and primary sources, with students engaging in face-to-face discussions, and debating issues central to the simulation. All VOXPOP content can be found at www.voxpop.io

On July 15, VOXPOP was selected as the winner for the “Best Civics Game” through the Games For Change 2022 Awards. This annual award competition recognizes the year's best games for social impact and learning. All awards are competitive with submissions are evaluated by expert jurors.

In the new Supreme Justice game, students in grades 6 to 12 participate in a live-action multiplayer simulation focused on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and due process rights. Classrooms are divided into different groups to play petitioners, respondents, and justices as they argue and consider cases of constitutional law. Supreme Justice will model deliberation and critical thinking in a civic setting, grounded in historical cases and relying heavily on the U.S. Constitution as evidence. The experience will engage students in face-to-face discussions and debates, while collaborating to craft arguments central to civic and government life. Once the game is developed, it will be freely available on the iCivics website.

 

 

Along with the iCivics NEH grant, Gigantic Mechanic is partnering with other organizations and museums, such as Revolutionary Spaces (see video below), to develop custom role-plays and simulations for their platforms and spaces.

 

 


Stay tuned to @IESResearch for news and updates on research, initiatives, and project updates in the area of tutoring to accelerate learning.

For more information, please contact Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.