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. Young-Suk Kim, professor and Senior Associate Dean in the School of Education, University of California, Irvine, shares how her experiences and her work contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in education.
How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?
My research seeks to understand how reading and writing develop and how to best support this development for children from various backgrounds. I work on theory building and develop and evaluate effective teaching approaches toward this aim. Three salient aspects of my background and experiences have shaped my scholarship and career.
The first is that my mother does not know how to read or write. My mother is one of the most resilient and hard-working people I know. However, like many females of her generation in South Korea in the 1940s, her widowed mother could not afford education for my mother or her sister. Growing up, I observed firsthand the impact of illiteracy on her life from daily inconveniences such as getting lost because she could not read bus routes to a broader impact on her personal development over time. Second, my teaching experience in the United States also had a direct impact on my choice of career. I taught students, the majority of whom were ethnic minorities, in a highly diverse metropolitan city. I learned about their lives as children of immigrants. I also observed their language use and development and their development of reading and writing skills. I became curious and wanted to understand mechanisms underlying the development of language and literacy skills and effective ways to support their development.
Another important part of the fabric of my experience is that I am a first-generation immigrant who came to the United States as an adult. This allowed me to approach literacy development from a cross-linguistic view, not a US- or Anglo-centric view. Although I conduct my primary lines of work with children in the US from diverse linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds, I also conduct studies with children learning to read and write in languages other than English outside of the US context (for example, South Korea, China, South America, Africa) to expand our understanding of language-general and language-specific principles of literacy acquisition.
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?
There is a great need for the science of teaching reading. The science of reading has received substantial attention in recent years, and we need a better understanding of the science of teaching reading, which includes knowledge of current teaching practices in the classroom and best teaching practices that are feasible, usable, and scalable in classroom contexts. Popular media articles, such as this one from the National Public Radio, have drawn public attention to reading instruction in classrooms. While valuable, they do not provide a comprehensive and precise picture about what really goes on in the classroom, and we do not have systematic data about how reading is taught and how to create conditions that support successful reading instruction. Carefully developed instructional programs implemented in well-controlled environments have shown measurable effects on language and literacy skills. However, less is known about how to make them usable and scalable in school contexts for various populations in the United States, including monolingual and multilingual children, typically developing children and exceptional children, and children who are from underserved areas.
Another important part of the science of teaching reading is research on establishing bidirectional communications between the communities of research and practice. In the field of reading and writing, there is a critical gap between research and teaching practices, and addressing this gap requires knowledge brokering. Making education research relevant for diverse communities of students and families requires systematic efforts and research on knowledge brokering as well as factors that influence one’s choice of teaching reading, conditions that support public understanding of science, and effective ways to build two-way communication channels.
What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?
Who we are is shaped by the fabric of our life experiences and history and what we are endowed with. I believe that the effect of our life experiences and endowment is moderated by our own actions, especially self-reflections. I have two thoughts on self-reflections at the personal level. The first one is recognizing strengths of our prior experiences and work. Being a nonnative speaker of English and an immigrant learning US culture and norms presented tremendous challenges, and there were countless days that I bemoaned the challenges. However, upon reflection, I recognize that these are invaluable and indispensable assets to me as a person and for my career in education research—I have an appreciation of immigrants’ challenges and lives, and their roles in society, and have an appreciation of who I am as a multilingual and multicultural human being.
A second related point is intentionally and actively resisting harmful effects of racial strife. As an Asian female who has lived in different parts of the United States, I have experienced a fair share of microaggressions and blatant racial discrimination. These experiences had a negative impact on me, as they would on others. While not discounting the well-documented and profound negative consequences and systemic structures associated with racial strife, we have a choice of channeling such negative experiences in positive ways and for personal growth. I am not suggesting that the burden for structural equity is on individuals. Instead, I have observed deleterious effects of these experiences on individuals including myself. Turning them into positive transformative power requires careful and intentional reflections.
How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?
I believe that my work contributes to defining diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education in a broad way. My work with students from linguistically diverse backgrounds has contributed to understanding language-general and language-specific principles of literacy acquisition. I believe that this expands the idea of DEI beyond how it is discussed in US contexts, which tends to focus on race and ethnicity.
I also conduct research on the mitigation and prevention of reading and writing difficulties. It is estimated that anywhere between 5 and 10 percent of the population have reading and writing difficulties and addressing their educational needs is an important task in education. This line of work behooves us to broaden our understanding of DEI to students of different learning profiles.
How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?
Supporting the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups requires serious attention to the research education pipeline. IES’s training programs are a fantastic way of achieving this goal. We also need to consider other aspects of the education pipeline. For example, systematic funding opportunities for undergraduate research training would be highly beneficial, particularly for individuals from underrepresented groups, who tend to have less exposure to research experiences. Given such opportunities, undergraduate students can be supported for their research experiences under the guidance of researchers, and this will help unveil the mystery of research for them and open up opportunities for pursuing careers related to educational research.
Produced by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), program officer for the English Learners Portfolio at NCER.