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IES Grant

Title: Analyzing Diagrams: A Support for English Learners (ADSEL)
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Nikula, Johannah Awardee: Education Development Center, Inc.
Program: Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/01/2017–6/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,397,423
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A170297

Co-Principal Investigators: Jill Neumayer DePiper

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and test an innovative instructional unit intended to support the mathematics achievement of English learners (ELs) in sixth grade. Three factors demand innovative solutions. First, recently adopted mathematics standards have renewed pressure and enthusiasm to provide all students with access to rigorous mathematical content. Second, the EL population is growing, yet mathematics achievement "gaps" between ELs and non-ELs persist. Third, most mathematics teachers lack expertise and resources to meet ELs' language needs and provide ELs with access to rich learning opportunities. To address this need, Education Development Center (EDC) will develop the Analyzing Diagrams: A Support for English Learners (ADSEL) intervention, a two-week unit that will support ELs' learning of Grade 6 fractions content and use of diagrams in problem solving. Using "worked examples" and other principles from cognitive science while integrating research on language learning, the researchers will develop mathematics lessons to help ELs learn to use diagrams to engage with mathematical content, reasoning, and communication.

Project Activities: The researchers will develop and study the ADSEL intervention in urban Massachusetts schools with high EL populations using an iterative development process followed by a pilot study. Iterative development will be informed by cognitive interviews with ELs, feedback from a collaborating educator group, and observations of lesson implementation. The pilot efficacy study will seek to understand how participation in ADSEL relates to students' understanding of fractions content and problem solving, how knowledge about diagrams and communication develops across ADSEL participation, and how the implementation of ADSEL lessons aligns with their design.

Products: The researchers will produce an 8-lesson unit on fraction division for middle school math instruction, as well as preliminary evidence to support this unit's promise in the classroom. The research team will also produce peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The ADSEL intervention will be developed and studied in middle schools from districts in Massachusetts with substantial EL populations.

Sample: Approximately 40–50 grade 6 ELs will participate in cognitive labs in the first two study years, followed by 480 grade 6 EL and non-EL students who will participate in the pilot efficacy study. Across all data collection, the team will strive to recruit grade 6 ELs with various English language proficiency levels and first languages. Eight to 12 educators will also collaborate with the researchers via focus groups, classroom observations, feedback surveys, and pilot implementation.

Intervention: The ADSEL intervention will focus on Grade 6 Common Core rational number content—in particular fraction division—through a series of eight lessons that explore diagrams useful for problem-solving. Lessons will integrate support for mathematical communication and academic language, use sample diagrams in a worked example structure, and provide ELs with opportunities to apply their learning about diagrams in problem solving with fractions. Lessons will include student handouts as well as teacher instructions for launching the lesson, for supporting students to analyze and generate diagrams, and for facilitating discussion of key ideas about (1) using diagrams to represent and solve mathematics tasks and (2) fraction division.

Research Design and Methods: ADSEL materials will undergo iterative rounds of development and testing informed by collaborating teacher focus groups and cognitive labs with ELs and by lesson observations and teacher surveys. Iterative development will also inform initial understandings of feasibility and fidelity. In the pilot study, twenty-four grade 6 classes taught by different teachers will be randomly assigned to treatment or control, using stratified random assignment by school. The research team will use performance data from the students in these classrooms to address research questions related to changes in students' understanding of key ideas about fractions and diagrams. Case study analysis, including lesson observations and further analysis of student work, will provide additional insight into classroom use. Feasibility and fidelity will also be studied during the pilot study through observations and teacher feedback.

Control Condition: Control classrooms will experience standard school practices for the Grade 6 fraction division unit.

Key Measures: Students' understanding of key fractions concepts and their use of diagrams will be studied through pre-, post-, and delayed-post differences for treatment and control students on preexisting fractions assessments, and through statistical analysis of growth evident in EL student work across ADSEL lessons. A case study analysis of student work and observation data from one treatment class will support understanding of ELs' experiences of ADSEL lessons. Observations and surveys will capture indicators of lesson components to measure fidelity and treatment contrast.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use hierarchical linear modeling to analyze quantitative data for student outcomes related to understanding of both fractions and the use of diagrams. Case studies will elaborate on the quantitative findings by identifying key features of ELs' experiences through observation and student work data in one class. Additional statistical analyses of EL student work across the sample will support understanding of trends across lessons, controlling for correlations at the individual level. Qualitative analyses of observation protocols and teacher surveys and statistical analyses of indicators of key lesson components will support understanding of fidelity of implementation in treatment classes and will be used to address treatment contrast in the control classes.

Related IES Projects: Mathematics Coaching Supporting English Language Learners (R305A110076)