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College of Education faculty and students are nationally known for their landmark research on topics like depression, exercise physiology, autism, at-risk student populations, and learning disabilities. Their wide-ranging expertise frequently is tapped by the media – from the New York Times to NPR and The Texas Tribune. Check out this sample of the coverage our top-ranked college has garnered.

New York Times
Victor Saenz
“A Degree Goal: To Close a Gender Gap That Favors Women”
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/11/us/a-degree-goal-to-close-a-gender-gap-that-favors-women.html?_r=1

“If half the population is systematically lagging behind the other half, that’s going to be a real drag on our ability to meet our goals and secure any kind of prosperity for our future.”


MSNBC
Julian Vasquez Heilig
“The ‘domino effect’ of school closings”
http://www.msnbc.com/melissa-harris-perry/watch/the-domino-effect-of-school-closings-258615363727

“What we used to call discrimination we now call civil rights. For example, we talked about how African American and Latino students performed on high stakes exams – now we talk about the gap as civil rights. Charter schools? We talk about those as civil rights.”


KNOW – UT Austin
College of Education Students Sergio Valverde, Stephen Galvan, Renae Greening
“Open Up and Say ‘Hook’em’: Student Athletic Trainers”
http://www.utexas.edu/know/2014/05/13/open-up-and-say-hook-em/

“It just gives you chills watching an athlete get back into their prime and knowing you were a part of that process.”


Chicago Tribune
Aaron Rochlen
“Do-it-yourself dads”
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-02-02/news/ct-stay-at-home-dads-met-20140202_1_stay-at-home-dads-fathers/2

“If these at-home dads – and we’re talking about gay men and straight men – still view themselves as providers, they often adjust to the role just fine. The ones who do well don’t feel they have to conform to traditional gender models.”

The nationally top-ranked UT Austin College of Education celebrated the graduation of over 500 undergraduates in a May 16 ceremony that featured the college’s own Dr. Aaron Rochlen as speaker. Captured in the college’s commencement photos and videos are some of the most accomplished students on campus, as well as the faculty, friends, and family who supported and encouraged them.

 

Click here to view the slideshow

 

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey

 


 

Commencement 2014 Student Voices

The diversity of our students’ talents, backgrounds, challenges, and goals surprises many people – we do prepare highly skilled teachers, but the college also is a training ground for future medical professionals, school administrators, therapists, athletic trainers, and researchers. These three video profiles of College of Education graduates give you a brief taste of the stories our students carry and hint at how they’re going to change the world.p>


 

Commencement 2014 Keynote Speaker

Aaron Rochlen, a nationally recognized expert on men’s mental and emotional health, was guest speaker at the May 2014 College of Education commencement ceremony. Rochlen is a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology. To hear his commencement address, watch the video below.

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Despite the fact that, compared to full-time faculty, community college part-time faculty have less teaching experience, hold fewer advanced degrees, and are not on a tenure track, they are most often assigned to teach students who require more help, says a new University of Texas at Austin report.

Kay McClenney, Ph.D.

Kay McClenney, Ph.D.

According to “Contingent Commitments: Bringing Part-Time Faculty Into Focus,” part-time community college faculty members teach more than half of all credit-earning students and three-quarters of the developmental education classes, yet they tend to be less experienced than full-time faculty members.

The College of Education’s Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) produced the report drawing on data from more than 70,000 faculty survey responses and more than 30 focus group discussions with part-time and full-time faculty members, administrators and staffers at community colleges nationwide.

“In addition to having fewer years of experience and formal training, part-time community college faculty often face the frustration of feeling marginalized on campus and unaccepted as full partners in the college’s work,” said Kay McClenney, CCCSE director.

Many part-time faculty members report they feel like outsiders on their own campuses because they often:

  • Do not know whether they will be teaching until just days before the term begins.
  • Have limited or no access to orientation, professional development, college services or office space where they can work and meet with students.
  • Rarely, if ever, are invited to join in campus discussions about things the college can do to improve student learning, persistence and completion.

Past CCCSE reports have identified several high-impact practices that, when properly implemented, are proved to boost community college student engagement. Center data analyzed last year revealed the use of these high-impact practices is low across the board, and this latest report shows that part-time faculty members are using the high-impact strategies even less frequently than full-time faculty members.

“With this report we aim to give college leaders tools to better engage part-time faculty so more students have access to the educational experiences and supports they need to succeed academically,” said McClenney.

The report offers college leaders examples and discussion tools in the areas of hiring, setting expectations and orientation; professional development and support; evaluation and incentives; integration of part-time faculty members into student success initiatives; and creation of an institutional culture that embraces the role of part-time faculty members.

“What matters most? Students,” said McClenney. “Providing effective instruction from all faculty and support for the students should be at the heart of community college work.”

The report is part of “Keys to Student Success: Strengthening the Role of Part-Time Faculty in Community Colleges,” a CCCSE initiative funded by the MetLife Foundation. The center is a research and service initiative of the Department of Educational Administration’s Program in Higher Education Leadership.

Education professor Luis Urrieta, Jr., was among 10 community leaders nationwide to receive a Champions of Change honor from the White House for embodying the spirit of César Chávez ’s legacy.  The event was held on March 31, Chávez ’s birthday.

The Champions of Change initiative was created to spotlight community members nationwide who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire others.

The son of Mexican immigrants from rural Michoacán, Urrieta has devoted his academic career to raising public awareness and knowledge about Hispanic immigrant families. His scholarship has focused on how to build and support strong ethnic and linguistic identities in Hispanic children and youth while also facilitating high academic achievement.

In addition to serving as associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Urrieta also is program director for the department’s Cultural Studies in Education area and coordinator for Austin’s Culture in Action/Cultura en Acción after-school program.

Outside the university classroom, Urrieta’s advocacy efforts have included mentoring and cultivating leadership among community youth, teaching bilingual middle school classes, and working with university students through community workshops, internships, and exchange programs with Mexico and Guatemala.

As coordinator of the after-school program, Urrieta, works with elementary school students to build a sense of academic-, self-, and community-empowerment as well as leadership skills. To prepare them for future success, he also helps them become more adept with technology.

Below is a statement from Urrieta that appears on the White House Champions of Change website. It describes why he has devoted his life to helping immigrant families and what he has done to fulfill that personal mission.

***

Community Service Honors Those Who Have Come Before Us and Helps to Prepare the Path for Those Who Will Come After Us

By Luis Urrieta

Service to communities is not a choice for some, but an indispensable part of the fabric of daily life. When there are communities that we are committed to, then service and advocacy makes sense.

To me, service means contributing to a larger mission for social justice and educational equity. Service adds to a larger collective struggle to work toward fulfilling the promises and ideals of this great nation.

I first learned about César Chávez and his struggle in 1990 when a group of fellow Chicano students dumped a large bowl of grapes that were being served to us in the dorm cafeteria in the trash. This action was part of a symbolic protest in solidarity with Chávez and the United Farm Workers. At the time, I was an entering freshman in college and Chávez, along with my parents and extended family became an inspiration to me for a life of service. I realized that my work in life would revolve around giving back to Latina/o communities, especially immigrant communities, and raising awareness about Latina/o issues with a wider audience.

My professional, academic, and community service work in education has been dedicated to raising awareness and valuing Latina/o immigrant family and community knowledge. I have focused much of my energies on the importance of nourishing and supporting strong ethnic and linguistic identities in Latina/o children and youth, while promoting and creating the conditions for high academic achievement. My service has been primarily centered on mentoring, teaching, and cultivating leadership in Latina/o children and youth.

As a former bilingual middle school teacher in Los Angeles I was dedicated to working with immigrant and first generation students. Through critical pedagogy and extensive family and community involvement, many of my students became very personally and academically successful, and were able to navigate the higher education system despite their undocumented status. This was not due to me, but to larger collaborative efforts between the students, teachers, family, and community that I was then a part of. Collectively we subsequently published some of the undocumented student testimonios to help raise educators’ awareness about their status and to disrupt the negative perceptions of undocumented youth.

For the past ten years, my work with teachers as a teacher educator has also focused on engaging in conversations and dialogue about Latino/a students, both our long and recent history in the U.S., the issues we face, including our diversity as a community, and the assets we bring. With undergraduate students I instill and encourage a need for service learning projects, volunteering, tutoring, mentoring, and engagement with Latina/o families and communities.

I have done this by creating opportunities for local Latina/o community involvement including work with community centers, non-profits, churches, and through workshops, internships, and exchange programs abroad in Mexico and Guatemala, with strong service learning components. My goal is to instill in young adults the motivation not only to achieve professionally, but to also align those professional goals and commitments to communities, especially communities in need.

For the last two years, along with university student volunteers/interns, I have also coordinated a collaborative after school program, Cultura en Acción—Culture in Action, for upper elementary school students. This program creates a space for Latina/o ethnic and cultural awareness by centering family and community knowledge while promoting high academic achievement and 21st century skills and technology. This program enjoys success due to the level of engagement and commitment of university student volunteers, interns, and the children in the program and their families.

The legacy of community service honors those who came before us, and it is not a lone endeavor, but a collective project of hope, love, and cooperation. The legacy of service also helps prepare the way for those who will come after. Service, to me, remains fundamental to the mission of social justice and the public good.

For Men of Color, High Academic Motivation Does Not Bring Academic Success

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) has announced that UTeach, an award-winning secondary STEM teacher preparation program created by UT Austin’s Colleges of Education and Natural Sciences, is expanding to five research universities. The expansion was made possible by a $22.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

With the spread of UTeach to these universities and five more in the fall of 2015, the program will be at 45 universities nationwide. It is expected to produce more than 9,000 math and science teachers by 2020.

“By increasing access to the proven UTeach model, we’re helping create a STEM pipeline of highly-skilled teachers,” said Sara Martinez Tucker, CEO of the NMSI.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, the UTeach program will be available to students at Drexel University, Florida International University, Oklahoma State University, University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of Maryland, College Park.

The UTeach science program, which was created in 1997 at The University of Texas Austin, recruits and prepares mathematics, science and computer science students for secondary education careers. The students are able to earn a degree in their major as well as teacher certification without adding time or expense to their four-year degree program.

The UTeach Institute projects that UTeach graduates will have impacted 4.8 million secondary STEM students nationwide by 2020. The Institute, which is a division of the UTeach program, assists other universities with implementation of the program.

“We must take steps toward change to replenish this country’s star teachers, teachers who can move students to explore and love math and science,” said Robert Tjian, HHMI president. “That’s why HHMI is taking this critical step to help expand UTeach, one of the nation’s best training programs aimed at preparing science and math majors to become teachers.”

The NMSI is a non-profit organization launched in 2007 by top business, education and science leaders to transform education in the United States. It is committed to bringing proven programs, like UTeach and NMSI’s College Readiness program, to scale. The HHMI plays a significant role in supporting scientific research and education in the U.S. and, since its creation in 1988, has awarded more than $870 million to 274 colleges and universities to support science education.

“The UTeach program is successful because it combines aggressive recruiting of talented STEM majors, extensive field experience for the future teachers and a streamlined but intensive series of seven professional development courses that focus on teaching STEM subjects,” said Dr. Lawrence D. Abraham, UTeach co-director and a professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. “These features are resource-intensive and can only be sustained by having committed faculty and staff, the necessary financial support, and a strategic and strong collaboration between the colleges that house STEM content specialists and STEM teaching experts. The generous support of our program sponsors has helped us develop this great program and continues to help dozens of other institutions do the same.”

Despite higher levels of engagement in the community college experience — from rarely skipping classes to accessing tutoring services more frequently — male students of color have lower academic outcomes than White male students who are significantly less engaged, according to a recent University of Texas at Austin report.

“Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges” was produced by the College of Education’s Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE).

It is based on responses from more than 453,000 students nationwide to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement.

“Despite Black and Hispanic males reporting higher aspirations to earn a community college certificate or degree than their White peers, only 5 percent of those who attend community colleges earn certificates or degrees in three years, as opposed to 32 percent of White males,” said Kay McClenney, CCCSE director. “Realities like this prompted us to look at what contributes to the achievement gaps and suggest ways community colleges can better support Black and Hispanic males’ success.”

Research consistently shows that in undergraduate education there is a positive correlation between students’ levels of engagement — with faculty members, other students and the subject matter — and their academic success, said McClenney. An engaged student tends to do things like meet with advisers to discuss career plans, work on projects with other students outside of class, spend hours rewriting and perfecting a research paper, and ask questions in class.

Among male students, Black males are the most engaged, followed by Hispanics, and White males are the least engaged of the three groups. This pattern is consistent across benchmarks and more than 10 years of CCCSE data. When it comes to achievement, the results are reversed — White males consistently have the highest grades and college completion rates, followed by Hispanics. Black males report the lowest outcomes.

“The findings don’t mean engagement isn’t beneficial for Black and Hispanic male students,” said McClenney. “They just signify there are additional factors contributing to these groups’ academic success or failure, and we really need to understand what those are.”
Using the center’s survey data and past scientific research, the report offers two major reasons for the lower academic outcomes: stereotype threat and college readiness.

Stereotype threat refers to what people experience when they are afraid of confirming society’s negative expectations of someone with their social identity (that identity could be based on race, ethnicity, gender, age or religion, for example).

“Even when the stereotyping is subtle and there are no bad intentions or active prejudice intended, stereotype threat can be triggered and have negative results,” said McClenney. “Research indicates this threat is a significant cause of minority underachievement in U.S. higher education.”

Regarding college readiness, the report states that Black and Hispanic students tend to start college needing significant help with academic skills development in multiple areas.

ACT data show, for example, that students of color are much less likely to meet ACT college readiness benchmarks. Around 16 percent of Black students meet the benchmark in reading, compared with 29 percent of Hispanic students and 54 percent of White students. About 14 percent of Black students meet the benchmark in math, compared with 30 percent of Hispanic students and 54 percent of White students.
“CCCSE data reveal that even higher levels of engagement of students of color can’t compensate for the effects of beginning college already well behind the starting gate in terms of academic readiness,” said McClenney.

To address these achievement gaps, the report recommends that community colleges must first acknowledge the reality that “systematic disparities in opportunity and privilege characterize the lives — and educational experiences — of people of color in American society.” It suggests colleges implement high-impact practices that will benefit all students, such as fostering personal connections, setting high expectations and offering high-quality instruction from very engaged faculty.

Colleges also are encouraged to:

  • regularly solicit student feedback.
  • gather and disaggregate data that accurately describe students’ educational experiences.
  • redesign developmental education.
  • boost cultural awareness and competence.
  • improve faculty and staff diversity.

In addition to examining student responses from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, the report also used data from more than 30 student focus groups with Black, Hispanic and White males at community colleges and the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society national convention, as well as six focus groups with community college faculty members and staffers.

“Aspirations to Achievement: Men of Color and Community Colleges” is part of a CCCSE initiative called “Improving Outcomes for Men of Color in Community Colleges” and is funded by the Kresge Foundation. The full report and a companion DVD of student focus groups can be downloaded at www.cccse.org.

The CCCSE is a research and service initiative in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Administration.

Here’s a description of a classroom where a wealth of learning occurs.

Students choose small groups and the teacher asks them to plan a vacation. They can go anywhere.

The first group decides on Washington, D.C. After they do some online research they mark on a map the sites they hope to visit while they’re there. The teacher suggests one student check to see what the average March temperature is for D.C. so they’ll know if they need to dress for snow or sunshine. The teacher also talks to them a bit about what “average” means.

Someone else in the group points out that Virginia is very near the Capital and wants to know if they can drive to Virginia and see some historical sites while they’re so nearby. The teacher tells them to do a little online research and determine if they can fit that into their four days in D.C., given the full schedule they’ve already developed.

She also gives the group one iPad and asks them to find two people who already have been to D.C. They must develop five questions to ask these travelers about the destination and use the iPad to videotape the responses.

The first-graders fire up the iPad and get to work on finding the driving distance between D.C. and Williamsburg.

That’s right, first-graders.

Decades of research show that project-based learning – an approach that encourages students to create, design and implement project ideas that interest them – promotes deeper learning of academic content, boosts problem-solving skills and increases students’ motivation to learn.

It’s only recently, though, that scholars and teachers have embraced the approach for the youngest students.

“Before children enter school their lives are about exploration and learning – they’re going through an extremely rich, rapid phase of development and then, all of a sudden, that can be shut down when they get in the classroom,” said Dr. Jennifer Keys Adair, a College of Education assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and an early childhood education expert.

“Children are made up of a plethora of capabilities, and in the early years they’re developing very quickly in several different domains. When you have children this young sit still at a desk and listen, for 45 minutes at a time, about one way of doing something, you’re only addressing a miniscule area of their capabilities. And you’re shutting down their natural curiosity and drive to figure things out.”

According to Adair project-based learning gets to more of those capabilities quicker, more deeply and more effectively, and children retain the content longer.

Research also shows that children taught with project-based instruction reach academic benchmarks and tend to perform on standardized tests as well as or better than traditionally taught peers.

“Standardized scores are not the reason to embrace project-based learning, however,” said Adair. “The reason is to develop children who become adults who have a wide array of capabilities. They’ll be able to become scientists, problem-solvers and thinkers who can tackle the issues facing their families and communities.”

“Adults may worry that if students are given freedom, they’ll just mess around or waste time, but the project-based learning approach, under the direction of a well-trained teacher, improves everything from confidence and initiative to math and reading abilities – even in the youngest children.” – Dr. Jennifer Adair

In a class where project-based instruction happens, activities start with an inquiry, with children pondering and then formulating questions that puzzle or interest them. The teacher acts as a facilitator and guide in their exploration.

Students, even as early as pre-kindergarten, are motivated to search through books, conduct online research, interview fellow students, consult experts and do experiments to answer questions that excite them.

“The students don’t just choose a topic to pursue but they also get to choose the way they want to learn more it ” said Adair, who has spent over 10 years in classrooms with varying levels of what she calls “school-based agency,” or the ability to influence how and what you learn in a classroom. “They’re given the opportunity to fail and then pick right up again and keep exploring. The teacher gives them direction and pushes them to keep moving when they stall, but it’s amazing what children are able to figure out on their own and through discussion with their peers.”

Adair noted that project-based learning also has been successful at narrowing the achievement gap and promoting learning in traditionally low-achieving student populations.

“Adults may worry that if students are given freedom, they’ll just mess around or waste time,” said Adair. “But the project-based learning approach, under the direction of a well-trained teacher, improves everything from confidence and initiative to math and reading abilities – even in the youngest children. Young children are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.”

Photo by: Christina S. Murrey


Highlights

  • Dr. Jennifer Adair examines how much autonomy young children can manage in the classroom.
  • Traditional instruction limits the amount children learn.
  • Project-based teaching yields deeper learning, better problem-solving skills, increased student motivation.
  • Low-achieving student populations benefit from project-based instruction.

How much science do four-year-olds know? More than you’d think.

To find out if the youngest students bring science knowledge with them to kindergarten, and if they’re capable of learning more than previously assumed, College of Education program coordinator Mary Hobbs and her research team observed, mentored and gathered data alongside 24 Austin area pre-kindergarten teachers.

Mary E. Hobbs, Ph.D.

Mary E. Hobbs, Ph.D.

An additional 24 AISD comparison classrooms were observed and, in all, 2,500 children were involved in the landmark project.

“What we found was that all children have science experiences and knowledge by kindergarten,” said Hobbs, who is coordinator for science initiatives in the Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. “They may come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds and have parents with different levels of education attainment, but each child has absorbed some of what we’d define as science content by kindergarten.”

To assess children’s knowledge, teachers involved in the project gave them several tasks – like sorting and categorizing – that would reveal their grasp of basic, foundational science concepts.

Teachers and students also created raised bed gardens to give the children an outdoor lab in which to use their current science skills and learn even more about science.  Building the gardens, filling them with plants and nurturing the plants provided rich and varied opportunities for teaching life science, physical science and earth science.

According to Hobbs, the garden was an ideal resource to support student learning in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics because:

  • research has shown that preschool children normally are very drawn to the natural world and natural objects.
  • an onsite project like the garden gives all children, regardless of background and family financial resources, a common learning experience.
  • it’s a context in which children can learn everything from facts about plants, animals and the weather to concepts of force and motion.
James P . Barufaldi, Ph.D.

James P . Barufaldi, Ph.D.

“Learning tends to increase and problem-solving skills improve when children have opportunities to explore and they’re able to indulge their natural curiosity,” said Hobbs, “The garden allows children to learn through hands-on activities and inquiry-based instruction. It’s also a learning environment that can be adapted for any age group and in a variety of settings.”

The $2 million, four-year research project, called Building BLOCKS for Science, was the first of its kind to be funded by the National Science Foundation. Dr. James Barufaldi, director for the college’s Center for STEM Education, and Hobbs were co-principal investigators on the grant.

“What we found was that all children have science experiences and knowledge by kindergarten.” – Dr. Mary Hobbs

“The teachers were remarkably responsive and very excited about learning more science themselves as well as discussing with us the best ways to engage the children in science,” said Hobbs. “In working with the students, they started with what they thought was appropriate for that age group and as soon as they observed the students were capable of handling more, they adapted and began to add more varied and challenging activities.”

As part of the grant, the teachers were given intensive professional development training and mentoring support.

Hobbs and her team have shared their project findings with AISD, other Austin area school districts and many private day care facilities. The schools have implemented many of Hobbs’ recommendations, including building over 200 school gardens to use as teaching tools.

“We discovered that adults tend to consistently underestimate how much young children know and understand,” said Hobbs. “Seeing that they’re capable of much more, we can aim to adapt curriculum and do the necessary teacher training and mentoring to better prepare these students for the learning opportunities they’ll encounter later. Science is best taught by doing, and we are doing science in Austin!”

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey


Highlights

  • Dr. James Barufaldi and Dr. Mary Hobbs were co-principal investigators on a grant to examine how much science pre-K children know and can learn.
  • $2 million, four-year project
  • First of its kind to be funded by the National Science Foundation
  • 2,500 Austin area pre-K students were involved in the study
  • 24 teachers received mentoring and helped the researchers gather data

Dr. Deborah Palmer is a leading national expert on creating bilingual education settings where students can thrive and training teachers for multilingual and multicultural classrooms.

What way of teaching a second language works best with early elementary children?
A: Research shows two-way dual language bilingual classrooms seem to be most effective.

What is a two-way dual language program?
A: In two-way dual language bilingual education classes you have English-speaking students and non-English-speaking students in the class, and all students are taught in English as well as the minority language. In Texas schools the most common non-English language in these programs is Spanish.

How much time is devoted to teaching each language?
A: In a well-implemented two-way dual language program, language use is intentional. As far as how much time is devoted to each language in class, there are “50/50 programs,” which divide the time evenly between the two instructional languages. There also are “90/10 programs” and the positive learning outcomes for these appear to be more powerful. In the 90/10, children start out in pre-K or kindergarten working in the non-English language for 90 percent of a day or week and in English for 10 percent of the time.

They continue to do this through 12th grade?
A: In the ideal 90/10 program teachers gradually progress to a 50-50 approach, and by fourth grade students are working in English half of the time and in the other language half of the time. This continues through 12th grade, and they graduate with a dual language diploma. There aren’t many programs in Texas – yet – that do this through graduation.

Even though they’re only hearing and using English 10 percent of the time, the students still manage to become proficient in it?
A: Definitely. Studies show that students in 90/10 programs gain English proficiency at the same rate as they do in 50/50 programs.

That’s very surprising – why is it the case?
A: One extremely important fact to remember is that skills in a first language seem to predict your level of skills in a second language. Research shows that if your first language is strongly supported, respected and honored in the classroom – and you’re immersed in it there – you’re going to learn a second language quicker, easier and better. Children also perform better academically and build stronger language skills if their native culture is respected and recognized in class.

Do you have any current projects in the works that address early elementary dual language programs?
A: I do, in fact. I’m working with Austin ISD to examine the ways in which the implementation process for a two-way dual language program affects its success, and we’re doing a district-wide survey of teachers’ language ideologies as they implement dual language. I should have some results to report in the very near future.

On the topic of learning additional languages in general, is it true that it’s much easier for children to learn a new language than it is for adults?
A: It does tend to be but not for the reasons most people think. Before children are five, they’re still acquiring basic grammar and vocabulary in their primary language If children are exposed to a second language before the age of five, then I like to think of it as a “two-fer” – they can become fluent in two languages and be considered “primary bilinguals.”  Another reason it may seem like children learn a new language more easily is because they tend to be more open and less anxious or inhibited when it comes to trying something new – they’re willing to jump right in. Also, young children have less to learn in order to sound like their age-peers in a second language, so their language agility can be deceptive.

The truth is, adults or older children with more fully developed primary languages have more tools to draw on to learn their second language, and they often do it better and faster than young children.

Photo by: Christina S. Murrey

Sharon Vaughn, Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk

Dr. Sharon Vaughn, an internationally acclaimed reading expert and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER), has been honored with the University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards program’s very prestigious Career Research Excellence Award.

Vaughn, who is the H.E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair in Human Development, is the first female ever to win the award and only the second winner from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

The Research Excellence Award, which is accompanied by $10,000, is given to a UT Austin faculty member or staff researcher who has maintained a superior research program across many years.

In addition to serving as the Executive Director of MCPER, Vaughn also is a professor in the Department of Special Education and director of the Center’s Reading Institute and the Dropout Prevention Institute. She serves on the board of directors for the college’s nationally renowned Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts as well.

“Nationally, among literacy and education scholars, Dr. Vaughn’s name is virtually synonymous with reading research and instruction,” said Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education. “She’s a pioneer in the development and implementation of intervention practices designed to prevent literacy difficulties and improve reading and writing abilities in some of our most in-need student populations – her impact in this area is unprecedented. The College of Education is incredibly fortunate to have someone so highly accomplished.”

At MCPER, over which Dr. Vaughn presides, faculty from a variety of disciplines in addition to education conduct research on autism spectrum disorders, literacy, dropout prevention, English language learners, math learning disabilities, and response to intervention.
Recently Vaughn and colleagues were selected to partner with the George W. Bush Institute and, with a $2.6 million grant, launch the Middle School Matters Institute. The Institute will focus on translating research into practice in middle schools and will address struggling learners’ needs in several core subjects.

In 2010, under Vaughn’s leadership the Center secured the largest grant the College of Education has ever received – $20 million from the Institute of Education Sciences – and what is thought to be the largest grant ever awarded to any college or school of education.
In total, Vaughn has been responsible for around $60 million in funding since she joined the College of Education.

Currently, she is principal investigator on several Institute of Education Sciences, Texas Education Agency and U.S. Department of Education research grants as well as a major National Institute for Child Health and Human Development grant which is allowing her to investigate response to intervention in students with reading difficulties.

During her more than three decades of scholarship, Vaughn has been recognized with numerous honors, including:

  • Distinguished Researcher Award from the American Educational Research Association
  • UT Austin’s Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Award
  • Special Education Research Award from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Jeannette E. Fleischner Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Learning Disabilities from the CEC
  • Albert J. Harris Award from the International Reading Association
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from The Institute for Literacy and Learning
  • J. Lee Wiederholdt Award from the Council for Learning Disabilities

She has authored more than 35 books that have informed instructional design and other other researchers’ scholarship. She has also written more than 250 research articles. In addition, she has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Learning Disabilities and serves on the editorial review boards for 10 different journals that focus on individuals with disabilities.

“This Career Research Excellence Award is such a fitting tribute to Dr. Vaughn’s stature in the field of education,” said Justiz. “And it is a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to her for working so diligently to make sure that all children have an opportunity to learn.”

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey