UGA College of Education researchers seek more educators for teaching method study

April 25, 2012

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Athens, Ga. - Researchers in the University of Georgia College of Education are currently seeking third- and fifth-grade classroom teachers to participate in the second cohort of their Instructional Conversation teaching strategy study.

"About two years ago, we received a four-year, $2.9 million grant from the federal government to investigate the effectiveness of a teaching method called Instructional Conversation for improving the academic achievement of English language learners in upper elementary grades," said Karen Samuelsen, an assistant professor of educational psychology and co-investigator of the project.

"Numerous small-scale studies have shown IC to be an effective strategy for this population; however, none of the studies met the evidence standards the government needs to make new policies or recommendations," said Samuelsen. "Our study is meant to fill that gap and definitively say that IC works for ELLs. We also are examining its effectiveness for students who speak English as their first language and expect to see the same result."

Teachers from participating schools must commit to the project for two years. They will be randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group. Teachers in the treatment group will receive training in the IC model during the summer, and instructional support from an experienced teacher/partner from their own district for a full year after that to help master the teaching strategy. The study pays for the time and effort of participating teachers and teacher coaches, as well as the professional development.

About 55 teachers in Gainesville City, Clarke, Colquitt, Hall, Jackson and Newton county school districts are participating in the first cohort. About 35 more teachers from Gwinnett and DeKalb county school districts are currently signed up for the second cohort that will eventually include up to 90 teachers. UGA researchers hope to find those additional teachers in Dalton City, Dougherty, Forsyth, Habersham, Lee, Mitchell, Whitfield and Worth County school districts.

The concept behind Instructional Conversation is to spark an educational dialogue between students and teachers in a small group setting. In doing so, connections to students' lives can be made, higher-order thinking emphasized and lessons differentiated. "We need to get students talking in the classroom using academic language and having conversations like adults, in which they question each other and ask why," said Samuelsen.

She said that English-language learners often have a strong grasp of "conversational language," but that way of communicating does not translate well to the material covered on the state tests. "Sometimes educators mistakenly believe that ELLs will be fine in the classroom because they are skilled conversationally," Samuelsen said. "What they need is practice with this academic language-first hearing it, then saying it, and finally, owning it."

For more information, contact the grant coordinator, Marcy Nejat (MNejat@uga.edu).

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