New research on instruction isn’t the goal; whether existing research is being implemented in the classroom is

During her decade-long research career at the MGH Institute, Dr. Joanna Christodoulou has undertaken dozens of research studies and grants to learn the best ways of teaching children with reading limitations or learning disabilities, and the one constant has been the search for what works to improve reading skills.

The latest grant the director of the Brain, Education, and Mind (BEAM) Lab received is a bit different: the goal isn’t to find new information, but rather, the best way to implement research findings that are already established.

That’s the focus of the W.T. Grant Foundation funding for the study, “Improving the Use of Research Evidence for Teaching Students with Language-Based Learning Disabilities.” This year-long $50,000 grant will fund members of the BEAM Lab and Associate Professor of Healthcare Data Analytics Dr. Annie Fox and will be carried out in collaboration with the Landmark School Outreach Program and its partnership with multiple local school districts. Landmark Outreach provides instructional coaching and consultation to schools and districts on how to best support students with language-based learning disabilities.

 "They're exploring the efficacy of their instructional coaching model in the context of a public-school setting. They want to understand how to best collaborate with educators and school leaders to integrate the latest research into their classroom settings," said Christodoulou. “It's not just about doing research. It’s about implementing research findings.”

Christodoulou’s team will be evaluating Landmark Outreach’s instructional coaching model with schools throughout the Commonwealth on the best ways to help educators support students with language-based learning disabilities.

"They initiated this investigative project," said Christodoulou. "Their approach is, 'What's the point of educational research if we're not able to bridge research to practice to effectively impact student outcomes?' That's the best part of these collaborative efforts. We can work together to bring the data to life."

Studies trying to show the professional development of teachers and their impact have largely fallen short, says Christodoulou, adding that it’s difficult to find the exact impact of programs. She says the goal of her evaluation is to see how the teachers teach following Landmark team’s coaching and consulting over an academic year.

So, what will be different from this research effort measuring teacher impact? For starters, surveys, tools for training, and a classroom observation checklist will be just some of the assets and approaches created and utilized over the next year.

“Our research team is going into classrooms with an inventory of the instructional practices that we're expecting teachers to implement as a result of their time with Landmark Outreach,” said Christodoulou, an associate Professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program. “One thing about Landmark Outreach is, they're not coming in doing things, chatting at people, and leaving. It’s hands-on, year-round, in-person coaching, instruction, and guidance by experienced Landmark School faculty. It's about relationships and being there for constructive feedback throughout the year.

“A lot of us are excited to see where there could be impact. For all the research that we do at the student level, the work would be for naught unless adopted and implemented.” 

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