“Our college continues to reach new heights of excellence in graduate teaching, research, and outreach,” said Dean Jean K. Quam. “We are focused on improving the lives of students across Minnesota, the nation, and the world.”
Rankings methodology: U.S. News surveyed 379 schools granting education doctoral degrees. It calculates rankings based on quality assessments from peer institutions and school superintendents nationwide, student selectivity, and faculty research and resources, which includes student/faculty ratio and faculty awards as well as support for research.
Becca Pierce didn’t always see herself in the field of special education. Growing up, learning came easily to her, and she couldn’t understand how the other students weren’t able to find solutions. It wasn’t until Pierce began teaching and working with students with special needs that she fell in love with the field.
“The rewards are too many to count. You get them everyday,” she says. “There’s so much love in the world of education!”
As a special education teacher, Pierce would carefully watch how her students reacted to her instruction by their body language and expressions. She used this technique, along with progress monitoring data, to adapt her instruction to fit the different needs of students. Pierce attributes much of her success as a teacher to her belief that students need to feel emotionally safe in order to learn.
“I’d look at my instruction and try something different,” she recalls “At first, it was a lot of trial and error to find something from which a particular student would benefit. But as years went by, those trials and errors wove themselves into patterns and it made it easier,” Pierce says.
She continues, “When I came to the U of M to do my doctoral degree and started reading the research, one of my reactions was a bit of anger. The research was telling me (through one article) what it had taken me years to learn from my students.”
“In the moment, it’s a joy to witness students master a skill…But as I taught long enough, I could see them become adults and tap into the strengths we worked on. To see students using the same strengths in their jobs and becoming successful wage earners, adults, parents, and spouses that became the bigger reward.”
In the future, Pierce hopes to keep learning how she can help students by preparing special education teachers with the tools they need to better serve students’ needs.
“In the past, I learned from students,” she says. “Now, I need to learn from our teacher candidates to better prepare them with the heart and passion for the job.”
Outside of work, Pierce enjoys traveling. She grew up in Madagascar and spent time teaching in Cameroon, Japan, and Qatar. She and her husband like to travel to places they can scuba dive.
Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants with older siblings with autism, researchers from around the country, including the University of Minnesota (UMN), were able to predict which infants would later meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at two years of age, with 80 percent accuracy.
“This area of research is incredibly exciting because it provides an opportunity to understand how autism unfolds early in life,” said Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in educational psychology at UMN and a study co-author. “It provides new clues about the timing and specific mechanisms of brain development that precede a diagnosis. It also offers the unprecedented possibility of predicting whether or not a child will develop autism based on neurobiological data.”
“Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three. But for babies with older autistic siblings, our imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months,” said senior author Joseph Piven, M.D., the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The project’s other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition to the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development, other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the College of Charleston, and New York University (see ibisnetwork.org for more information.)
For this study, published today in Nature, the team of researchers conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12 and 24 months of age. They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year.
The researchers then took these data – MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at 6 and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants – and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age. The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants.
The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of 10 infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age in comparison to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months.
According to the researchers, the findings may have implications for early detection and intervention in children who have older siblings with autism before a diagnosis is typically established. Diagnosis of ASD typically occurs after 24 months of age, the earliest time when behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed. Intervening early could lead to improved outcomes, as the brain is more malleable in the first years of life compared with later in childhood.
“The findings lay the foundation for the field to move toward attempting to implement interventions before the symptoms that define autism consolidate into a diagnosis,” said study co-author Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UMN Institute of Child Development.
“Much of what we do as a field to help individuals with autism is reactive,” Wolff said. “We wait for children to fall behind before providing an intervention. We may now be able to find ways to prevent that from ever happening.”
The National Institutes of Health funded this study.
Stanley L. Deno—professor emeritus until his passing on October 12, 2016—will be honored with a University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award. Deno graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. After earning his doctorate, he became a faculty member at the University of Delaware from 1965 to 1969. In 1969, Deno returned to the University of Minnesota where he was a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology until he retired in 2009.
Deno is receiving this award for his career’s work, which focused on students’ progress in developing basic skills. His research led to the development of simple indicators to index student strengths in reading, writing, and math that measure performance over time. Known as Curriculum-Based Measurement (CBM), these indicators are now a set of federally-recognized procedures that teachers use nationwide to identify and help special education students with mild disabilities who are underperforming in the classroom.
Deno’s work—described by colleagues as “brilliant”—influenced educational policy and practice, and inspired researchers who are dedicated to improving student learning. In an interview, he said that teaching possessed the greatest chance of leading to lasting social change in relation to educational innovations. He carried that perspective throughout his career both in his research and as a mentor to students and colleagues, saying, “once an adviser, always an adviser.”
Deno’s family will accept his Outstanding Achievement Award on his behalf in a late May 2017 ceremony.
Asha Jitendra, Rodney Wallace Professor for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning in in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, delivered a keynote speech at this year’s Specific Learning Disabilities Conference on December 2 at the Maliya Aditi International School in Bangalore, India.
Jitendra’s keynote, “Effective practices that accommodate diverse learners: Research to practice,” presented effective instructional strategies for enhancing the academic performance.
Prior to the conference, Jitendra led a workshop on “Helping teachers teach elementary students word problem solving using schema-based instruction.” The goal of the workshop was to equip elementary school teachers with effective instructional strategies for teaching mathematics to children with learning problems.
In addition to delivering the keynote and leading the pre-conference workshop, Jitendra also hosted two breakout sessions at the event. The first was “Big Ideas in Mathematics” and focused on developing big ideas in fractions and proportional reasoning to promote mathematical understanding. The second was called “Improving mathematical problem solving using strategy instruction.” In this session, Jitendra demonstrated how visual representations can help students focus on the relationship between quantities central to many mathematical problems.
This first-ever Specific Learning Disabilities Conference was a national event organized to address the need for greater awareness and understanding of Specific Learning Disabilities in India. The purpose of the conference was to: increase awareness of the nature of specific Learning Disabilities among middle and high school students; share subject specific classroom and home based strategies; discuss existing accommodations and accommodation pathways; examine existing policies and laws; and empower stakeholders to advocate for the rights of students with specific learning disabilities.
On December 2, Jennifer McComas, associate chair and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, led a calling party of roughly 20 faculty and students in the special education and school psychology programs. The group contacted federal lawmakers to encourage them to approve a Continuing Resolution for funding that includes funding at last year’s level for Personnel Preparation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
“The House and Senate are expected to vote on a Continuing Resolution by December 9, before they recess for the remainder of the year. Federal funding for Personnel Preparation under IDEA is essential for institutions of higher education to support students in teacher preparation and leadership training programs. In just the past 5 years, more than a dozen Ph.D. students and countless licensure students in the Educational Psychology program have received federal grants and scholarships to support their education. A funding reduction would almost certainly mean a decrease in available fiscal support for students in our Special Education and School Psychology programs. And disabilities affect us regardless of political ideology or party affiliation, so it is one issue that is easy to talk about with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.”
What teacher most impacted you? For recent Pomegranate Prize recipient Rachel Harari, it was Rose Vukovic. When Harari was an undergraduate English honors student at New York University, she approached Vukovic, an assistant professor at NYU at the time, hoping to learn about students with learning disabilities. Vukovic challenged Harari to stretch herself beyond simply learning about the topic and, instead, to find a way to contribute to it. As a result, the two worked together to publish a study on mathematics anxiety in young children. Vukovic says it’s this kind of collaboration that brought her to Minnesota to be the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Educational Psychology.
Upon receiving their awards, Pomegranate Prize winners were encouraged to create a 20-second video thanking their most influential teacher. Harari, now the department chair and an English teacher at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, NY, thanked Vukovic in a video saying, “I wanted to thank Rose Vukovic, my professor at NYU, for showing me that it’s not enough to just have an idea. That you have to actually make it happen. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, Rose.” Watch her video.
The Pomegranate Prize honors rising leaders who have been in the field of Jewish education for up to ten years. The award is given by the Covenant Foundation which honors outstanding Jewish educators and supports creative approaches to programming. The Foundation works to strengthen educational endeavors that perpetuate the identity, continuity and heritage of the Jewish people.
The article discusses the value of early access to visual language for d/Deaf children—specifically those with hearing parents. After noticing a gap between the literacy skills of sixth grade deaf children who had been exposed to ASL from birth and those who had not, Golos developed a video series calledPeter’s Pictureto promote language and literacy development in DHH children. Increasing evidence shows that learning ASL can benefit all children—deaf, hard of hearing, hearing, and deaf children who use spoken language. ASL helps increase children’s spoken language skills because it provides a foundation for language. Penny, whose first language is ASL, says videos, like the Peter’s Picture series, are an extremely effective way to teach ASL. “Whether the parents are skilled or not skilled (in ASL), it’s important to give children a way to learn ASL because ASL is their natural language, period,” he told theMinnesota Daily. In the article, Golos discussed plans for future research—creating additional videos in the series and supplemental materials for teachers and deaf children but also adding voice over options for those who are not fluent in ASL. Finally, she’d like to conduct additional studies to see how these types of educational media can be used both in the classroom and at home.
Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program, and colleagues like Jed Elison, assistant professor in the Institute for Child Development, are trying to better understand the causes of autism spectrum disorder — to diagnose it at earlier stages when treatment is more effective and to anticipate needs for therapy and support in the larger community. Read more.
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has awarded the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDILab) three $1.4 million, four-year grants to expand research in assessment of early language and literacy development of children ages three to five. Three researchers from the Department of Educational Psychology— Alisha Wackerle-Hollman (school psychology), Scott McConnell (special education), and Michael Rodriguez (quantitative methods in education)— will lead the IGDILab grants. Colleagues (and College of Education and Human Development alumni) from the Universities of Oregon, Washington, and Nebraska and Lehigh University will help conduct the research.
In a joint statement on the three grants Dr. McConnell and Dr. Wackerle-Hollman wrote, “We are excited to expand our work on IGDIs, and to continue the long line of research and application of General Outcome Measures— a line of work that Stan Deno and colleagues initiated almost 40 years ago. While the methods are slightly different, the overall aim remains the same: Produce psychometrically rigorous measures that are easy to use, so that teachers and others can have a better sense of their students’ current development and possible need for additional supports.”
Progress Monitoring Individual Growth and Development Indicators (PM-IGDIs) will develop a set of tools to assess young children’s language and literacy skills at frequent intervals and depict performance trajectories over time to aid in identifying children in need of intervention. Specifically, PM-IGDIs will examine four-and five-year-olds’ phonological awareness, oral language, alphabet knowledge and comprehension. Read the abstract.
Progress Monitoring – Spanish – Individual Growth and Development Indicators (PM – S – IGDIs) will use procedures and analyses similar to PM-IGDIs to develop a set of tools to frequently measure Spanish early language and literacy performance of young Spanish-English Dual Language Learners. PM-S-IGDIs will examine four and five-year-olds’ Spanish phonological awareness, oral language and alphabet knowledge. Read the abstract.
“Nearly one in four children in the United States is Latino and more than one in five comes from a home where a language other than English is spoken,” says Dr. Wackerle-Hollman. “But within that group, research tells us up to 85% are not proficient readers by fourth grade. It is clear that we must improve how we support our SE-DLL students, and we’re excited to contribute to that work with new, empirically sound and conceptually strong measurement tools.”
An extension of the existing Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs) measurement system, IGDIs – PK3 will assess the language and literacy development of three-year-olds. These measures will lead to improvements in school readiness for preschool children by providing an age appropriate assessment from age three to kindergarten entry. Read the abstract.
“As early childhood services continue to expand in Minnesota and throughout the nation, we’ll need better ways to assess and support age-appropriate progress for younger and younger children,” says Dr. McConnell. “This project extends our reach, exploring new ways to extend General Outcome Measurement to even younger children.”
The IGDILab researches, develops, validates, and applies IGDIs to support data-based decision making by teachers, early childhood professionals, parents, and others to help improve early childhood outcomes. To date, the lab’s work includes the assessment of English and Spanish language and early literacy development for children three, four, and five years of age. In the future, research, data, and learned methods from the IGDILab plan to be applied to other languages, domains of development, and new settings, including communities.
The article defines the “word gap” as the “30 million word-exposure gulf that exists between children born into low-income families and their more affluent peers by the age of three.” It goes on to explain how one new early childhood education class at Northstar Mona Moede Early Childhood Center in North Minneapolis is attempting to lessen this gap, using a recording device and course materials that are part of a program called LENA StartTM. Parents participating in the program record a day’s worth of their child’s speech patterns, and a coach analyzes the results and offers advice.
Dr. McConnell, who is working to help implement and evaluate the LENA Start program in the Twin Cities, told MinnPost, “It’s really common for families to say, ‘I had no idea I was a teacher.’ Our experience with LENA so far is that parents are overwhelmed, in a positive way, by seeing their own data.”