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NSF-funded College of Education project recognized by White House initiative

  |   Kathryn Kao   |   Permalink   |   Kudos,   Research,   Students and Faculty

LISELL-B, a $2.6 million NSF-funded research and development project housed in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, was recently recognized by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics as a new Bright Spots program.

In commemoration of its 25th anniversary, the Initiative has chosen over 230 Bright Spots programs, models and organizations to highlight the ongoing efforts that are taking place across the country, at the local, state and federal levels, to support Latino educational attainment and excellence. By highlighting the work of these programs, the Initiative hopes to encourage collaboration among stakeholders focused on supporting Latino educational excellence.

The Language-Rich Inquiry Science with English Language Learners through Biotechnology project, or LISELL-B, was one of only five programs in Georgia recognized for supporting and ensuring the educational attainment of Hispanic students.

"This kind of recognition helps in efforts to create sustainability and scalability for the project," said Cory Buxton, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Education in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice and the project's principal investigator. "It helps add to our credibility as we try to expand."

LISELL-B builds on the professional learning framework and assessment instruments developed in a prior NSF-funded project with middle school teachers. As a cross-sectional, longitudinal study, LISELL-B is focused on supporting and teaching the language of science to middle and high school students with a special emphasis on English language learners and biotechnology.

"We're trying to educate well-rounded young people who can have a chance to go out into the world and do something positive," said Buxton. "To accomplish this goal, we know we need to work collaboratively with teachers, students and families across various contexts."

In the school context, one primary goal of LISELL-B is to construct and test instructional and assessment strategies needed to encourage science talk, writing and action among students. Continual practice using the language of science is necessary for all students, and it's especially crucial for English language learners to meet the challenges of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core.

Beyond the school context, other project goals include encouraging family engagement in science learning, promoting college and career awareness and readiness for students and families and strengthening relationships among teachers, their English language learner students and those students' families.

In addition to visiting various postsecondary institutions—ranging from the University of Georgia to Athens Technical College—students also attend development workshops to practice skills needed for careers in biotechnology and other STEM fields.

According to Buxton, some of the project's results show that bilingual Hispanic students often outperform their peers on tests when they are given the option to read questions in both English and Spanish.

"We should be supporting kids in maintaining and enhancing their bilingualism since that's a strength, a resource and a valuable job skill," he said. "It's not replacing English, but adding to it and giving kids resources in both languages. Having two opportunities to make sense of things in two different ways can be a great asset to learning complex ideas."

The project hosts several workshops throughout the year, including an annual two-week biotechnology summer camp for students; a series of Saturday family workshops focused on preparing students for college; and an annual four-day summer institute to support teachers in adopting the LISELL pedagogical model for developing the language of scientific practices.

"A test of science shouldn't be a test of reading, but the reality is that it often is," said Buxton. "In the workshops, we help teachers look at the language demands they're putting on kids, often without being aware of it, and we explore how teachers can help students decode this language so that they can both understand the science and communicate that understanding."

Cory Buxton researches bilingual learners, science investigation practices, design-based teacher professional learning, family engagement in college and career readiness, and the language of science. His research fosters more equitable science learning opportunities for all students with an emphasis on emergent bilingual learners.

The project's co-principal investigators are Martha Allexsaht-Snider, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice, Allan Cohen, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Zhenqiu (Laura) Lu, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology.

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