Dr. Jie Zhang presents Spencer Fellowship project to National Academy of Education

WKU’s Department of Educational Administration, Leadership and Research is pleased to congratulate and celebrate Dr. Jie Zhang, Assistant Professor, Research Methods, for presenting her postdoctoral fellowship research at the National Academy of Education (NAEd) Annual Meeting and Fellows Retreat, November 14, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Dr. Zhang was one of only twenty postdoctoral fellows selected nationally by NAEd for the 2013-2015 award cycle, receiving grant funding in the amount of $55,000 to support her research focused on English Language Learners (ELL) titled, “Morphological Awareness and Word Learning in First and Second Language.”

“I am extremely honored to be part of the NAEd/Spencer postdoc fellow 2013 cohort,” said Dr. Zhang.  “The research project and professional development activities throughout the fellow retreats have significantly enhanced my capacity and passion in being an educational researcher.”

Dr. Zhang’s research examined how children use morphology (word parts) to infer the meanings of new words while reading or in isolation, and whether morphological awareness facilitates word learning ability, which in turn, contributes to reading comprehension in both their first and second languages.

“Struggling ELLs seem to read texts as fluently and accurately as their native English speaking peers, but they don’t know what the text is all about,” explained Dr. Zhang.  “A big obstacle of reading comprehension difficulties for ELLs is their limited English vocabulary and background knowledge. Given the increasing text complexity in the common core reading era, helping struggling readers to achieve the goal of reading for understanding is important yet challenging.”

About 400 fourth- and fifth- \graders from two school districts in Bowling Green, KY participated in the study.  Major findings from the study include:   1) native English (NE) speaking students and fluent English proficient (FEP) ELLs are better able to use morphological analysis to derive new word meaning than the limited English proficient students; and, 2) word reading fluency mediates the relationship between morphological awareness and reading comprehension for the LEP group, but word meaning inference ability mediates the relationship for the NE and FEP groups.

The findings deepen understanding of how morphological awareness supports reading comprehension in first and second languages and call for attention to the role of English proficiency in investigating the underlying mechanism between morphological awareness and reading comprehension. An educational implication is that instructional programs that link instruction in decoding to word meaning inference strategies while reading are critical for LEP students.

Dr. Zhang’s presentation on her research was well-received by the Fellows during the retreat.  Her research presentation was facilitated by noted scholar Dr. Kenji Hakuta, Lee J. Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford University and expert in the implementation of the common core standards with ELL.  Over the past year while working on her research, Dr. Zhang has been mentored by two of the most prestigious scholars in language and literacy education, Dr. Catherine Snow from Harvard, and Dr. Annemarie Palincsar from the University of Michigan.

“Dr. Zhang is a bright star and emerging scholar in educational research,” said EALR department head Dr. Marguerita DeSander. “The Educational Administration, Leadership and Research department is proud of her accomplishments.”

EALR professors, doctoral students, make presentations at MSERA

Next week’s annual conference of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, held in Knoxville, Tennessee, will feature research presentations co-authored by several professors associated with the WKU’s Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research, and every paper represents a collaborative project with doctoral students from the WKU doctorate in educational leadership program or graduate research assistants affiliated with the WKU Rock Solid evaluation project.

Paper presentations include the following:

  • “Catholic School Faculty Meetings: A Case Study Linking Catholic Identity, School Improvement, and Teacher Engagement” by WKU EDD alumnus Dr. Daryl C. Hagan (superintendent of schools for the Evansville, IN, Catholic diocese)  and EALR professor Dr. Gary Houchens (advisor).
  • “Enhancing Instructional Leadership Through Collaborative Coaching: A Multi-Case Study,” by Gary Houchens, WKU EDD alumnus Dr. Tom Stewart (Kentucky Department of Education), and current WKU doctoral candidate Sara Jennings (teacher, Bowling Green Independent Schools).
  • “Risk Factors for High School Drop-outs in Kentucky,” presented by WKU EDD program director Dr. Tony Norman.  Co-authors include WKU EDD alumna Dr. Chunling Niu, graduate research assistants Candace Elliot and J.P. Clark, and EALR professors Drs. Jie Zhang, Steve Miller, and Gary Houchens.
  • “Personalized Learning: A Theoretical Review and Implications for Assessing kid-FRIENDLy Student Outcomes,” presented by Dr. Gary Houchens and WKU EDD doctoral student Trudy-Ann Crossbourne.  Co-authors include professors Jie Zhang and Tony Norman and graduate research assistants Laura Fisher and Morgan Schraeder.
  • “A Synthesis of Competency-Based Instruction: Implications for Developing Classroom Observation Protocols for Race to the Top-District kid-FRIENDLy Schools,” presented by WKU EDD doctoral student J.P. Clark.  Co authors include professors Tony Norman, Jie Zhang, Gary Houchens, and Steve Miller, as well as EDD alumna Dr. Chunling Niu.

Conferences such as MSERA allow professors and graduate students to share and discuss their latest research, generate new ideas for future studies, and further prepare their work for publication.  Congratulations to all of this year’s MSERA participants.

WKU profs provide “Rock Solid” program evaluation services

Rock Solid logoA team of professors representing several different departments at Western Kentucky University are serving as external evaluators on the $42 million Race to the Top grant being administered by the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative (GRREC) and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC).

Calling themselves the Rock Solid Evaluation Team, this collaborative of WKU scholars and their supporting team of graduate assistants conducts on-going research assessing implementation of the Race to the Top grant and its impact on students in 122 participating schools.  The team includes Drs. Jie ZhangGary Houchens, and transitional retiree Steve Miller from the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, & Research; Dr. Jenni Redifer from the Department of Psychology; and Dr. Amber Schroeder from the Department of Psychological Sciences.  Dr. Tony Norman, director of WKU’s Doctor of Educational Leadership program is the project director and principal investigator.  Office associate Courtney Kepple provides administrative support and helps oversee the work of graduate assistants from the EdD and educational psychology programs.

The GRREC/OVEC grant, administered as the kid-FRIENDLy (kid-Focused, Responsible, Imaginative, Engaged, and Determined to Learn) project, includes five major components: 1) promoting students as leaders (primarily through implementation of Franklin-Covey program Leader in Me); 2) encouraging the growth and development of teacher and school leaders; 3) implementing competency-based instruction, and 4) promoting personalized learning.  The Rock Solid team works closely with kid-FRIENDLy to monitor program implementation and assess results.  The team will present several papers summarizing the first full year of the grant’s implementation at the upcoming Mid-South Educational Research Association annual conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, November 5-7.

The Rock Solid team is also carrying out research on a new teacher perception survey based on Kentucky’s Standards and Indicators for School Improvement and the Teaching, Empowering, Leading, and Learning (TELL Kentucky) teacher survey of working conditions.  To learn more about Rock Solid and the full scope of its evaluation services, visit their website here.