DALLAS (SMU) – SMU Simmons’ Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) will join Temple University in conducting a “Learning through Play” national study. The LEGO Foundation has awarded a $19.98 million grant to fund the longitudinal study. SMU’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) at Simmons will be the Dallas site lead for the national study and will receive $2.8 million over 5 years to conduct the work locally.
CORE Executive Director, Dr. Annie Wright will serve as the Principal Investigator, with CORE Assistant Director Dylan Farmer and Dr. Toni Harrison-Kelly, Executive Director at the SMU Budd Center, serving as Co-PIs. The study will follow students from Pre-K through 4th grade. The researchers will study how creating active, engaged, socially interactive classrooms can bring about deeper learning and joyful teaching.
A pilot study will take place in the 2023-2024 academic year with the full study beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. According to Wright, SMU CORE will coordinate all research activities for the project and will consult the national team on school partnerships, parent engagement and community engagement. “We are honored to be selected to be part of this important work; we believe it will strengthen our research-practice partnerships with local school districts.” The study will hire a local research coordinator as well as coaches to work with the national Active Playful Learning team.
Leon Simmons Endowed Dean Stephanie Knight says, “SMU CORE’s involvement in this study speaks to the caliber of work being done by Annie Wright and her staff. Their reputation in education research and evaluation is well-earned. I know they will add valuable data to this equation that could ultimately lead to a way to re-imagine education in and out of the classroom.”
The study, which will prioritize under-resourced schools around the country, convened top scientists in the United States to develop an infrastructure that will support long-term sustainability in the participating school districts. The project will be led by Temple University Professor Kathy Hirsh-Pasek who is a New York Times Bestselling author on Early Childhood Education. Six other universities from around the country including University of California Irvine and University of Virginia, will join SMU Simmons in conducting the study. SMU Simmons is the #1 ranked private graduate school of education in the southwest and in the top 50 among public and private graduate schools of education in the 2023-2024 U.S. News & World Report rankings.
The Dallas Morning News called on University Distinguished Professor Jill Allor to comment on Dallas ISD plans to help parents prepare their prekindergarteners for school. Allor, a top researcher in literacy acquisition for students with and without disabilities, explained that oral language development for infants through three-year-olds is a crucial pre-reading skill. Read more.
On KRLD Radio, Clinical Professor Les Black, Department of Education Policy and Leadership, talked about COVID’s impact on parents and taking steps to hold children back. Professor Black’s specialty is education policy and law.
He said holding back students would not be advisable, but ultimately it would be up to the parents. In most cases, parents and school administrators work together to determine what would be best for the student. The new Texas law, HB4545, which allows for accelerated instruction, would be important to consider. To hear his interview, click here.
The Dallas Morning News gives a thorough look at how a teacher can administer quick literacy tests to assess how students are progressing, as they build up their knowledge after staying at home during the pandemic.
Featured is Kindergarten teacher Michelle Davis, who is getting a graduate degree in education from the Simmons School. One of her professors, Diane Gifford, Ph.D., explains why this approach is effective in getting students up to speed. For a full version of the story, read more.
Veronica Mellado De La Cruz, a Ph.D. student in Simmons, has been awarded a 2020-21 Moody Dissertation Fellowship from the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. Her award of $30,000 will help her research her dissertation topic that focuses on early reading assessments in English and Spanish for emerging bilingual students. She is one of four Moody Dissertation Fellows this year.
Her proposed work is an extension of a larger, and now complete, Institute of Education Science-funded project exploring brief, published tests for effectively measuring kindergartners’ early literacy growth and efficiently predicting reading difficulties (PI Nathan Clemens; Co-PI Stephanie Al Otaiba).
“When I joined the project and as my training in the Ph.D. program progressed, I began to formulate questions about whether scores on first language early literacy skills might be helpful to educators who use these data for instructional decisions,” she says.
Professor Stephanie Al Otaiba, dissertation advisor, says Mellado De La Cruz has had extensive training experiences at SMU through a doctoral training grant, the National Center for Leadership on Intensive Intervention, and workshops on learning different analytic methods. “She has already authored and co-authored several publications in peer-reviewed journals, and has made presentations at national conferences,” she says. “Veronica is likely to go on to have a position in educational research for the vulnerable population of students with intensive intervention needs.”
Mellado De La Cruz received her B.A. in Psychology from SMU in 2007, and says that years later when she developed an interest in education research, she reached out to Simmons faculty. Her contact with them lead her to apply for the doctoral program.”I am a Pony through and through!,” she adds.
To help parents reinforce their children’s early reading, Professor Jill Allor in Simmons’ Department of Teaching and Learning offers video guides, based on her research on beginning and struggling readers, including those with disabilities. In the segment below, watch how Clinical Assistant Professor Miriam Ortiz, reads with her six year-old child, Gabriel.
Professor Allor shows how to choose books that children can read out loud to their parents, and learn words they need to know. As an example, she uses the same book seen above in Miriam Ortiz’s video from the Friends on the Block book series.
In the next segment, Dr. Miriam Ortiz and her four year-old son, Daniel, read a level one book, Sam’s Lunch.
Dr. Allor explains how to help your reader, especially if your child stumbles on a word or has a disability. She recommends following four steps, “I, We, You and Repeat,” which she explains in this video:
Associate Professor Doris Luft Baker collaborated with The Dallas Morning News on workshops to inform a group of Spanish-speaking parents about early childhood development and learn to disseminate the information on social media.
Luft Baker studied the groups over the duration of the workshops and concludes the mothers who attended the workshops significantly increased their early childhood knowledge, and children whose mothers attended the workshops significantly increased their Spanish expressive vocabulary.
However, Luft Baker did not find significant effects of the workshops on parental technology knowledge and literacy knowledge. Her article is featured in the Bilingual Research Journal.
Child Care Associates (CCA), a significant Fort Worth nonprofit supporting the development of children from zero to five years of age, honored Simmons’ Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) at its second annual luncheon, October 16.
CORE received the North Texas Early Childhood Leadership Award for improving children’s educational outcomes by helping establish research-based quality standards in classrooms, and by measuring outcomes accurately. CORE also was cited for engaging fully with its partners.
“Early education is a bright spot for education for those investing in education and innovation,” says CCA’s CEO Kara Waddell. “CCA created the award in 2018 to spotlight individuals and organizations who go above and beyond in advancing outcomes for young children.”
The early childhood organization also recognized philanthropist Happy Baggett, who has raised the visibility of early education as a key economic development factor in place-based planning.
Professor Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education and director of Research in Mathematics Education, has been tapped to participate in CADRE, a National Science Foudation funded steering committee to broaden participation in preK- 12 STEM education.
Part of her contribution includes co-writing briefs based on NSF supported research that underscores steps educators can take to improve STEM.
She is featured in a video about this work, produced by CADRE K-12.
Paige Ware, interim dean of Simmons, in a commentary written for The Dallas Morning News proposes that the Texas Legislature continue with its commitment to funding pre-K education by increasing the quality of the programs and the allocation of money.
She suggests looking at the way Michigan has made a difference in the education of young children. Read her commentary here.