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Research Spotlight: Angela Kohnen

Angela Kohnen

Q & A with Angela Kohnen, Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I am very interested in understanding the teaching of writing and the role of writing in classrooms across the curriculum, K-12. Some of the questions I hope to answer include: how do teachers across the curriculum learn to incorporate writing into their classrooms? What are the most effective ways to prepare teachers to teach writing? How does the teaching of writing impact student and teacher identity?

We are in an interesting place when it comes to writing instruction. The Common Core State Standards have brought more attention to writing instruction than we’ve had for years, but the standardized writing tests have also created a lot of pressure. In some places, we see more formulaic instruction rather than authentic writing, which I find troubling.

What makes your work interesting?

Everything! I love my work. I feel very privileged that I get to ask interesting questions, explore the answers, and write about all of this for a living. Writing and writing instruction can be very powerful. I have worked with teachers in a wide range of classrooms, including elementary, secondary English, science, welding, construction, and culinary arts, and in each context we have been able to find ways that writing enhances the curriculum and helps students develop into the kind of people the teachers were hoping they would become. It isn’t always easy, but that’s also what makes the work interesting. For example, coming to understand how writing can help students become welders—learn to think like welders and enact the processes of welding—that’s fascinating! I’m most engaged when I am working in fields and places where I can learn too.

What are you currently working on?

My colleagues in English Education and I are beginning a long-term study on how teachers think about and enact their role as writing teachers. We hope to work with our secondary English Education students from the time they begin our program into their first years in the field to understand how they make sense of the competing demands they face as teachers of writing. Each day, in each lesson, teachers are influenced by so many different factors: the way they were taught themselves; the curriculum they’ve been given or are creating; their students’ expectations and preparation; standardized testing; and, we hope, what they learn in a teacher preparation program. How that all plays out in their actual instruction is something we want to understand more.

I am also continuing work with colleagues at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on the teaching of nonfiction writing at the elementary level, something emphasized in the Common Core State Standards. We see this attention to nonfiction writing as an opportunity to engage students in authentic questions and information seeking—to really foster student curiosity, something that notoriously diminishes as students move through school.

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Research Spotlight: Nicholas Gage

Nicholas Gage

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My specific research interests focus on the application and advancement of diverse research methods and statistical procedures in special education research broadly, but an emphasis on research addressing the needs of students with or at-risk for emotional and/or behavioral disorders. Specifically, I am interested in identifying policies and practices at the national, state, local, and classroom level to support the academic, social, and behavioral needs of students with or at-risk for emotional and/or behavioral disorders.

To that end, my questions focus on malleable factors predictive of positive student outcomes. For example, can teachers increase their use of evidence-based classroom management strategies and do those strategies improve student classroom behavior? Relatedly, I focus on the measurement of both teacher strategy use and student behavior using direct observation procedures to ensure accurate and reliable estimates of both teacher and student behaviors. Further, I believe that collaboration among researchers in the field of special education is critical to moving our science forward, and I actively seek partnership opportunities that allow me to lend my research and methodological expertise to existing content experts.

What makes your work interesting?

My work aims to improve student behavior (both academic and social), which is among the leading reasons teachers leave the profession. By identifying what works and helping teachers efficiently and effectively implement effective practices, we can significantly improve the experiences of both teachers and students. Personally, what drives my research and what I find most interesting is figuring out why I turned out so different from the students I support. Growing up, I experienced many of the predictors of emotional and/or behavioral disorders, including high poverty, limited adult supervision, and a desire to escape. What drives my research is the need to know why I did not end up like so many others, why I did not get suspended, expelled, or dropout of school.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on improving teachers’ classroom management using a multi-tiered professional development model. In addition, I am working with two senior research teams at other institutions identify the most salient classroom and behavior management strategies based on large data sets of direct observations of teachers. In addition, I continue to provide statistical support for a number of early literacy initiatives and am currently evaluating Project ADePT in the School of Teaching and Learning. Lastly, I continue to develop and teach the only meta-analysis course at the University of Florida, attracting students from across multiple colleges at UF.