Ross Van Boven received his doctorate in curriculum and instruction, a program designed to prepare practitioner scholars.
What is a practitioner scholar? A professional who brings theoretical, pedagogical and research expertise to help identify, frame and study educational problems as a way to continually improve the learning conditions in their schools and districts.
Middle school teacher Ross Van Boven has received a prestigious national award presented by the American Education Research Association for outstanding research by examining what he does every school day.
Van Boven specializes in working with sixth and seventh graders at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School who are on the margins — whether because they are struggling or high-achieving. His study at the public school affiliated with the University of Florida’s College of Education examined his experience in teaching a gifted sixth-grade student during the 2014-2015 school year.
The Teacher as Researcher Award recognizes a pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade teacher for research conducted in their schools. Van Boven received the award at the association’s annual meeting, held this year in Washington, D.C., April 8-12. AERA says its teacher-as-researcher special interest group is the only one like it: dedicated to recognizing high quality research done in schools by preK-12 instructors on their own practice.
Van Boven is a “learning community leader” at P.K. Yonge, which is UF’s special school district created to develop innovative solutions to educational challenges.
His training and experience is notable for his teaching as well as his scholarship. He has earned three degrees from UF’s College of Education: a bachelor’s (’06) and master’s (‘07) in elementary education and, in December, a doctorate in curriculum and instruction.
Van Boven’s doctorate was in a program tailor-made by faculty in the Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education program area to focus on the unique needs of practitioners who wish to become scholars of practice, leading change and improvement from within their local districts, schools and classrooms, said Nancy Fichtman Dana, a UF education professor and a leading international authority and researcher on teacher professional development and school improvement. Dana served as the chair of Van Boven’s dissertation committee.
Van Boven’s award-winning project, the capstone for his dissertation, took a close look at how best to teach gifted and talented students.
Ross Van Boven teaches his students at UF’s P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.
Van Boven’s award-winning project, the capstone for his dissertation, took a close look at how best to teach gifted and talented students at a time P.K. Yonge is transforming its approach to a “push-in” teaching model from a “pull-out.” In the push-in approach, general education and special education teachers work within the regular classrooms to serve all learners; in the pull-out approach, teachers work with these students in separate classrooms.
“It’s a real challenge to provide the time and services to all the students in the program,” Van Boven says. With a caseload of 41 students, he bounces from classroom to classroom to help learners in subjects ranging from math to social studies. Not only does he have to know the content, he must collaborate closely with the content-area teachers, which sometimes is problematic because of contrasting styles and time schedules. He also closely consults with parents to better understand their child’s needs and to personalizes lessons.
Van Boven tracked his experience of teaching one of his students by using a variety of tools, including his cell phone’s voice-to-text feature to capture episodes in near real time and digital recording of interviews so he could transcribe them later for analysis.
He says his research helped to improve his teaching in a variety of ways, such as more closely working with content-area teachers to rework the timing of his push-in to classrooms and planning periods with other teachers. “This allowed for ongoing collaboration and hopefully continues to remove some of the pressures teachers felt for planning to meet student enrichment needs,” he wrote in a report of the study.
He has shared his P.K. Yonge findings with the school’s administration and teachers, including the school’s five other learning community leaders. The study informed their perennial challenge: How best to provide in-classroom lessons to gifted students without disrupting the heterogeneity of classrooms.
Dana says Van Boven’s research “provided a rich accounting of how one middle school child was experiencing the program, and these insights led to specific actions Ross and his colleagues took to improve this new model.”
The school has launched a pilot program to cluster some gifted-and-talented students in the same classes to help learning community leaders and core teachers improve efficiency and coordination.
Despite the challenges, Van Boven says the collaboration required in the push-in model is helping teachers – including him – grow in their own practice. The award highlights the power of practitioner research to improve education for students – and provides Van Boven an opportunity to broaden his impact by sharing his experiences with other teachers.
“I am hopeful that my advocacy for students and collaboration with content-area teachers will result in sustained opportunities to provide content enrichment for students on my caseload,” Van Boven wrote.