UM School of Education Receives $6.5 Million Grant

Luciana de Oliveira, professor and chair, UM School of Education and Human Development Department of Teaching and Learning (TAL); Wendy Cavendish, TAL associate professor; Mary A. Avalos, research associate professor and TAL associate chair.
By Richard Westlund

Luciana de Oliveira, professor and chair, UM School of Education and Human Development Department of Teaching and Learning (TAL); Wendy Cavendish, TAL associate professor; Mary A. Avalos, research associate professor and TAL associate chair.

UM School of Education Receives $6.5 Million Grant

By Richard Westlund
The grant will help Miami-Dade teachers engage students with diverse learning needs.

Three professors in the Department of Teaching and Learning (TAL) in the School of Education and Human Development have received a $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support teachers and help them engage high-needs students in middle and high school classes.

"Many research studies have shown that one of the most important factors in a child's education is the quality of the teacher," said Luciana de Oliveira, TAL professor and chair and co-principal investigator of the grant. "Through this three-year grant, we will help prepare 120 Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) teachers to educate and engage students with diverse learning needs, such as learning English as a second language, in inclusive classroom settings."

Mary A. Avalos, research associate professor and TAL associate chair, is the principal investigator for the project, "Supporting Educators’ Academic Literacies and Enhanced Discourse (SEALED)." Wendy Cavendish, TAL associate professor, will lead the research and evaluation component.

"We are excited to partner with M-DCPS on the SEALED project, which will include a ground-breaking comparative look at the value of master's degree teaching programs," said Avalos. "One of our top priorities is to increase the number of diverse and highly qualified teachers serving students in high-needs secondary schools to improve academic achievement and engagement in school and community."

With support from the grant, the School of Education and Human Development is recruiting 60 practicing teachers to kick off the study in August 2018, with another 60 to start the following January. The 120 teachers will be enrolled in the TAL's graduate level Education and Social Change, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), or Special Education M.S. Ed. programs. Sixty teachers will receive professional development support throughout the graduate program and the other 60 will receive professional development support in a summer institute at the end of the program.

This collaborative project is designed to help teachers expand their cultural competency and overall skill set by learning new ways of connecting with high-needs students in the classroom, said de Oliveira.

"For example, a teacher might think that a student who struggles with English is not as smart or capable as another student with fluent speech, which is a misconception about teaching English learners," she said. "Along with looking at academic literacy, our project will help teachers recognize the importance of engaging students on a personal level, learning about their lives outside the classroom and in the community."

The SEALED project will help address the shortage of teachers who are trained to work with special needs students, said Avalos. It will also generate new data and provide fresh insights about instructional practices for diverse populations.

"Additionally, we will see how obtaining a master's degree in education changes teachers' practices and affects their students' achievement," Avalos said. "One positive outcome could be a cultural change for teachers, as they adjust their classroom strategies to serve high-needs students."