Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Nell K. Duke

July 05, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 3 Episode 3
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Nell K. Duke
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Nell K. Duke talks to us about equity, research, and equitable, research-based resources for schools and teachers. Nell is known for her work in the areas of early literacy development, particularly the development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development and instruction in early schooling, and issues of equity in literacy education. Dr. Duke has received numerous awards for her work including the P. David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award from the Literacy Research Association and the International Literacy Association's William S. Gray Citation of Merit for outstanding contributions to research, theory, practice, and policy. Nell has been named one of the most influential education scholars in the U.S. in EdWeek. You can connect with Dr. Duke through her website at www.nellkduke.org or on Twitter @nellkduke.

During her episode, Dr. Duke mentions these websites: www.LiteracyEssentials.org and www.NellKDuke.org.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Jul 5). A conversation with Nell K. Duke. (Season 3, No. 3) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests.DOI: 10.5240/6B76-0A22-1F1F-7758-A5CA-T

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In each episode I talk with a top education researcher or an expert educator about what they have learned from years of research and experiences. In this episode, Dr. Nell K Duke talks to us about equity, research, and equitable research based resources for schools and teachers. Nell is known for her work in the areas of early literacy development, particularly the development of informational reading and writing in young children comprehension development and instruction in early schooling, and issues of equity in literacy education. Dr. Duke has received numerous awards for her work, including the P David Pearson Scholarly Influence award from the Literacy Research Association and the International Literacy Association's William S. Gray Citation of Merit for outstanding contributions to research, theory, practice, and policy. Nell has been named one of the most influential education scholars in the US in EdWeek. You can connect with Dr. Duke through her website at www.NellKDuke.org. That's w w w dot n e l l k d u k e dot o r g or on Twitter @Nell K Duke. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite drink. And join me your host Lindsay Persohn for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Nell, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the show.

Nell Duke:

Thank you for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

So from your own experiences in education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Nell Duke:

Sure, moments is hard, but I can share a couple of experiences. When I was actually still an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to start working in childcare, working with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. And that experience, particularly working with the infants, and just really being able to see how brilliant children are, how fast they learn, how much they learn, how much they shape their environment, in order to learn, really had a profound effect on me. And I've just always in my work seen children, all children, as really brilliant and really capable and I design instruction and research studies accordingly. Second example of a moment, and again, not exactly moment, but an experience that really shaped me was in my dissertation research. In my dissertation, I looked at literacy instruction in 20 classrooms. 10 of them were in very high poverty school districts in the greater Boston metropolitan area and 10 of them were in very wealthy school districts in the greater Boston metropolitan area. And I observed instruction in each classroom for four full days spread out over the course of the year. And in designing the study, I certainly expected that there would be potentially differences between the low and high socioeconomic status school districts. I mean, I had read, you know, books and articles and had personal experiences that led me to understand the US education system is very stratified, as very inequitable. So I don't want to say I was surprised because I was not in that respect. But the differences that I observed systematically in these settings, they were so vast, I mean, they they went to places that you wouldn't think. So for example, I think anyone would expect that that study would probably find that there were more books in the wealthy school districts than there were in the high poverty school districts. I think that's an expected finding and we can sort of trace that finding very directly to resource allocations, that there's more money to purchase books in the wealthy school districts as compared to the low socioeconomic status school districts. But there were other findings. For example, I tracked over the course of the day, how often did the teacher refer to print that was on the wall, like use print as a sort of a teaching tool or use print on the walls to provide information to children, and that was more common in the wealthy school districts than the high priority school districts. And that's not something that you can immediately and directly trace to resources. There were a number of differences in how children his own work was treated. So children's work was more likely to be posted on the walls in the wealthy school districts than it was in the high poverty school districts. It's just the degree to which almost everything I looked at over the course of the day, including things that weren't so directly tied to, you know, an obvious resource issue were different that really just impacted my understanding of the extent to which we have work to do to provide a truly equitable education for children across socioeconomic status, and race and ethnicity and lots of other factors as well. But I think that that really did have a profound effect on my career trajectory from then on.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you for sharing that. I think you highlight some really critical areas where schools could do better. And I would venture to say that we're still in that same boat. Even though I know, it's been years since that study, I have a feeling that we are in many places still perpetuating those same inequities.

Nell Duke:

I agree. And I want to be very clear that I did not in the dissertation research, and these many, many years later, still do not see this as an individual teacher problem. I see this as a systemic problem. I think we trace these features of instruction to factors that go well beyond individual teacher decision making. So I want to be very clear, this is not just an opportunity to, to somehow blame teachers for these inequities. At the same time, I think that teachers being aware of the ways in which the system sort of pushes them into stratifying instruction in this way, is very important and valuable for teachers.

Lindsay Persohn:

What a great point. And no, I couldn't agree more, in my own experience in classrooms and in schools, and in a large district, I feel like I've seen this perpetuated over and over again, and again, not intentionally and not on an individualized level. These are just sort of the habits of thinking and the habits of instruction that we get wrapped up in. And we just keep doing things the same way without seeing that problem. And I think you've already given us a couple of ways that we can really begin to tackle that problem in our own spaces, right. We can talk more directly about print. We can reference print and conversations. We can talk about successes of students and highlight those in a multitude of ways. I think you've already given us some real ways that we can begin to change these within our own spaces and kind of regain some control over some of these systemic inequities that you've uncovered. So Nell, what else do you want listeners to know about your

Nell Duke:

Well, my work is really designed to think about What a publicly available, and work? ways that we can and promote ways that we can improve the foundation that literacy rests on, we can really take advantage of the tremendous cognitive and emotional and social and linguistic and physical growth that occurs for children in those birth through age eight years, to really take advantage of those years that we have with children. I think we all know, and I've heard many times about how much our brain grows during this time period, how much this time period shapes, really our life course, in many cases. So I think we all understand that. And what I tried to do is just to take that understanding, and then think about literacy, specifically, and what are those moves we want to make in the infant classroom to help support children's early emergent language and literacy development in infancy? And then what can we do in the toddler years, the preschool years, and then we're, I've done much of my work in kindergarten, and first grade and second grade as well. So that's what a lot of my work is about. Within that one of the things that I've tried to do in everything that I've done is to stay as tight as possible to research. So you know, I try not to be somebody who jumps on a particular movement or bandwagon or give some broad label to, you know, instruction. What I try to do is stay focused on very specific practices and use research as the arbiter of what would be most effective with respect to that practice. So within that I've worked on a whole bunch of different questions that have to do with early literacy instruction, mostly. And I've also had the wonderful opportunity of spending so much of my time reading other researchers work and thinking about how to translate that work or to pull together that work in a way that would support learning. So for example, a project that I've been involved in that I've really, really appreciated being part of is the Literacy Essentials Project, which your listeners can learn more about at LiteracyEssentials.org. That's all one word LiteracyEssentials.org and in that project, which was based in Michigan, and led through the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators General Education Leadership Network Early Literacy Task Force, that's a mouthful. In that work, the idea was to come up with a small set of practices that enjoy so much support and research, that they should probably be in every classroom every day. And to codify those practices in fairly short documents that cite some of the research, you know, as a notes so that people can dig into their search should they want to do that, but that keeps you know, the overall documents still very short and hopefully accessible. So I had the opportunity to co lead the the initial drafting of the pre kindergarten and the kindergarten through third grade Essential Instructional Practices in early literacy with Dr. Tanya Wright. But there have now been many other Essentials documents published and so we have a practices that teachers of infants and toddlers should be using every day in every classroom to promote literacy and then we have, as I mentioned, a pre kindergarten document that addresses the preschool years, and then we have a kindergarten through third grade document. And there are also documents for children who are older. There's also a document about with school leaders and childcare center leaders can be doing based on the research we have there. And it's also a document on coaching and what we know from research are some of the core or key practices that coaches should be involved in. I did not write all of these. There are lots of other people involved. But what I think is really, among other things important about these documents is that pulls together two things I've talked about already in this podcast. One is that attention to equity. It's really not acceptable to provide high quality research aligned instruction in some classrooms and not to do that in other classrooms. And part of the motivation of the Essentials and and part of why I think they're so important is that we do see these patterns where important practices like high quality writing instruction that attends to writing process and writing strategies, is seen in some classrooms and not seen in other classrooms. And there just isn't a research justification for that, that difference. So, so equity is is you know, definitely one important motivation for having lists like this. And then the other piece I talked about was just that staying tight to research. So we've really tried in these documents to make sure that every sentence can be defended by specific research studies. And we have, you know, declined to include things that may be in my opinion, are good practice. But if there isn't research on them yet, we're not putting them in the document. And we're actually it's been about six years so we're now actually in the process of revising the pre kindergarten and kindergarten to third grade, essential practices. And we're going through this very laborious process. This is Dr. Gwen McMillan and Dr. Tanya Wright and myself, and then a wonderful team of assistants who are working with us who are experienced coaches, teachers, and now budding researchers, where we're going through research studies that have been published 2016 on to see, well, is there anything new that maybe we didn't have enough research on before didn't have any research on before that now has enough research behind it, that it should be in the practices? Is there anything we said in 2016 that looking at it now, the research actually suggests that we may have been wrong about that haven't found anything like that yet, but we're not done with the process? Or is there anything we should clarify or elaborate? And we've seen a number of examples of that, you know, while still trying to keep the documents short and accessible. So this process is, you know, it's just part of this idea of just staying very tight to research, and trying to be as clear as possible about practices that, you know, are really key really essential, literally, to providing a high quality literacy education for young children. certainly on your guest page for the show and in the shownotes, we will link to that so that listeners can access that easily. Wonderful that it is that accessible, right that it is in sort of digestible, bite sized pieces, but also that it is being kept so current. So thank you for making that resource available. And thank you to your your entire team. Nell, is there anything else you want listeners to know about your work? Well, I mean, I think I touched on sort of a few different aspects of the work but one thing I haven't mentioned that is an important part of what I've been thinking about in recent years, is project based learning. So I have with my close collaborator, Dr. Anne-Lise Halvorsen, and a number of other collaborators depending on the project, been thinking aloud thought about how to create classroom environments in which young children are engaged in learning, not just because that's what you're supposed to do in school, but learning for a larger purpose, for a larger goal, and that, for me, project based learning is one important way to do that. So I've been thinking very hard about how to design project based learning that is aligned to research. Because honestly, there's a lot of project based learning out there, that's not very well aligned to research. So that is aligned to research, that's structured sufficiently to really support all children's learning, and that is manageable and scalable. I appreciate in a romantic sense, this idea that every year teachers will invent brand new projects out of whole cloth, depending on what children are in their classroom, and what's going on around them that year. And that's a wonderful notion that I don't think is practical and scalable. And part of my justification for saying that is the fact that we've had project based learning as an educational concept in this country for for well over a century. And we're not there yet. So I think we have to move away from that kind of project based learning toward at least the option of providing much more support and materials and codification of projects for teachers, that teachers could share with one another that they could use more than one year. And that, you know, just make this kind of instruction more practical. So, I've had the good fortune of working on this in a lot of different ways. And we did release a study last year, that was a randomized control trial. So randomly assigning some teachers within high poverty, low performing school districts to implement our approach to project based learning with second graders in social studies, and other teachers to teach social studies as they normally would and, and to promise to teach it since so much of the time there is very little social studies instruction happening in kindergarten through second grade. And we did get in this randomized control trial, statistically significant positive impacts on children's social studies achievement, that is the children who learn social studies in this project based approach learned more social studies. We also got effects, small effects, but effects and informational reading, which suggests that this isn't just something that will help the content area in which the projects are situated. But if we integrate literacy sufficiently can also support literacy development. And if you take those small effects that we got in this, and then if you also got such effects in science, and you also got such effects in English language arts, you could see how it could really compound you know, to have a significant impact on literacies. So aside from the fact that just knowing more social studies is going to help support literacy long term research would suggest. So so I was very happy that we've been able to come up with at least one model for project based learning that seems to stand up to the rigor of research. And we're working now on on really trying to, you know, expand and elaborate on that approach at other grade levels and in other instructional contexts. And so I just like, your listeners to know that at least some forms of project based learning with young children do have research support, certainly not every kind of project based learning but but some approaches and I encourage them to, you know, learn more and think about adding this to their instructional repertoire. Not that it's the only thing that would happen in the classrooms. In my work, we still have time every day where children get explicit systematic phonics and spelling instruction that isn't tied to a project, for example, and that's very important. But to have a portion of the day that is devoted to project based learning is something I'd love for educators of children birth to eight to consider.

Lindsay Persohn:

can't subscribe to just one model of instruction or another but children need support in multiple ways in order to really reach their full potential. So I love that you've highlighted this way of approaching project based instruction that is founded in research, and as you said, is potentially scalable. I think that that's really important. On the show before I've mentioned that, you know, we know teachers cannot start from scratch every year. And we know that teachers really don't have the bandwidth to start from scratch period. So having a model that is research driven and research informed, I think can be really helpful. And then also acknowledging that there are other bits and pieces of a school day in order to support all the skills that a child needs. I think that's just a really important point to highlight. Is there a way for listeners to access that study on project based learning? Are there any open source materials or something that has been kind of translated from research, research language into teaching practice that listeners might be able to access?

Nell Duke:

Yes, thanks for asking at my website NellKDuke.org. And don't forget the K. So it's NellKDuke.org, the letter K, there is a tab on project based learning. And within that tab, there's a place to click for papers about Project PLACE, which is the project I was just talking about PLACE stands for a project approach to literacy and civic engagement. So there's a place to click to get links to the article that I mentioned, but also to other articles, more practitioner friendly articles that we have written about this work. And there's also a place to click for Project PLACE units where you can actually get the units that we developed and taught for free, and some of the materials that are required in order to teach the unit. So that's all available open source at my website. And pleased to say that starting on August 19, also freely available and linked to from our website will be a free full day curriculum for children in kindergarten. And for children who are infants and who are toddlers. That's part of a project called Great First Eight, e i g h t meaning the first eight years of life. Those materials are the curriculum that we've designed specifically for children in US metropolitan areas, and classrooms with a number of children from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. And so are project based units really assume that metropolitan context. So these wouldn't necessarily work as written in a lot of other kinds of areas. But in a city where there are businesses nearby and cultural institutions nearby and street signs for toddlers to read when they step out the door, you know, lots of print around and so forth, the immediate environment, these projects could work very well. And so that that open access a curriculum will be available this year, 2022, beginning August 19, for infants, toddlers and kindergarteners. And we'll be following August in 2023, so about a year from this August, we'll be releasing the first grade curriculum. And then in the years following that we'll release preschool and second grade. So eventually, there'll be a full day birth to age eight curriculum that we've tried to align very tightly to research and included a significant project based component throughout. So I hope that'll be useful to your listeners as well.

Lindsay Persohn:

Fantastic. And certainly we will link to your website as well in the show notes so for easy access yet. Thank you. So now, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Nell Duke:

Oh, thank you for asking that. I just want to say to every teacher out there that I'm just so deeply appreciative of the work that you're doing, and the I think that the silent majority in this country are so deeply appreciative of the work that you are doing. I am just absolutely sickened and disheartened by the amount of negative press and pressure that's been directed toward teachers and the relative lack of respect of teachers for the incredible work that they do. And I know so many teachers are leaving the profession or not wanting to get into the profession in the first place. And I just want to add my voice to the chorus of people who actually know what they're talking about who understand that teaching, and teachers are an absolutely backbone component of our country and of our society and of our potential for social progress. And that I just so deeply appreciate the work that your teacher listeners are doing.

Lindsay Persohn:

I couldn't agree more. I always say education really is the foundation for our democratic society. So thank you so much for that message for for listeners. And Nell I want to thank you also for your time today, and thank you for your tremendous contributions to the world of education.

Nell Duke:

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

Lindsay Persohn:

Dr. Nell K. Duke is known for her work in the areas of early literacy development, particularly among children living in economic poverty. Specifically, she focuses on the development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development and instruction in early schooling, and issues of equity and literacy education. She has authored or co authored many publications that have appeared in journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, The American Educational Research Journal, Educational Leadership, Young Children, AERA Open, The Reading Teacher, Teaching Young Children, and many other venues. She is author or co author of numerous books such as Inside Information Developing Powerful Readers and Writers of Informational Text through Project Based Instruction, Reading and Writing Informational Text in the Primary Grades, Research Based Practices Beyond Bedtime Stories A Parent's Guide to Promoting Reading, Writing and Other Literacy Skills from Birth to Five now in its second edition, and the forthcoming book Literacy Learning for Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers Key Practices for Educators. She is co editor of the Handbook of Effective Literacy Instruction Research Based Practice K to 8 and Literacy Research Methodologies. She is also editor of The Research Informed Classroom Book series, and co editor of the Not This, But That book series. Her work has been funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation among other organizations. Nell has been named one of the most influential education scholars in the US and EdWeek. In 2014, she was awarded the P David Pearson Scholarly Influence Award from the Literacy Research Association. And in 2018, she received the International Literacy Association's William S Gray citation of merit for outstanding contributions to research theory, practice and policy. She also received the Michigan Reading Association Advocacy Award, the American Educational Research Association Early Career Award, the Literacy Research Association Early Career Achievement Award, the International Reading Association, Dena Feitelson Research Award, the National Council for the Teachers of English Promising Researcher Award and the International Reading Association Outstanding Dissertation Award. Among other roles she currently serves as advisor for Public Broadcasting Ready to Learn initiative, as an expert for NBC Today, an adviser to the Council of Chief State School Officers Early Literacy Network Improvement community and an advisor for Stand for Children. She served as author or consultant on several educational programs, including Connected for Learning. Dr. Duke received her bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and her master's and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. She's a professor in literacy, language and culture in the School of Education at the University of Michigan. As of September 2022, Nell will serve as the Executive Director for the Center for Early Literacy Success at Stand for Children. You can learn more about Stand for Children at a stand.org that's s t a n d dot o r g. You can connect with Dr. Duke through her website at WWW dot nellKduke.org. That's w w w dot n e l l k d u k e dot o r g or on Twitter at Nell K Duke. For the good of all students Classroom Caffeine aims to energize education research and practice. If this show provides you with things to think about, don't keep it a secret. Subscribe, like, and review this podcast through your preferred podcast provider. I also invite you to connect with the show through our website at WWW dot classroom caffeine dot com where you can learn more about each guest, find transcripts for many episodes, explore episode topics using our tagging feature, support podcast research through our survey, request an episode topic or a potential guest or share your own questions that we might respond to through the show. We would love to hear from you. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.