Teacher with students

COE researchers awarded $3 million in grant funds to develop teacher coaching model

Jade Wexler

Researchers at the University of Maryland College of Education (COE) received grants totaling $3 million to refine a coaching model that targets teachers’ literacy instruction to improve reading comprehension among middle school students. Work on the Adaptive Intervention Model Coaching, or AIM Coaching, is supported by $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

The work builds on a previous OSEP-funded model demonstration project, Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text (PACT) Plus, which supported middle school teachers’ use of evidence-based vocabulary and comprehension literacy practices across content areas, including language, arts, science, and social studies. Within PACT Plus, COE Associate Professor Jade Wexler (Co-Principal Investigator), along with collaborators at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), led research to build school-wide models for improving adolescent literacy in four middle schools in District of Columbia Public Schools. One challenge during the project was effectively supporting teachers in implementing the PACT practices.

“Building sustainable adolescent school-wide models requires that instructional leaders support their teachers’ varying needs. Therefore, our work in PACT Plus revealed the need for a systematic coaching model that instructional leaders could use to help teachers improve their instruction and, ultimately, adolescent literacy achievement in schools,” said Dr. Wexler, a faculty member in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education.

Most secondary students with disabilities spend a majority of their school day receiving instruction in general education content-area classes, rather than the special education setting. Therefore, it is critical to support content-area teachers in gaining the knowledge and skills to implement evidence-based literacy practices as designed.

“It’s essential that teachers whom students interact with on a regular basis have these skills and practices to support student comprehension,” said Alexandra Shelton, Ph.D. (’20), and post-doctoral researcher in Dr. Wexler’s Adolescent Literacy & Professional Development Lab, who directs both projects. “Teachers need instructional support to ensure they have the knowledge and skills they need to be able to incorporate evidence-based literacy practices into their content areas.”

With the support of an IES Development and Innovation grant, the researchers will refine and rigorously evaluate AIM Coaching, along with their collaborators at UT Austin. Instructional leaders—a broad term covering school staff responsible for supporting teachers’ instruction—will ultimately be able to use the model to make data-based decisions about the coaching support teachers need to improve the implementation of PACT practices across content areas in middle school classrooms. During this first year of the project, the researchers are further refining AIM Coaching with the input of consulting instructional leaders and teachers. Over the next three years of the project, the researchers will work to pilot AIM coaching in schools, evaluate the efficacy of AIM Coaching through a randomized controlled trial, and investigate the sustainability of AIM Coaching.

While AIM Coaching is being fully refined and evaluated through the IES grant, the researchers also plan to study its use in schools under routine conditions, outside of a highly controlled experimental setting, with the support of the OSEP grant, which solicited proposals that aim to demonstrate teacher coaching models in schools. Participating instructional leaders will implement AIM Coaching in schools in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and Texas. The UMD and UT researchers will focus on answering questions related to the model’s feasibility, sustainability and social validity (acceptability to instructional leaders and teachers). Moreover, the researchers plan to develop a virtual version of AIM Coaching to prepare instructional leaders to implement the model.

“AIM Coaching gives instructional leaders a coaching model to use in order to support teachers’ implementation of a set of evidence-based literacy practices in their classrooms,” Dr. Shelton said.

Dr. Jade Wexler is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education. Dr. Alexandra Shelton is a Faculty Specialist of Special Education in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education. Their research interests include improving literacy instruction for secondary students with reading difficulties and disabilities.