2018 IDEA Award Winner Q&A: Francisca Romo

By Rachel Chapdelaine

Every year, the Curry School of Education awards grant funding to select students as part of the Curry Innovative, Developmental, Exploratory Awards (IDEA) Competition. Funded through Curry’s Research and Development Fund, this grant helps students advance both their careers and the field of education through the development of innovative research. This article is a part of a series that explores the winning 2018 IDEA projects and their potential impact on education.

Program Area: Educational Psychology
Project: Development and Validation of the Teachers’ Analysis of the Situation Contributors (TASC) Assessment

Can you give me a brief overview of what this project is about?

We know from research that effective teaching relies on a complex set of cognitive skills that enable teachers to manage the highly stimulating and dynamic classroom environment. Teachers need to continuously attend to classroom events and analyze what they observe to make informed decisions about what to change or maintain in the classroom. These skills, which we call “noticing skills,” are critical to inform pedagogical decisions — in the moment and in the future.

This project aims to develop and validate a reliable and standardized assessment of noticing skills that can be widely used in teacher preparation programs. The assessment, Teachers’ Analysis of the Situation Contributors (TASC), will help measure the critical skills necessary for effective teaching and guide the development of noticing skills for pre-service and in-service teachers.

Why are you passionate about this area of research?

I’m passionate about the idea of improvement. I believe that teachers are able to continuously improve their teaching practice if the right training and development opportunities are available. Ultimately, if we do this “right,” we will also enhance the development of children’s cognitive, socio-emotional and academic skills. Being part of these improvement efforts, specifically the design and development of an assessment that can help guide improvement efforts, is fascinating to me.

Teaching is a complex task situated in a highly complex and changing environment: the classroom. For instance, think about an early childhood classroom composed of a lead educator, an aid and 10 or more 3- and 4-year old children. Every day, the educators are responsible for helping children with activities, from eating and toileting, to introducing new academic domains, to ensuring their safety and comfort. In any given moment, the situation can change: a child may become sick, begin to fight or cry, have difficulty expressing his or her needs and feelings, etc. Although teachers can plan accordingly and follow structures, activities and strategies to deal with this complexity, they also need the skills to adapt — attend to what is important, analyze situations, make decisions in real-time and use information to change their practice.

Unfortunately, most early childhood professional development programs do not emphasize noticing skills when preparing teachers for the classroom. This might leaves teachers less prepared to make effective pedagogical decisions in the classroom at a critical time in children's cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Where did the idea for this particular project come from?

I’ve been researching these skills in the context of other teacher professional development studies since I started at the Curry School of Education. I’ve also been a part of the design, development and implementation of a teacher professional development intervention in Ecuador that, through the coaching and analysis of teachers’ practice on video, aims to enhance teacher-child interactions in the classroom. Through these experiences,I have witnessed first-hand how noticing skills are key for the improvement of teaching practice. I knew this assessment would be a useful addition to the field.

How did you decide to submit a proposal to the Curry IDEA competition?

I first learned about Curry IDEA grants through the official call they sent to all doctoral students—then through the encouragement of Sara Rimm-Kaufman, my program director, Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, my advisor, and Jason Downer. Jennifer reviewed my application and provided her support as a faculty member, which is needed to apply to the grant. She has always been an accessible mentor, and more importantly, supportive of my research.

Given that I’ve been thinking about this idea for a decent period of time and reading and writing about this topic for my previous papers, I decided I was prepared to write the grant application and had a good chance of winning. The proposed assessment will be very helpful for the teaching program at Curry and projects at the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) — and might be instrumental for the whole Curry community.

What other people and organizations will be involved?

I’m proposing to pilot this assessment with pre-service teachers at Curry and in-service preschool teachers as part of a professional development program conducted by CASTL. I still need to refine the details, but this is the initial plan.

What goals do you have for this project?

My goals are twofold: the development of a valid, reliable and scalable assessment to measure noticing skills (TASC) and the validation of TASC using a sample of pre-service and in-service teachers. This is not to say this assessment cannot change and become more refined after that, but I would like to have at least initial evidence to show its validity and reliability.

Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, Bridget Hamre and I have discussed using this assessment to measure the effectiveness of the teacher professional development program. This would be after I defend my dissertation, so I can see TASC evolving and being used after I finish my PhD studies. I will also offer the assessment for the elementary teaching program here at Curry.

How will the IDEA grant help you achieve those goals?

For the validation of TASC, we will collect original data of the TASC implementation in a sample of pre-service and in-service teachers. In order to recruit participants, especially in-service teachers, we need to offer some incentives for motivation. This is key to ensuring the sample size required to perform the basic statistical analysis of a validation. As such, most of the funding will be devoted to incentives for participants. Additionally, dissemination of the results of this study are key for the grant and my career. For that reason, a small part of the budget will be for attending the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) 2019 conference.