2018 IDEA Award Winner Q&A: Kate Peeples

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: Special Education
Project: When Math Is Not the Universal Language: The Role of Performance Feedback in Improving the Use of Evidence-Based Vocabulary Instruction in Inclusive Middle School Mathematics Classrooms

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

This study is looking at the role of performance feedback in a professional development (PD) program for middle school math teachers. Performance feedback is information that comes from direct observation of a teacher during class and provides quantitative data about their lesson instead of a subjective rating on a rubric. During the study, the teachers will receive professional development on using evidence-based practices to incorporate more explicit vocabulary instruction into their math lessons. The complexity of academic vocabulary in math at the secondary level makes it an obstacle for many students who struggle with language and vocabulary, especially students with learning disabilities. The teachers will receive performance feedback on their vocabulary instruction as they are learning about evidence-based practices in the PD program.

Why are you passionate about this area of research?

I’m quite passionate about researching better ways to provide professional development for teachers. When I was a teacher, I went to plenty of useless "PD days.” It’s frustrating! We know from research in both teacher preparation and in-service teacher PD that there are features that are effective, including providing teachers with performance feedback on their practice, so I am very excited about the potential contribution of this study to that body of research.

Where did the idea for this particular project come from? 

I have been working on developing this particular PD program with my advisor, Dr. Michael Kennedy, and the other members of the research team who have recently graduated. We recently completed a study of this program with middle school science teachers that also focused on improving their vocabulary instruction. While working on that project, I got interested in investigating the specific role that the performance feedback plays in our PD system. 

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

My advisor, Professor Kennedy, encouraged me to apply. I also think that the IDEA dissertation grant initiative is one of the most impactful ways that Curry supports the kind of independent research that doctoral students strive to do. 

What other people and organizations will be involved? 

In this project, I’ll be working with three 6th grade math teachers from a local school division. 

What goals do you have for this project?

First and foremost, I am hopeful that the PD program will be beneficial to the teachers, and that they’ll see how explicit vocabulary instruction can support students who are struggling in math. I’m also hopeful that the results of the study will make a contribution to the research literature on the elements of effective professional development for teachers.

How will the idea grant help you achieve those goals?

Thanks to the IDEA grant, I’ll be able to travel to the school to conduct live observations daily for the duration of the study, instead of relying on teachers video-recording their lessons. Being able to conduct a high-quality study will make this project an important foundation for my future research.